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UK's MI5 Wants Oyster Card Travel Data 291

Posted by Soulskill
from the you-can-trust-us dept.
Boiled Frog from a Nation of Suspects writes "The Oyster card, an RFID single-swipe card (which was recently cracked), was introduced to London's public transport users purportedly to make their lives easier. Now, British Intelligence services want some of the benefits by trawling through the travel data amassed by the card to spy on the 17 million Britons who use it. The article notes, "Currently the security services can demand the Oyster records of specific individuals under investigation to establish where they have been, but cannot trawl the whole database. But supporters of calls for more sharing of data argue that apparently trivial snippets — like the journeys an individual makes around the capital — could become important pieces of the jigsaw when fitted into a pattern of other publicly held information on an individual's movements, habits, education and other personal details. That could lead, they argue, to the unmasking of otherwise undetected suspects."
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UK's MI5 Wants Oyster Card Travel Data

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  • by Mactrope (1256892) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @01:21PM (#22766106) Homepage Journal

    What the honest hope to unmask is criminals by considering everyone a suspect.

    What they will do is discover and harass political opposition. Dark times for the UK.

  • *sigh* (Score:5, Insightful)

    by theaceoffire (1053556) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @01:22PM (#22766116) Homepage
    "That could lead, they argue, to the unmasking of otherwise undetected suspects."

    Translated: We want to be able to spy on you. We are not sure why yet.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 16, 2008 @01:26PM (#22766160)
    Nah, what they'll do is turn the UK into the 21st century's version of East Germany. Everyone will spy on everyone else, no one will be innocent. Everyone is already a suspect.
  • Re: *sigh* (Score:3, Insightful)

    by chuckymonkey (1059244) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <notrub.d.selrahc>> on Sunday March 16, 2008 @01:27PM (#22766174) Journal
    Smile! Your're on database!
  • by zappepcs (820751) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @01:28PM (#22766176) Journal
    Here is my pass, and an additional 100 pounds Sterling. Now, just travel around London for the next 7 days, sightseeing or whatever you like. When you are done, mail it back to me. Wow, now that is a really good tourism plan. What? Why am I being arrested at the airport? No, I did not rob a bank. No, I am not muslim. Oh, that's why? hmmmm

    Or better, stick it inside someone else's bag and you look like you were traveling with them. The downfall of all of this is that there is no physical link between the tag and any human being. This is just stupid. Tracking people will not work, and will ONLY inconvenience the stupid criminals and honest people. When will governments learn?
  • by realmolo (574068) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @01:28PM (#22766178)
    Spying on everyone, and having everyone spy on *each other*, is a fabulous way to run a civilization. As we all know, the former Soviet Union and China are the closest we've come to paradise-on-earth.

    What the fuck is wrong with England? I mean, Orwell *showed* them in "1984" how bad it could be, but they keep moving towards it. It's very strange.
  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @01:29PM (#22766184)
    First, apparently what they are asking for is not "anonymized" data. Second, as was very clearly demonstrated by the AOL data-release scandal, it is sometimes possible to get an awful lot of personal data on people by putting enough "anonymous" data together.
  • by Angostura (703910) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @01:30PM (#22766200)
    ... and I have to say that stories like this are exactly the reason why I opted out of using the original Oyster where you have to register and hand over personal details. I use the anonymous pay as you go version. Though, thinking about it, I'm sure with a little effort they could associate the card id with the debit card payments used to top it up.
  • Feature creep (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mac Degger (576336) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @01:35PM (#22766244) Journal
    And this is why you should be wary of ANY data collection scheme...just like it used to be that any application would eventually evolve to a point where it incluided a webbrowser/IRC client/email reader, data collections like thses evolve until the government wants it.

    And what happens when the database gets hacked (this is INEVITABLE) and your personal data is online, never to go away? Jack shit is what. The government won't reimburse you, the data will never dissappear (like they say, real men don't do backups, they archive to the internet!) and identity theives (including, you guessed it, terrorists) will have a field day with easily used personal data which can't be 'taken back'.

    This is one of those cases where the certain (not potential, this shit is ionevitable) consequences are much worse than any 'problem' you are trying to solve.

    Personal data will hit the net, identity thieves will have fun and you actually make tracing terrorists MORE DIFFICULT.

