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Transport police chief suggests officers could have Oyster card data to track suspicious rail passengers

File: An Oyster card (Ian West/PA) (PA Archive)
File: An Oyster card (Ian West/PA) (PA Archive)

Police should have the ability to track suspicious rail passengers through analysing bank and oyster card journey data, a chief constable has said.

Chief Constable Lucy D’Orsi, head of the British Transport Police, said she wanted to be able to use bank and oyster card information to spot “anomalous behaviour” such as people spending hours on the network to tackle crime.

She said she wanted enhanced data sharing between companies like TfL and Network Rail in a bid to identify potential pickpockets, sex offenders, or even to help those who are lost.

Speaking to Police TV, she said: “An example I gave recently is somebody who’s travelling the Underground for six hours.

“So they tap in and they tap out six hours later? Why is that? Possibly vulnerable, possibly a pickpocket, possibly a predatory sex offender.”

Police can currently ask operators for specific travel information on a suspect, but would need new data sharing agreements to access generic information about passenger movements.

Lucy D'Orsi (PA Media)
Lucy D'Orsi (PA Media)

Another example given by the senior officer was a person who makes unusual immediate return journeys long distances.

“So why is somebody doing that? That could be county lines, somebody’s dropping some drugs up there then coming back down to London,” she said.

“So how can we look more broadly at what the data is telling us, and then make the choices of whether we want to use that data or not?”

However, privacy campaigners have hit out at the suggestion, saying it would be “Orwellian”.

Legal and Policy Officer for the group, Madeleine Stone, told Mail Online: “The suggestion that innocent members of the public should have their movements tracked by the police is one straight out of an Orwellian police state.

“UK citizens are already some of the most surveilled in the world and this absurd proposal would be a nightmare for privacy and civil liberties.

“Police officers should focus on tackling crime, not expanding the surveillance state.”

In a wide-ranging interview, Chief Constable D’Orsi denied the move would be “Big Brother”, insisting that the force would only be looking at behaviour trends, not individual commuters.

She said it could be done while recognising “any civil rights and civil liberties aspects”.

A TfL spokesperson said: “TfL and the British Transport Police are exploring how aggregated anonymous data might be used to make the transport network safer.

“Under existing data sharing agreements information relating to specific crimes on the network is already shared with the police to assist in the detection of crime, the apprehension and prosecution of offenders, and the safeguarding of vulnerable people.”