Thursday, November 23, 2006

London news round-up

Police tracking Oyster cards

CIVIL liberties campaigners last week raised concerns over a 300 per cent increase in the police use of Londoners’ Oyster travel cards to monitor the public transport journeys of suspects. Officers now routinely use the smart cards as part of their investigations.
Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone, who is also a surveillance expert, said: “That’s one hell of an increase. Are the people whose personal details are given to them notified in any way? It’s another step towards a surveillance society. If there’s a valid reason for asking and a valid outcome, let’s discuss it in the open.”
More than six million Londoners use Oyster cards to travel on buses and Tube trains every day. Heather Brooke, author of the consumer guide Your Right to Know said: “I am troubled by how secretly this has been done and the way the police have started to use this as a database almost as a matter of course.”
She said that in the United States the use of similar information has not always stood up in court because these cards can be borrowed or stolen.
“I can imagine there will be a whole black market in Oyster cards to prove you are somewhere or someone you are not,” she added. Brooke also pointed out that although the congestion charge end at 6.30pm every weekday, the surveillance cameras are never turned off. They automatically read number plates and check them against a database of stolen vehicles, outstanding fines and criminal offences.

London Olympic costs soar

THE PROJECTED costs of the 2012 London Olympics rose sharply last week due to massive extra security costs and unforeseen VAT bills. Estimates of the likely total costs now range from £3.3 billion to £8 billion. The original Olympic bid in 2005 put the cost at £2.3 billion to be funded by the National Lottery and London council taxpayers.
Then the Government drew up a separate project at just over £1 billion to improve the east London area around the projected Olympic site.
Estimates for the security needed have risen from £190 million to £1.5 billion while regeneration costs are also a lot higher than originally thought.
The plans included a 20 per cent contingency for cost overruns on the building programme but the Treasury now wants this increased to 60 per cent.
London Mayor Ken Livingstone is opposing this “absolutely breathtakingly ridiculous” increase on the grounds that would “give the green light” to developers to come in over budget. He said that London council tax payers should not have to pay more than the £625 million already pledged. The Treasury insurers argue that, given the track record of previous Olympic Games around the world, they are not scaremongering.