    God, people are dumb sometimes.
  • by M-RES (653754) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @01:39PM (#22766270)
    ...because if you're going to be planning to commit some kind of 'terror' act, you're not going to be traceable by your oyster card. In fact, you're more likely just to pay cash at the ticket machines and be untraceable. I don't have anything to hide, but I won't use oyster - or own a customer loyalty card, or pay with debit/credit card when I can just pay cash. If it's not your own government spying on you, it's marketing companies working for corporations!
  • by inTheLoo (1255256) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @01:49PM (#22766342) Journal

    People in power really don't have as much to hide. Political dissidents, on the other hand, have to watch out for reprisals. Would you risk having anything to do with an opposition group if you knew your affiliation would be noted? Symmetry of information is not always the same as symmetry of power.

    The best way to oppose this is to note that there's no real law enforcement benefit.

  • by Nomen Publicus (1150725) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @01:49PM (#22766354)
    Unless you are already tracking a suspect, data trawling is ineffective. The bigger the database, the less effective it is as more and more false positives occur and have to be investigated. This wastes huge amounts of time and resources and starves real investigations that could well turn up real suspects.
  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @01:50PM (#22766360)

    What the fuck is wrong with England? I mean, Orwell *showed* them in "1984" how bad it could be, but they keep moving towards it. It's very strange.
    It's only strange if you believe that government exists to serve the people.

     
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 16, 2008 @01:56PM (#22766398)
    "having to look for potential terrorists" and whanot is just a crutch, an intellectual cop-out just like saying "god gave us this land and we will kill all those living on it". consider two things:

    * uk & usa citizens are being kept in a continual climate of fear, of having to be vigilant about terrorism, something other countries don't do. and the citizens of these other countries aren't any less safe. you have to wonder if murkans and brits are really in danger. think about it.

    * the more the usa & the uk authorities are beating the drum of having to be on lookout for evil terrorists, their citizens find themselves deeper and deeper in an orwelian dystopia, with no privacy and with an increased risk of being arrested for terrorism-related charges (is it really different from a "thoughtcrime"?. and afaik, there are many 'false positives' as if the authorities didn't really care if they imprison innocent citizens just trying to cary on with their lives.

    all this "big-brother'ism" (this made-up word is not very cromulent, I know) has nothing to do with the safety and the well-being of the ordinary citizen and more to do with some sick new world order being put into place. people should react and just say a resounding "no, that's enough" to these governments and, i don't know how, should force them to repel so many of these recent measures.

    one last thought: and if there are (episodical) terrorist threats, maybe the problem isn't not enough security and order, maybe it has something to do with the foreign policies of the usa and of the uk? maybe this 'terrorist threat' is just a *reaction* to some prior and current actions of washington and london? maybe that's why some countries don't have to incessantly scream 'watch out for those evil terrorists!', maybe they have a saner conduct on the world stage?
  • Re: *sigh* (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fastest fascist (1086001) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @02:04PM (#22766460)
    I think they mean it would lead to "the suspicion of otherwise innocent subjects", where "subject" is used the way a feodal lord would have used the word.
  • Re:It Does (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Daimanta (1140543) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @02:10PM (#22766486) Journal
    That's right. And I am going to do something about it, right now.

    Oh, wait.... Not now, American Idols is on. And I'm hungry. I think I'll get a pizza.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 16, 2008 @02:19PM (#22766546)
    Politician's careers can be seriously damaged or even sunk on a single incident of sexual misconduct, a single drug offense, a few suspicious meetings with unpopular corporate or special interests, and a million other things. If we could actually have travel and/or communications data on our leaders, free and clear of interference, it would be a wonderful way to keep them in check. However, it is impractical because the same power disparity that makes this desirable means that there is no chance in hell of us actually receiving accurate information about them - if we got anything it would likely have been scrubbed clean.
  • by fastest fascist (1086001) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @02:36PM (#22766674)
    Your idea of a criminal appears to be someone who has already committed a crime. To the government, a criminal is someone who might commit a crime, also known as a citizen.
  • by digitig (1056110) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @02:40PM (#22766702)

    It's already anonymous if you want it to be. You can buy an Oyster card over the counter for cash without giving any personal details. You can optionally register the card, so you can top up the pre-pay online and so on, in which case it ceases to be anonymous, but the default is anonymous.

