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UK's MI5 Wants Oyster Card Travel Data 291

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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  • Acid Test (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WarwickRyan ( 780794 ) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @01:20PM (#22766102)
    They should make records like this for all MPs and their families pubically available, updated daily and hosted on the interweb.

    After 6 months, they can decide if they *REALLY* want the intelligence services (and anyone who picks an MI5 laptop up on a train) to have the same.
  • by a whoabot ( 706122 ) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @01:24PM (#22766150)
    Would the anonymised version of the data be any help to them? They could have all the travel data but not tied to any actual names but just to the anonymous IDs of the cards, and then if that data implicates one of the anonymous travellers, or if there's a reason to belief one of those are tied to a suspect, they could get a warrant or something like that for the name tied to it?
  • by sakdoctor ( 1087155 ) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @01:31PM (#22766204) Homepage
    Shanghai metro for one has an oyster type card that is anonymous. To top it up you pay cash at the ticket office.

    There are logs, and you can check them yourself by inserting the card into a reader; same for your wife who took your card to see where you've been. It is anonymous in that your personal details are not tied to the card ID, so no fishing expeditions by the authorities.
  • by Mactrope ( 1256892 ) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @01:39PM (#22766278) Homepage Journal

    It will be worse than E. Germany, so it must be stopped now. Amateur law enforcement through paranoid informants [] is a part of any police state but centralized tracking like this was beyond the means of E. Germany and other previous tyrannies. The other thing that makes it worse is that there's no large free state left for escape or rescue. Once the ability to identify and quash dissidents is established, the laws will be changed to make it easier to round them up.

    If they have their way, there will be no way to travel in the UK that can't be tracked. Roads and air are already tracked, now they are going for rail. Dissidents will be locked to stone age techniques of walking/biking to meetings where no one can carry a cell phone.

  • by M-RES ( 653754 ) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @01:44PM (#22766298)
    Are you kidding? RFID's are simple to implant. Go to any veterinary centre in the UK and you can have an RFID implanted in your dog in seconds. Likewise, you can read the RFID of anyone/anything within a 10 metre (give or take a few metres) radius, so it's a piece of piss to nick someone else's ID details, stick them on a black RFID and carry that with you - voila, ID theft made super-easy!!!
  • by TheWizardTim ( 599546 ) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @01:45PM (#22766308) Journal
    The downfall of all of this is that there is no physical link between the tag and any human being.

    Shhhh don't give them any ideas! Next thing you know they are going to implant chips for you to travel, or go work, or get your chocolate ration for the week. I hear it's up to 20 grams!
  • Sad but true. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Fuzzums ( 250400 ) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @01:51PM (#22766364) Homepage
    What can you say? That you didn't saw this coming? Really?

    In the Netherlands there will be a travelcard that can be used in the whole country. Train, bus, tram, subway, everything.

    They come in two flavours. One, *cough* anonymous, wihthout reduction and one, personalised, with 40% reduction. It appears anonymity comes at a price.

    But who cares. They wouldn't do anything bad with it. They wouldn't use it to datamine your behaviour.

    Recently I heared this story. I can't tell if it's true, but it sounds likely. They are still running trials with the cards and there are "some" flaws in the system. Somebody, with a registered card, described his traven from A to B and back again. After that trip, he found there was more money on his card than before and he wrote a story about is. Anonymously.

    But surprisingly enough he got a call from the card company, so he asked how he got his phonenumber. The answer was "what do you think?".

    I find this disturbing.
  • by MoonFog ( 586818 ) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @01:53PM (#22766378)
    People in power really don't have as much to hide? I know of a certain New York governor that is evidence to the contrary, and I don't really believe he's a one of a kind.
  • by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @01:58PM (#22766412)
    I mean, Orwell *showed* them in "1984" how bad it could be, but they keep moving towards it. It's very strange.

