This page contains information relating to some specific questions I asked about the OysterCard.

==== Background ====

In trying to find facts about the OysterCard, I found that the TFL website (and so-called FAQ section) had very little information about privacy, or lack thereof. It didn't seem to have any details about how Oyster information is used, or indeed what privacy one loses in using the card. A few other news sites, and private blogs seemed to have anecdotal evidence of various things, but nothing I was able to verify.

I decided to do something about it. I sent a letter (on the 10th March) the Oyster Central Customer Services asking a series of questions. Today (20th April), I received a response (dated 13th April), which has been dealt with under the Freedom of Information Act, 2000. Unlike the Home Office, TFL were very forthcoming with information.

==== Request and Response ====

I've listed my request and their response to each below:

====== Question 1. ======

It has been reported in the Press that TFL has given the Police (and presumably MI5, MI6 etc.) travel information for Oyster Card holders. Is this True?

Response 1. ======

You have asked if Transport for London (TfL) has provided the police with customer travel information, specifically collected via their Oyster cards. I can confirm that we have released Oyster card information to the police. TfL's disclosure of personal information is carried out in accordance with the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998 and assessed on a case by case basis. All police requests must be submitted in accordance with guidance from the Association of Chief Police Officers and are coordinated by TfL's Information Access and Compliance Team.

Any public sector organisation can request access to Oyster card information if they are able to cite appropriate statutory authority. However any such requests would, again, be assessed strictly in accordance with the requirements of the Data Protection Act on a case by case basis.

Please note that a limited number of authorised individuals within TfL can access Oyster card data and no external organisations have direct access to the data. There are no bulk disclosures of personal data to any public sector or commercial organisations.

====== Question 2 ======

If so, to what extent? (e.g. How many times in the last year?)

Response 2 ======

Between August 2004 and March 2006 TfL's Information Access and Compliance Team received 436 requests from the police for Oyster card information. Of these, 409 requests were granted and the data was released to the police. Please note that before September 2005, some requests may have been received and answered without detailed statistical information being recorded.

====== Question 3 ======

In how many cases was this as a result of a Court Order of some kind (e.g. Search Warrant, etc.)?

Response 3 ======

You also enquired as to how many times TfL has released Oyster card information as a result of a court order, requiring it's disclosure. I have been advised that this situation has never arisen.

====== Question 4 ======

How long is the usage history of an Oyster card retained?

Response 4 ======

The usage history of each card is retained on an eight week rolling basis. The information held covers all journeys made using the card, including National Rail journeys (for which an Oyster card is valid), provided that the customer has 'touched in' and/or 'touched out' as appropriate (for bus and tram journeys customers only need to touch in, for tube, DLR and trains customers need to both touch in and out).

====== Question 5 ======

Is there a way to expunge this history?

Response 5 ======

You also asked if there was a way to expunge this travel history. There is not. However, after an eight week period (during which it is used for customer service purposes, to check charges for particular journeys, or for refund enquiries) has passed, the travel information recorded against an individual Oyster card is disassociated from it and can no longer be linked to either the card or customer concerned.

The anonymised journey information is retained for research purposes (eg after eight weeks, TfL would be able to tell that a monthly Travelcard had been used to make a particular journey at a specific time, but would not know which Oyster card or customer was oassociated with that journey).

====== Question 6 ======

1)When replacing an unregistered Oyster card (because it is inoperative), the holder has to provide extensive personally identifying information (despite never having had to do so in the past). As all this information is captured on a single form, it is clearly used to 'tie' the card to it's owner's name, address etc. Indeed, the replacement card's serial number is also tied to this information. This appears to be 'surreptitious registration'. Can you explain why it would be necessary for TFL to capture extensive identifying information to replace an otherwise unregistered card?
(Please note: I understand that there is no way for TFL to verify the person presenting the card is the person who bought it, or paid for any credit, so do not expect to be told that this is the reason for ID being sought).

Response 6 ======

When an unregistered Oyster card has to be replaced because it is inoperative, the replacement is usually issued at the ticket office in a tube station. Tube station ticket offices do not have direct access to Oyster card details, and as there is often a queue of customers, the staff do not usually have time to contact the Oyster card helpdesk.

Therefore, the station staff will load onto a replacement Oyster card the period ticket and/or 'pay as you go' amount that the customer states was on their inoperative card. Station staff then return the inoperative card to the Oyster card helpdesk.