    Of course, if you really have something to hide, you buy individual tickets, which would only be traceable with a lot of work correlating the CCTV images (no change from the present). Ok, it's £4 per Zone 1 journey instead of £1.50, but I bet the terrorists can afford it. In other word, this isn't a measure against the terrorists -- it's too easily circumvented: it's just more monitoring of the ordinary reasonably law-abiding citizen.

  • by Peter Cooper (660482) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @03:09PM (#22766902) Homepage Journal
    My MP takes 48% of the vote with a majority of 10,000. But, yes, I'd certainly do what you suggest if I supported any of the other candidates, because what you say makes sense. That said, I'm not a supporter of democracy, so have resigned myself to not getting involved in any significant way (a bit like not going to church really) unless a party that'll transition us to technocracy arrives!

    Back to democracy though, I dare say that getting Proportional Representation implemented would drive up those turnouts since every vote would count, but what party with a chance at winning First Past The Post is going to support that? :)
  • by hedwards (940851) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @03:16PM (#22766946)

    Politician's careers can be seriously damaged or even sunk on a single incident of sexual misconduct, a single drug offense, a few suspicious meetings with unpopular corporate or special interests, and a million other things.
    I don't live in the UK, so it might be different there. But here in the US a single drug offense is enough to put college out of the reach of many people. Government grants and financial aid eligibility are removed, if one already has grants, stipends or other federal aid, it gets cut off right there.

    I'm not really sure that, that really is different than having ones political career destroyed because of a relatively minor mistake.

    Meeting with unsavory people, unpopular groups and any sort of recorded sexual promiscuity isn't as separate from ones work life as it used to be. Even a minor infraction like an adult drinking can be enough to torpedo a career over here. Such as that woman who was training to be a teacher. I can't recall what the end of that story was, but the fact that she was dismissed from college in the first place is what I'm getting at.

    However, it is impractical because the same power disparity that makes this desirable means that there is no chance in hell of us actually receiving accurate information about them - if we got anything it would likely have been scrubbed clean.
    The reason why it won't happen there is the same reason why it won't here, the voters lack the will to tell their elect officials to cram it.
  • by 1u3hr (530656) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @03:18PM (#22766962)
    if they have their way, there will be no way to travel in the UK that can't be tracked.

    Really? You'll still be able to buy single (or multiple) trip tickets for cash, surely?

    Any "person of interest" will be sure to be doing that from today, if they weren't already. So as usual, the people the measures are supposed to catch will easily evade them, meanwhile millions of innocent commuters will lose another piece of their privacy.

  • by turgid (580780) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @03:32PM (#22767070) Journal

    Yes, but the barely literate proletariat read the Sun, Daily Express and the Daily Mail which is all "OMG IMMIGRANTS, POLISH IMMIGRANTS, SINGLE MOTHERS, TERRORISTS, POOR PEOPLE, LIBERALS, PAEDOPHILES!!!!!"

    The ones that can be bothered to vote do so according to what these "newspapers" tell them to, and since they vastly outnumber rational and intelligent human beings, we have the government we have.

  • by joss (1346) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @03:39PM (#22767122) Homepage
    I'm with you on the spying/freedom thing. Gas prices on the other hand:
    its good that we pay so much tax on the damn stuff, gas should be expensive.
    The fact that gas is so expensive means we have vaguely working public
    transport and fuel efficient vehicles. You're paying $4 a gallon.. good,
    you should be paying at least that, its just a shame you haven't been
    paying that much for decades. If you had your infrastructure would have
    developed in saner ways and you might be in a better position
    to face peak oil. As it is, so many people live > 20 miles from where
    they need to work, and food/goods distribution is so energy intensive
    its really going to get ugly.
  • by moosesocks (264553) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @03:43PM (#22767146) Homepage

    Well, his case is an argument for transparency, rather than against it...
    Really.... is it?

    There's no doubt that what he did was wrong, and represented a massive conflict of interest. I have very little sympathy for him.

