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No Pearl in this Foul Oyster

The BBC reports on the latest application of RFID technology: London Undergound’s new “Oyster” cards.

These are smart cards that will replace existing season tickets. The advantage is that they don’t even have to be swiped through a gate and will hopefully speed passenger flow through the stations.

The disadvantage is that they will be personalised to you and will – surprise, surprise – record full details of every journey you make on a central database. This information will be retained for “a number of years”.

Even more worrying, there have been suggestions that the people responsible for these cards are keen to extend them to “other applications”.

An anonymous card will be available, but will cost more. An estimated £200 pa for an average commuter.

So the question for London commuters is: Are you willing to sell your privacy for 200 quid?

Cross-posted from The Chestnut Tree Cafe

6 comments to No Pearl in this Foul Oyster

  • Guy Herbert

    Currently one can be followed, or at least traced, via surveillence cameras throughout all of central and much of the rest of London–vastly cheaper than conventional watchers, and possible retrospectively…. but the grit in the oyster is that you can hop on a tube and emerge anywhere on the line so the trail may be difficult to pick up. It would be interesting to know whether the data can be accessed live.

  • What, they have a system where they can monitor all our movements, no doubt supporsedly for reasons of “security”, but they have an extra cost “anonymous” option just so that terrorists can stake out the system without anybody following them. That’s just great.

  • Remember that Mayor Ken Livingstone “won” this year’s Big Brother Award in the Worst Public Servant category, “nominated because of his obsession with travel and transport surveillance”

    There are no technical or legal safeguards to prevent the Oyster central database (name, address, credit card details) from being cross checked with the CCTV Surveillance data, only economic reasons.

    It is worrying that Transport for London CCTV footage has been used to hunt down innocent potential witnesses rather than suspects to a crime. No doubt the Oyster system will also be so used, unless you all protest and get some proper safeguards put in place.

  • shanti941

    This is an appalling violation of what little privacy we have left – the card needs to be used to open gates to both enter and exit the tube, and gating is spreading to all six zones now ( the gates are themselves provided by a member of the Transys consortium who make the smartcard), so the precise beginning and end of your journey is instantly recorded – for, of course, “billing purposes”…

    There do need to be safeguards and right now there’s almost no awareness or discussion over this crucial issue in London, something I am working to try to change…


  • For a quick demonstration of the effectiveness of the tracking just swipe your oystercard on any of the oyster-equiped paypoints. You will be given the option to see the card’s movements, click the botton and without delay it shows you where you have gone.

    Anyone who pick up your oystercard can do this without any kind of authentication or identity validation.

  • Merv_Pumpkinhead

    So what? What are you are all afraid of?