Your personal details are requested in case a discrepency is subsequently found between the value of your inoperative card and what was loaded onto your replacement card. For example, if £5.00 was credited to your replacement card, but the Oyster card helpdesk discover that you actually had £8.00 credit on your original card, then a refund would be due to you.

====== Question 7 ======

Seemingly the only way to retrieve the £3 deposit paid for an Oyster card (registered or otherwise) is to return the card to TFL and request a cheque payment. Again, this provides TFL with personally identifying information about Oyster card holders. Once again, this appears to be 'surreptitious registration'. Can you explain why it is not possible to obtain a £3 refund from a ticket window (which of course was quite happy to take the deposit in the first place)?

Response 7 ======

Regarding the refund of the£3.00 card deposit, I can advise that as from 19 March 2006, these deposits can be refunded at a tube station ticket office. The deposits were previously processed via the central refunds department because they were classified as 'anonymous funds'.

Consequently, refunds had to meet anti money-laundering regulations which required that deposits be refunded in this way, rather than through individual tube station ticket offices. However, as the deposit is no longer defined as anonymous funds, we can now process deposit refunds at ticket windows.

This isn't quite what it seems, see OysterCard for more details! - Coofer Cat

====== Question 8 ======

What 'resolution' do TFL routinely use when analysing Oyster usage? That is, TFL may be able to tell ?X thousand people arrive at Bank between the hours of 7am and 9am?, but do TFL routinely attempt to work out where those people came from, where else they may go, how long they stay, and where they return to, etc.? In other words, does TFL use the fact they can identify travellers uniquely to analyse traffic patterns, or does TFL only use statistical information, such as the number of travellers passing through a given location?
(Here I am attempting to ascertain how prominently an individual appears in TFL traffic patterns. Clearly Oyster offers far more scope for this than paper tickets. I simply want to understand to what extent TFL currently do this. I'm expecting a subjective response to this subjective question).

Response 8 ======

Finally, you asked what information TfL uses when analysing Oyster card usage. Apart from the limited purposes referred to in point 1 of this letter, at present TfL uses Oyster card data to:

  • count how many people pass through the ticket barriers at London Underground stations;
  • contruct origin destination marices of the number of people travelling from one station to another at different times of day; and
  • examine the time it takes for customers to travel from the start station to the end station of their journey.

This information is used for planning future services and calibrating our estimated journey times. Analysis is also carried out to identify ticket irregularities relating to 'unstarted' or 'unfinished' journeys.

===== Epilogue =====

The letter goes on to state that I can follow a review procedure if I'm unhappy with the way my request has handled. The letter was signed by Shiela Sachania, Transport for London, Central Customer Services.

My apologies for typos (particularly in the responses), as I had to transcribe the paper letter!



i had purchasedtwo 7day oyster cards on 2 nd april through credit card.is it possible to get the refund money now through post.


Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 2006-04-27 17:34.
Re: refund

Thanks for that - it was always possible to get a refund for anything through the post. However, that requires you give them your name and address. Thus, it is not possible to maintain anonymity.

Submitted by coofercat on Fri, 2006-04-28 10:06.
Oystercard site generally poor, police disclosure predictable

Firstly there is a certain level of hypocracy in a site about privacy setting cookies, especially as you can submit comments even with them blocked.You need a privacy policy statement for your site.

I think the lack of response to searches for privacy on the OysterCard site is just a relection of the generally poor quality of that site.It looks like a site created by a markenting department or PR consultants and has the typical lack of hard facts.

Examples: I've been unable to verify that you can get, at least limited, refunds on working cards from ticket offices from any primary source on the web (for information for a tourist from abroad, and which first brought me here), Also I've been unable to determine for certain that freedom passes will not accept pre-pay (I get the distinct impression that is the case, but there is no obvious technical reeason, and whilst there could be user confusion as to whether they were paying or not, it would be up to them to charge the card first - I'm thinking about this in relation to my parents).

Regarding disclosure of information to the police, I think that is entirely predictable, even withouta court order.All businesses will do it in response to a court order, but th emain reasons they may insist on one are:

- providing the information costs them and they are not in that business;
- they are not an effective monopoly, in an effectively non-discretionary market, and attract customers who are privacy sensitive.

As long as they impose consitions on access that are equivalent to those for a court order, it will cost than less to provide the information, than go through the court order process and then still provide itThey may even end up providing less, because the police may choose to avoid the expense of a court order they are not certain of getting.

