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London Oyster card - a tool for spouse stalkers?

Marriages down the tubes...

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Transport for London's (TfL) 'ID card lite', the Oyster travelcard, is already being illicitly used to snoop on people's movements, according to the Independent on Sunday. The problem stems from the fact that TfL records the journeys made using the card, and gives owners easy internet access to their personal audit trail. But it's perhaps too easy.

TfL itself logs individual journeys in order, it claims, to plan its network better. Yes, one can see how, with slightly higher programming skills than TfL has apparently got, one could produce data of similar utility without logging point to point journeys of individual cards, but TfL claims that it does not associate the journey data with named individuals. TfL does however provide the police with journey data for named individuals on request, and the ability to track named individual's movements is obviously of considerable use to the security services. Oyster cards have already figured in a number of serious crime investigations.

Giving individuals access to their own journey data seems of doubtful utility, considering most of them will have a fair idea of where they've been, and you can probably view this feature as a marketing tool intended (as will be the case with respect to allowing individuals access to their National Identity Register entry) to give the user the erroneous impression that they are the ones controlling their own data. The IoS claims that Oyster journey data can be extracted at a ticket machine using the card, or online by keying the serial number of the card. As far as The Register is aware, however, internet access is slightly more secure than this, requiring a username and password or the serial number, and mother's maiden name or similar, from the application form. These are not, however, insuperable hurdles for the suspicious spouse or close friend, and access to the individual's email account would probably be enough for a snooper to change passwords and gain access to the account itself.

It is possible to obtain an anonymous pay as you go Oyster card, but most users will either have filled in a form or registered online, so TfL has their name, address, and some personal details.

Currently, Oyster's extremely basic security only seems likely to cause trouble in fairly limited circumstances, but if TfL's plans to make it an 'e-cash' card for retail payments as well, Oyster will become a more attractive target for criminals (as far as we can gather, as criminals seem not to pay their fares anyway, stealing season tickets is pointless). An RFID card, used by the majority of commuting Londoners for travelling and shopping, could well be worth a spot a high-tech snooping, cloning and skimming, well ahead of the national ID card achieving similar status. So how good will the security on Oyster V2 be? We're not sure we'd put money on it... ®

*Apropos of nothing, seeing we're doing TfL, were The Register inclined to revolutionary action we'd be finding and publishing the home address of the Zombie Announcer Woman who (we've timed it) can fire out deafening "Ladies and gentelemen..." audionags at 20 second intervals. If TfL is not at the very least forced to turn down the volume for health and safety reasons, we feel sure she'll be first up against the wall when the revolution comes.

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