The number of requests from the Metropolitan Police for Oyster data have reached new highs this year, according to the Green Party. As any good tinfoil-hatter knows, this data can be used to track an individual’s movements and while it’s great for catching criminals and those seemingly omnipresent terrorists, concerns have been raised over the passing of sensitive data.
Of course, TfL are not automatically obliged to comply with a request, in fact they rejected about one in eight of them in 2010 which was less than last year’s 918 and still less than 1279 the previous year. The concerns over this data are twofold: firstly that spending cuts will lead to TfL not having enough resources to deal with the volume of requests and secondly that safeguards designed to protect sensitive data are not properly enforced - the Green Party’s Noel Lynch said: ‘There is clearly a risk that TfL could be overwhelmed with requests or otherwise pressured into handing over personal data without sufficient checks.’ There doesn’t appear to be any suggestion that this is already happening and TfL have been quick to offer assurance that ‘strict rules and procedures’ are in place and requests are handled in accordance with the Data Protection Act. The Met say that the rise in requests merely reflects the increase in Oyster usage and that each request relates to a specific line of investigation.
In 2008, data privacy watchdogs the Office of the Information Commissioner (OIC), were involved in discussions with the government over a request from the security services for access to Oyster data, provoking fears that US-style data mining could be used to track terror suspects. We doubt the police are trying to gain Spookesque levels of database access and TfL’s website states ‘We reject about five to 10 percent of requests each month because the police do not provide acceptable levels of detail or, we deem the requests excessive.’ Which on the one hand is reassuring, but also makes one wonder what the definitions of ‘acceptable’ and ‘excessive’ actually are.
In the meantime, criminals and terror suspects should use cash to get around London and avoid looking suspicious on the tube.