    However, politicians have done much, much worse, kept their positions, and in some cases even been re-elected. (For crying out loud, the Valerie Plame incident could easily be construed as treason)

    By all accounts, he actually was doing a fairly decent job governing the state compared to his predecessors. His own personal life had very little bearing on his actions while in office (ditto to Bill Clinton).

    Do we want a President/Governor who steals candy from convenience stores? No. However, if he's doing an apt job of managing foreign affairs and the economy, it might do considerably less damage to ignore it, and turn your head the other way.
  • by soren100 (63191) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @03:49PM (#22767178)

    Unless you are already tracking a suspect, data trawling is ineffective. The bigger the database, the less effective it is as more and more false positives occur and have to be investigated. This wastes huge amounts of time and resources and starves real investigations that could well turn up real suspects.
    It depends on what you are trying to do with the data.

    If the methods being applied look very much like Orwell's 1984, then one obvious conclusion are that the motives of the authorities are very similar to the motives of "the Party" in 1984: political control.

    Take for example the current downfall of NY democratic governer Eliot Spitzer just as he was fighting the gifting of massive amounts of public funds to the big financiers. By tracking financial records and listening to phone calls, the authorities were able to uncover a "crime" that many would consider harmless (having sex) and assert political control by making him resign. This frees them to continue their original agenda unimpeded and take down a rival in the process.

    So once all the records of travel (license plates, rail, air, onmipresent cameras) are monitored by the authorities, then you can look at the movement patterns of politically active people and use indirect methods of control without ever revealing the true purpose, and without having to assign full-time agents to follow each person and record their activities. You could track large numbers of people without ever leaving the central office and just place a convenient call to a policeman to pick up the person for whatever crimes you uncover along the way, or arrange an "accident" if you want to be more thorough.

  • by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice&gmail,com> on Sunday March 16, 2008 @04:23PM (#22767374)
    There are actually quite a few crimes that are based on the fact that you were about to attempt to break other laws - attempted murder, conspiracy to commit fraud et al.
  • by fredklein (532096) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @04:33PM (#22767442)
    You'll still be able to buy single (or multiple) trip tickets for cash,

    If you show up at an airport in the US with a ticket paid for with cash (especially a One Way ticket), you are marked SSSS for extra security. I'm sure the UK can do something similar. After all, only those trying to avoid surveilance would use cash, Right?
  • by fastest fascist (1086001) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @05:23PM (#22767714)
    Honestly, my main worry is not that criminals or other external parties will misuse the information a government gathers, but that the government itself will misuse that information. It should not be forgotten that an individuals liberty and a government's authority are always in conflict with each other, which is the whole reason modern, so-called free societies have systems to limit the powers of government. Many people seem to have lost sight of the importance of those limits, and would be willing to grant almost unlimited powers to the state, since they do not believe the state would ever misuse those powers.

    It's a lovely display of trust, of course, but a woefully misguided one. If in any governmental system there is potential for abuse, then sooner or later there will be abuse. Simple probability. The more power a government has over it's citizens, the more potential for damage there is in cases of abuse. And any government will take all the power they are given, that is why they must actively be kept in check.

    It was only today I read someone seriously wondering why people would complain about the police keeping a register of DNA samples and fingerprints of all citizens - their express point of view was that if it helps catch criminals, anything goes. At times like that, I tend to feel like I'm an atheist debating the existence of God with a deeply religious person. It's as if there were no common ground at all, no common logic to be found. Hopefully it isn't so.
  • Honestly, my main worry is not that criminals or other external parties will misuse the information a government gathers, but that the government itself will misuse that information.

    I don't disagree with this. In fact, there's a continuum between the two, especially as lobbyists control governments and it becomes harder to tell the line between the government and private citizens with an agenda, between people with "authorized" use of force and people abusing force. It's not a crisp line. And the founding fathers certainly knew this, which is why they built a distributed government and refused to centralize power from the start--which makes me not understand why the modern Republican party can favor "original intent", and yet do these kinds of things, which dismantle what I see as the core of the original intent. "Original intent" must just be a marketing buzz word to them, used as after-the-fact justification for something they wanted to do, because their rhetoric doesn't match their actions, and I can't believe they don't know that the founders meant to limit the power of government, and to reserve to the people the right to defend themselves.

