Ross Clark Ross Clark

The authoritarianism of British Transport Police

Paper tickets could soon be a thing of the past (Credit: Getty Images)

When our freedoms are being taken away we are like the proverbial frog boiled alive in water where the temperature is slowly brought to boiling point. Who batted an eyelid in June when it was reported that rail companies are drawing up plans to abolish paper rail tickets and have us all travel with e-tickets instead? Who picked up on today’s story that explains one of the reasons why the police are so keen to switch us to e-ticketing?

Lucy D’Orsi, chief constable of the British Transport Police, says her force wants access to data from passengers’ mobile phones and bank cards so that it can track us around the network. At the moment, you can get on a train from Wolverhampton to London with a paper ticket and leave little trace. The ticket itself can be tracked if it’s put through the ticket barriers at a station that has them, but no rail company nor the British Transport Police can have any real idea who is travelling on that ticket, especially if it was bought with cash. Force us to travel with e-tickets connected to our mobile phones or bank cards, and it is all too easy to track us.

Force us to travel with e-tickets connected to our mobile phones or bank cards, and it is all too easy to track us

To what purpose? D’Orsi was quite open about the possibilities that would arise. She quoted the example of someone who was spotted by an algorithm travelling on the Tube for six hours and who, she suggested, might be a ‘pickpocket’ or a ‘predatory sex offender’. She also quoted the example of someone who caught a train from London to Liverpool and then caught one back straight away. ‘That’s not normal,’ she said. ‘That’s not what people do. So why is someone doing that?’ In future, she suggested, British Transport Police would be able to pick them up as a suspected drug-dealer.

We are supposed to think, of course, that only criminals will be stopped.

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