    Not at all. The people in power are generally immune to any consequences, which is why they can do this and not care. The United States Congress was originally structured in such a way that the lawmakers would serve their term of office (a civic responsibility, much like jury duty) and then return to their previous lives to live under the very laws they instituted. That very powerful negative feedback loop was opened (to our detriment) when the idea of "career politician" was born. Now, I don't know enough about England's governmental structures to know if there were any similar controls that have also since lapsed into uselessness. If so, it would explain a lot.
  • by Peter Cooper ( 660482 ) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @02:33PM (#22766642) Homepage Journal
    In England, you can, as a Member of Parliament, actually hold the same seat indefinitely. There's no maximum term, no maximum number of times you can be elected, so if you have a constituency where the majority of people support you, you can be in power forever. This is certainly the case where I live where the local MP has been in control since the mid 1960s. This is why I do not vote as he is unbeatable since he gets voted in by most of the over 60s (as well as others, since there's no good competition as you'd never win against him.)
  • 17 Million? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nicklott ( 533496 ) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @02:40PM (#22766700)
    I wonder where they got the 17 million stat from? Is that the number of Oyster cards ever issued? Given that there are only 8 million people in the whole of Greater London (which is the only city the oyster card exists) and only some of them (i've no idea how many but I'd guess about 50%) use public transport that seems a touch high to be current users.
  • by jgarra23 ( 1109651 ) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @02:52PM (#22766790)

    People in power really don't have as much to hide.

    Wow, that is the most naive statement I've heard in well... as long as I can remember!
  • by cheesethegreat ( 132893 ) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @03:00PM (#22766846)
    Look, I'm all for privacy. Seriously, I'm a big fan. But help me out will access to the Oyster card database enable them to "harass political opposition".

    This gives the police/security service NO additional powers to detain/charge individuals. There's a big difference between having access to information and being given new ways of acting on the information. This doesn't give them access to any information which isn't already discoverable in the public domain. I could hire a PI to follow you around and accumulate a log of all your rail usage which would be identical to your Oyster log. It's not something you're doing in private, so why should it be protected?

    Let's focus on privacy and the rights of individuals. But let's do it by restricting the powers of police/security services to intervene in our lives, and to discover what we do in our own home.

    Besides, there's almost no chance that they'll discover anything useful in the mass of white noise of the Oyster network.

  • by ancient_kings ( 1000970 ) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @03:39PM (#22767118)
    Congratulations to the terrorists. You are clearly winning the war hands down. Your latent strategies would clearly impress Julius Caesar.
  • by Stanislav_J ( 947290 ) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @04:15PM (#22767334)

    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.

    Give them time.....I'm sure eventually they will do away with currency, probably sooner in the U.K. than in the U.S., but inevitably. The people in power (not to mention divorce lawyers and the like) would absolutely love to be able to know where every penny of your income goes (or comes from, in the case of the tax folks). Here the "Green Dot" and similar refillable debit cards are being hawked in ads everywhere, so eventually more and more poorer folk will be tempted into plastic, under the guise of "security" and "safety" ("Don't carry all that cash around.....") and "convenience." Not to mention those ubiquitous VISA ads that show traffic through some commercial establishment flowing like clockwork, with people waving their smart cards at that infernal little machine, until some nimnul pulls out cash and brings everything to a screeching halt.

    Eventually, most Americans will be conditioned to see cash as "slow," "unsafe," and (the worst!) "old-fashioned" and the only citizens left clinging to their dead presidents will be the ignorant, the homeless, and those damned pointy-headed paranoia-spreading, conspiracy-theory nonconformists. It would be rather smooth at that point to phase out the use of currency altogether. Oh, it might be that some private transactions could still go on, perhaps in the form of barter/exchange, or some form of private scrip (which would be clamped down on pretty quickly), or for larger transactions hard metal such as gold (the private ownership of which will no doubt eventually be criminalized), but for the most part we are rushing towards a point at which any transaction involving any commercial enterprise will be logged, stored, and available for the data miners.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 16, 2008 @04:26PM (#22767396)
    They have these in the US too in most metro areas.

