Londoners, time to put your Oyster card in a different wallet

You could be in for a nasty surprise tomorrow.

Londoners, if you don't have separate Oyster card holder, it might be time to get one. A new feature introduced by TfL will make it a lot easier to get around if you don't have your card on you – but could end up costing you a lot of money if you aren't careful.

According to an email posted by BorisWatch, TfL is enabling support for contactless card payments on London buses from tomorrow.

This will let you pay for bus journeys with a card, which is useful in a pinch or if you don't have an Oyster card. Better still, you will only be charged the Oyster rate, not the full cash fare.

But in order to speed up boarding, it does not appear that TfL plan to require card users to confirm that they want to pay cash (we're waiting for confirmation on this). So if, like me and many others, you carry a contactless card in the same wallet as an Oyster travelcard, you run the risk of paying for trips which you didn't mean to do.

So time to decant that Oyster into its own holder, if you haven't already. That "Sack Boris" wallet hasn't outworn its usefulness just yet.

We are also waiting on comment from TfL to explain the discrepancy between today's email, which says the change will happen tomorrow, and the website explaining the feature, which still says "later this month". Hopefully, not too many people will be caught out if the change does take them by surprise tomorrow.

Update:

To clarify, as TfL says in the link, if the reader senses two cards, it will return an error message, as it has done for a while. The problem comes if it doesn't. For instance, this is (roughly) my wallet: the right-hand side contains my debit card, the left contained my Oyster card. Tap the wrong side to the reader, and you've accidentally spent money.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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