TfLhas particular needs to cooperate with the police becuase it is, itself, subject to considerable crime and fraud.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 2006-08-26 14:39.
Privacy & Disclosure ...

Privacy, no thanks. Lots of people at EDS or Cubic Transportation Systems(that developed the system) have access to those details and given EDS is an IT provider to the Government there is little doubt that the police will write a lettre to dully request the details only when they already know about the details. No need to go thru the TfL cell of aproval for disclosure.
Still don't see the need to put a name address and credit card number on every Oyster card to count people and measure time it takes to go from A to Z.
Regarding the 8 week rolling period of data retained, it's the amount of readily avaible data to any single TfL employee with access to a computer, the details are kept on tape for at least 3 years.
But thanks to the layout of this Oyster thing chances are high that transactions get lost on their way or being mixed up so the details are incorrectly reported ... or the tape lost or unreadable. Since EDS has a proven track of massive cockups and CTS has quite a few court cases in the States with ticket devices not working.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 2006-09-23 23:13.
Bloody oysters

I am forced to replace mine because its buggering up, rinsing the money straight away before I can even sign out, therefore resulting in me in the minus.

I like the idea of swapping cards with friends, but soon won't be able to as I have to now register for replacement.

Bloody livingstone

Submitted by Anonymous Git (not verified) on Mon, 2007-12-03 12:39.
Police & Oyster

Police has high power Oyster readers, they approach the 'suspect' andread the Oyster card, then track suspect's movements. Reading Range is on average less than 1m.

They use the readers in 2 ways:

1) Reader in back pack carried by one person, 'suspect' approached, reader beeps once, suspect thinks it is a mobile phone, then policeman walks away

2) If they dont want the beep, a 2 person team is used, one is holding the reader with his back towards the suspect looking at the reader for verification, the other one faces the suspect, making sure the correct Oyster is read.

Sometimes suspect are asked to present Oyster to a TFL controller, who gives number to Police

Submitted by Anonymous Coward (not verified) on Wed, 2007-12-26 04:08.
Police & Oyster

Anonymous Coward (!) -I am considering making a documentary on such privacy issues, could you tell me how you know about the police using oyster readers?

thanks ;)

Submitted by bilbo (not verified) on Wed, 2008-01-09 21:18.
Oyster Ken Vs Untested Boris

Red Ken used to be my MP and was a very fair man in those Brent days. When he became a rebel and left Nu Labour so that he could run for Mayor he became a freedom fighter and a working class hero.

Somewhere down the line he was influenced by the 'Dark Side' when he was drawn back into the Nu Labour fold. Somehow he couldn't see how something so profoundly unfair as Oyster Cards would lose him his office. Well I'd suggest that many people who voted on 1/5/08 had in mind at least one incident when the Oyster Card spoiled their day and this is why we now have Boris in power.

Now if Boris wants to keep his job for more than one term he'll need to do something about Oysters.......maybe even scrap them. It's the new poll tax!!! It lose politicians their jobs. Watching Ken clear his desk was like watching Maggie leaving No.10. They are broken people. If Boris doesn't want to go the same way he needs to think very long and hard.

Submitted by Carlos The King (not verified) on Thu, 2008-05-22 09:36.
Oyster card return

I have 10£ in my card plus 3£ deposite i went to tube station to retun it but they said to call customer care and they will retun it by post. when i called to customer care they said go t o tube station to return it.

Submitted by Kapil (not verified) on Mon, 2008-06-16 16:19.
Oyster card registration

I was overcharged by £1.80 for one day's bus journeys using my Oyster pay as you go, ie a total of £4.80.Now the Oyster Card office insists that I register my card before they even look into their mistake.The overcharge happened because the reader on the bus recorded the time as 04:00 in the morning instead of 16:00 in the afternoon.I think that my chances of getting my money back are minimal.How can I prove that the time on the reader was wrong?

Submitted by Elsa Xenia (not verified) on Thu, 2008-06-26 22:29.
Thnaks for your overview

...to not be able to use an Oyster Card correctly. If the gates are open and you don't touch out that is tantamount to "forgetting" to buy a ticket when the gates are open. Yeah, we've all done it....but don't whinge when it comes back to bite you on the bum.

Submitted by aoc gold (not verified) on Tue, 2008-10-21 05:05.
Returning Oyster cards

I'm leaving London tomorrow and wanted to get the £15 + £3 deposit remaining on my Oyster card back as cash. The Tube station told me they couldn't do that as I'd loaded it up with both cash and credit cards, until the balance falls below £5. However, they also said that if I'd loaded it up with ONLY cash or ONLY credit card, they would be able to refund it!

