Lipstick on the collar may point to infidelity, but a check of your travel card can reveal where and when it happened
By Steve Bloomfield
Published: 19 February 2006
Oyster cards, the "smart" little blue thing in London commuters' wallets that enable them to travel at will around the capital, have another, unexpected function. They could also be a one-way ticket to the divorce courts.
For the cards, introduced by the London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, in 2003, don't only let you on to public transport - they also record your every journey. And, private detectives and lawyers report, that is information the suspicious are accessing to track their partner's movements.
And they are increasingly finding that the night she said she was working late in the City, she was actually hopping off the Northern line at Morden, staying there for some hours, before returning to town at 11.17pm. Or when he said he was playing football on Hackney Marshes his informative little Oyster card reveals that he was really catching a bus in Parsons Green.
The electronic lipstick-on-the-collar is revealed to anyone - the holder or their partner - who takes the card to a machine on the Underground or keys in its serial number on a website to get a read-out of every journey taken in the past 10 weeks.
One private investigator said: "Oyster cards won't tell you that the bloke's been cheating on his wife, but it will show if he's been in one part of town when he's supposed to be somewhere else. It is an easy thing to confront your partner with. It doesn't look like you've been snooping around too much."
The use of the cards is the latest weapon in the growing high-tech arsenal of tools used by suspicious partners. A telltale sign such as lipstick on the collar has been replaced by technological snooping such as placing a tracking device on a mobile phone.
Several internet sites now offer mobile phone tracking as a service to worried parents keen to know the whereabouts of their child. But private investigators said spouses who suspect that their partner is cheating are increasingly using mobile phone tracking sites.
Although an SMS message is sent to the mobile that is being tracked confirming the process, if this is deleted before the "target" sees it he or she has no way of knowing they are being followed.
Peter Heims, spokesman for the Association of British Investigators, said technology was transforming the private detective industry.
"Trackers are used on husbands all the time," he said. "You can get one with a magnetic bottom which you stick to the underside of the car. It will track the vehicle via satellite and is accurate to within 10 feet. A lot of companies now use this to check where their travelling salesmen have been."
From software that records every single tap on your lover's keyboard to DIY lie-detector kits, the market for catching a cheating spouse is now bigger than ever.
A company called OverSpy will let you monitor everything your partner does on computer by sending you email reports of the websites visited and emails sent.
Another firm has software that allows someone to retrieve secretly text messages deleted from a partner's phone. All that's needed is the SIM card.
A quick search reveals more than 14,000 websites that will help uncover a partner's infidelities, whether it is opening letters secretly or tapping a partner's mobile answerphone.
Proving adultery is no longer necessary for a court to grant a divorce. But the growth in technology in this area has enabled partners to check their suspicions in a way that was never possible before.
Divorce lawyers said they were sceptical that Oyster cards would be used in divorce proceedings, but accepted that it could lead more people to realise their relationship was over.
Lisa Fabian Lustigman, a family lawyer at city firm Withers LLP, said: "I would never instruct a private investigator to try to track down someone's Oyster card records to prove adultery. I don't think it would be overwhelmingly helpful."
But it has already happened in Hong Kong, where a similar scheme was introduced eight years ago. Suspicious husbands and wives obtained print-outs of their spouse's travel card to use as evidence in divorce proceedings. In the former British colony, the "smart" cards are used for shopping as well.
If London follows Hong Kong's example, Oyster cards will soon become even more useful for the distrusting partner.
Transport bosses in London hope to expand the concept here, allowing card holders to pay for their shopping in nearly 4,000 shops with their travel card. The records of where a person has shopped, as well as where they have travelled, will then be stored on the card.
Amazingly, this 'Steve Bloomfield' did not make the obvious connection to the proposed ID card scheme.
As we know these cards will be used to check your entry on the register in real time, by swiping them through a card reader at your bank, at the post office, at your doctors office, at the pharmacy, in an off licence, supermarket etc etc.
Each time your entry on the register is accessed, a record will be kept of what entity swiped your card and where and when it was swiped, at a minimum. This means that anyone who wants to know where you were, what you were doing etc etc could go to court and demand access to your NIR records to see where and when and to whom you had presented your card (or where you card was presented, because obviously your card can be swiped without you being there). This can then be used in a court case against you.
The proposed ID card is like an Oyster for your whole life. Oyster collects data about your travel on the TFL system as a part of its function; the ID card will collect information about your entire life, as you use it every day just to do the most simple of things, like buy a pack of cigarettes or a pint of beer of a box of aspirin.
And what is even more astonishing, is that the Home Secretary can revoke your ID card. Your ID card (and hence, your identity) does not belong to you, it belongs to the state, so if for any reason, the state revokes your ID card or suspends your NIR record, you will not be able to withdraw your own money from the bank.
How anyone can be for this is simply beyond belief.