    The Wikipedia article on the Oyster card [] mentions the New York MetroCard, the Washington DC SmarTrip, and the Boston OMG-It-Involves-LEDs-So-It's-A-Bomb.

    OK, maybe not that last one.

    In any case, the US ones work basically the same way: totally anonymous if you use only cash, but once you use a credit card or if you get a monthly pass, permanently IDed to you.

    I'm pretty sure that just like the UK, the US metro areas claim they don't track people, but you can bet they do. Partially because I can't imagine a city planner not using the data in aggregate to help plan route schedules, and partially because it's been shown time and time again that if the data is collected, the police will be given access.
  • by squidinkcalligraphy ( 558677 ) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @06:42PM (#22768188)
    Even if the card is not directly tied to your personal details, it is still quite useful to the powers that be. It contains all of your travel information, even if it's not linked with your name. All that's required is to make use of any of the numerous CCTV cameras all around London (particularly in the tube) to get a photo as you swipe the card of interest, then ID that photo (which, assuming you are a person of interest in the first place, would be quite easy). Sure, it's more work (for _them_) than having your name right there, but having an anonymous card (not linked at any point to a credit card) is far from the privacy heaven you dream of.

    Any terrorist who isn't a complete idiot will be using ye olde magnetic strip cards paid for with cash. So these changes will serve to catch catch complete idiots, while letting the masterminds get through.

    Actually, even smarter terrorists would use an anonymous card that's been topped up with stolen credit card data (one or more cards) which would send the spys looking in the wrong places, and possibly highlight the dangers of relying too much on data.
  • by plover ( 150551 ) * on Sunday March 16, 2008 @08:06PM (#22768864) Homepage Journal

    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.

    Or speeding on a freeway, or drunk driving. Neither activity actually causes harm, it's just that both lead to increased risk of harm. But both are really "pre-crimes".

    For the record, I think they're crap laws -- what should take place is harsh punishment for damages caused if an accident results, not for some imagined possibility. The world is substantially safer from a professional driver going 100MPH on the freeway rather than my 80-year-old uncle driving a single mile to the store. Even stone sober, my uncle's driving poses a far greater risk to life and property than your average drunk driver.

  • by aproposofwhat ( 1019098 ) on Sunday March 16, 2008 @09:05PM (#22769170)
    Gas prices?

    Don't get me started.

    I've got to make a trip to Liverpool next Saturday to pick up my 9-year old stepdaughter for the Easter holidays - even with a fairly economical car, that's a 400 mile round trip, and is going to set me back 60 quid, of which at least 50 goes to those leeches in Whitehall.

    When they start to invest all that tax in efficient public transport, wake me up and I'll agree that it's reasonable.

    Until then, it's just gouging by the parasites who are allowed to spend 22 grand feathering their second home knocking shops.

    When I see proper fuel duty on airline fuel, then I'll believe that there's a green agenda - at the moment it's just institutionalised theft.

  • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Monday March 17, 2008 @06:57AM (#22771664)
    Remember remember the fifth of November
    Gunpowder, treason and plot.
    I know of no reason why gunpowder, treason
    Should ever be forgot...
  • by mgblst ( 80109 ) on Monday March 17, 2008 @07:51AM (#22771882) Homepage
    So you are the scum who speed whenever you can get away with it? Yeah, i see you all the time, you never notice bikes on the road, almost run down pedestrians daily. You are always cutting corners, crossing over the road to overtake.

    You do not drive as well as you think you do. Driving is not just about you getting where you want to get as quickly as you can. It is about doing the best on the road for everybody, not charging around like a fool, but driving with respect to other drivers.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 17, 2008 @08:08AM (#22771966)
    ... about my foresight of never having registered my Oyster card and changing cards every 3 months.

    It was plainly obvious that such a juicy database full of travel data would sooner of later be in the hands of a shady organization with secret objectives and little accountability to the public in general.

    Expect some "leaks" about some not-in-the-government politician's visits to their mistresses or something such in the near future.

Experience varies directly with equipment ruined.