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Met thumbed through Oyster card data up to 22,000 times in 4 years

Requests for info on passengers' movements up 15%

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The Metropolitan police has requested Oyster card data relating to citizens and other personal information from Transport for London (TfL) more than 22,000 times since 2008, according to figures published by the capital's transport authority.

The force requested personal data TfL holds relating to citizens 5,295 times in 2008; 5,359 times in 2009; 5,046 times in 2010; and 6,258 times in 2011, according to a response to a freedom of information request from Guardian Government Computing. The figures also show that the force has made 264 requests for such information this year so far.

TfL said that it could not provide a breakdown of the number of requests made by the Metropolitan police just for passengers' Oyster card data alone, but a spokesman for London's police force told Guardian Government Computing that the majority of requests were likely to be related to Oyster information. Other than Oyster data, personal information requested would include CCTV images and details of TfL staff, he said.

The transport authority said that it receives "many requests" for information pertaining to different crime types. Examples over the last four years include requests for Oyster data to assist with the police's investigations into offences such as theft, robbery, missing persons and sexual offences.

More than 40 million Oyster cards have been issued since they were launched in 2003, with in excess of 3 billion journeys on TfL's network made each year using the cards. The transport authority stores data for two months after a journey has been made with an Oyster card.

Nick Pickles, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said that it was important that electronic methods of payment and identification do not no become "a massive surveillance exercise".

"The escalating use of this data by law enforcement agencies highlights the risk that these databases are increasingly being used by authorities instead of tried and tested methods," he said.

TfL is overhauling its ticketing system and is set to accept contactless payments on selected networks later this year. It has said that it would like to move away from travel information being stored on individual cards to a system where most travel data is stored in TfL's back office.

This article was originally published at Guardian Government Computing.

Guardian Government Computing is a business division of Guardian Professional, and covers the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. For updates on public sector IT, join the Government Computing Network here.

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