    If those same people had written the Bill of Rights today, I'm quite sure the second amendment would have been extended to contain a personal right to some sort of defense against cyber intrusion, the little used third amendment would have contained protections against the government commandeering ISPs, the fourth and fifth amendment rights against cyber surveillance, and so on. The intent of the so-intensely-defended second amendment was not to preserve deer hunting for all time, it was to allow the citizenry a way to protect themselves against the encroachment of a too-powerful federal government.

    Also, what's especially odd, and it goes again to what you're saying above, is that in the US, there are any number of talk show hosts (most of whom, in my area, are unabashed Republicans) who outright refer to the Democrats as traitors in the style of the book by that name. It is a travesty that one can think of mere political opposition that way, and somewhat scary because bad things tend to begin with a dehumanization of the supposed enemy, preparatory to doing something bad to them as a mass. But you'd think the silver lining would be that they would dare not put a bunch of power in the hands of the government, lest it get in the hands of what they think are traitors as part of the natural process of the next election. Instead, though, they seem to just blindly do it, and then somehow hope that they can use the fact of having created so precarious a situation as leverage to say "and therefore you must not elect a Democrat, for they are criminals and thieves." I just don't get it.

    Of course, the article is about the UK, and their history with this is much different. So some of what I'm saying doesn't really apply to them from a literal historical point of view... except that the whole point of studying history, anyone's history, is to not have to live it oneself.

  • by trydk (930014) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @07:19PM (#22768488)
    I cannot see, why the British police & government do not get it over with once and for all: Give everybody an RFID implant, make sure you cannot go anywhere in public without being traced, keep the records forever, make them available to any (semi-)governmental institution including the police and MI5 -- remembering that they will keep your data safe.

    No need for beating around the bush and small steps in the direction of total surveillance.

    It is just like removing a plaster, do it swiftly and the pain will soon be forgotten!

    Honestly ...

    PS: It will, of course, due to fact that crimes could be committed by foreigners, be mandatory for people visiting England to have an implant too, maybe just a temporary one that is removed at the border. Naturally, nobody in their right mind would object to that.
  • by mi (197448) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @07:23PM (#22768516) Homepage

    You are arguing for selective enforcement [wikipedia.org] — a form of tyranny and, when the law-enforcer is himself a criminal, of hypocrisy. As prosecutor Spitzer hunted down "prostitution rings" (instead of advocating the legalization of the practice, for example) and — as Governor — just recently signed the law extending incarceration of "johns" from 3 to 12 months.

    Although many politicians have, indeed, committed crimes, those who were caught have gone through major troubles. That Spitzer had to resign, unlike another infamous "star" of Democratic Party, is the sign, that he was not doing his job that well, i.e. "I'm a fucking steamroller, and I'll roll over you," — is not how a governor is supposed to speak/act...

    By all accounts, he actually was doing a fairly decent job governing the state compared to his predecessors. His own personal life had very little bearing on his actions while in office (ditto to Bill Clinton).

    No, that's not true — his tenure as a governor is just too short to judge. Many consider him a hero of public service for "going after" the financial firms as the State's chief prosecutor. But what those people don't realize, is that he has not won a single trial — only settlements. And those of his targets, who chose not to settle, have all won in court...

    If such was the case of, say, anti-terrorism prosecutions, you would, I think, claim, the entire "terrorism" thing was drummed by the gubermint in order to put your favorite government evil here...

    You seem to agree, he should've been thrown out, yet you come up with silly excuses and "yeah-buts". There aren't any — not in this case.

    Do we want a President/Governor who steals candy from convenience stores? No. However, if he's doing an apt job of managing foreign affairs and the economy, it might do considerably less damage to ignore it, and turn your head the other way.

    You know, you could've used this argument to, say, defend Michael Jackson: "should we not look the other way, if a great artist molested a few boys for inspiration," — or something like that. "His contribution to culture may outweigh the harm done to these kids." I would not necessarily agree, but that could be a valid opinion — if not regarding the actual molestation, than certainly regarding drug abuse, for example...

    Yet in case of a politician, hypocrisy and absence of integrity are immediately disqualifying — a politician simply can not be deemed to be "doing a decent job", if he violates the law(s) he is there to uphold. Ditto Bill Clinton.

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