They also informed me that if you've ever had a negative balance on your pre-pay card, you're not eligible for a refund - even if you topped it up to go back to positive!

Submitted by Tom41 (not verified) on Wed, 2008-10-22 22:15.
regarding oyster cards

Thanks for informing us regarding oyster cards.Hope to use it properly and correctly.Be careful to use it too.

Submitted by buy darkfall gold (not verified) on Tue, 2009-03-03 10:51.
Use it wisely.

Thank you for informing us the facts regarding the benefits of the so called oyster card. Travel for London allow to keep the oyster card name,news and others.
Use it wisely.

Submitted by darkfall treasures (not verified) on Fri, 2009-03-06 04:07.
Thanks alot for throwing

Thanks alot for throwing light on various common issues that one might face as a user of oystaer cards. Also reading the blogs of others has alsp successfully indicated the problems and tentative solutions.

Submitted by Computer Howto (not verified) on Thu, 2009-04-23 10:02.
Jags Knowledge

However, that requires you give them your name and address. Thus, it is not possible to maintain anonymity.Thanks for that - it was always possible to get a refund for anything through the post.nice blog and keep up your good work...

Submitted by Unblock Facebook (not verified) on Thu, 2009-04-23 19:27.
Twitter Apps

The overcharge happened because the reader on the bus recorded the time as 04:00 in the morning instead of 16:00 in the afternoon. I think that my chances of getting my money back are minimal. How can I prove that the time on the reader was wrong?I was overcharged by £1.80 for one day's bus journeys using my Oyster pay as you go, ie a total of £4.80. Now the Oyster Card office insists that I register my card before they even look into their mistake.

Submitted by Twitter Apps (not verified) on Tue, 2009-04-28 22:31.


i had taken back the oyster card to india wth out returning it back. is there some way to return it and reclaim the 3 pound refund?

Submitted by Veena (not verified) on Sun, 2009-05-17 14:37.
penalty fare

As per usual on the DLR where hardly anything works properly , it seemed id tapped in on a validator than was broken , the guy on the train said i hadnt touched and was gonna give me a penalty fare , i refused and said ill get off , he said 'dont worry mate i got ur oyster serial ill penalty fare off that' is this allowed or even legal?

Submitted by Very annoyed on DLR (not verified) on Sun, 2010-08-15 14:59.
Re: penalty fare

Yep, it's legal, although it's a bit unreasonable. Technically, it's your responsibility to make sure that you have a properly validated ticket before riding the train. Obviously, if the gates suddenly open, then it's pretty obvious it's okay. If they're already open, then it's a bit tougher, but you're still required to do it. If you can demonstrate the faulty machine is misleading, then you're probably legally stronger, but you're still in a sticky spot.

Submitted by coofercat on Sun, 2010-08-15 21:59.
ok thanks , but i did enquire

ok thanks , but i did enquire with transport investigations inspectors and it seems only the police can trace your name and address from your oyster serial .

Submitted by Very annoyed on DLR (not verified) on Fri, 2010-08-20 15:26.
Oyster disclosure to police

Hi, My younger brother was assaulted quite badly on the bus about a week ago. The boy who assaulted him used a registered under sixteen oyster card..
How long does it usually take for TFL to disclose someones oyster address to the police following a serious assault please?

Submitted by Steve (not verified) on Tue, 2010-12-21 00:33.
Re: Oyster disclosure to police

Not sure there's a specific time they respond in, but I'd expect it to be fairly quick (eg. instant, or within a day or two), depending on how urgent the police make the request (high profile cases probably get instant results, whereas the common or garden crimes get slower service). Of course, this requires the police to actually ask for the information, and to ask for the right information, etc.

Submitted by coofercat on Tue, 2010-12-21 14:24.
thanks very much for the

thanks very much for the response coofercat... do you think there is a possible way for me to find out, how long it would take for a response from the tfl for an assault case. Also, in light of what you say it seems that the police may just completely disregard my brother's case. Or, put it to the back of some files for a very very later date to pursue! Thanks

Submitted by steve (not verified) on Wed, 2010-12-22 23:06.

Why do my oyster cards beep twice when i touch the reader on buses this has happened regularly with my old and new cards i am an adult that pays full fare.

Submitted by alex (not verified) on Sat, 2012-10-13 10:17.