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Hotel card keys - privacy alert!

Interesting to read in the New York Times (opens in new tab)about the magnetic card keys that most hotel chains seem to use these days.

Apparently the word at this week's Internet Hotel/Motel and Restaurant Show, taking place in New York this week is that guests are becoming increasingly worried about the personal data contained on the cards the hotels are using to secure access to customers' rooms.

According to the paper, rumours have been circulating about privacy issues relating to hotel key card systems, ever since in 1999, when the police department in Pasadena, California, investigated a claim that personal information had been extracted from a hotel key card.

Police eventually `concluded' (gave up? - Ed) that there was no data being downloaded to the cards.

The New York Times also says that, a few weeks ago, Robert Mitchell (opens in new tab), a correspondent for Computerworld, posted an item on his blog (opens in new tab) questioning the security of magnetic cards.

Mitchell says that Peter Wallace, an IT manager for a travel agency in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, has discovered personal information encoded on key cards issued by at least three different hotel chains.

According to the NY Times, Wallace was unwilling to discuss his findings with the paper, but insisted his earlier statements were accurate.

"Do the research," he said. "The truth is out there."

Hmmm - even at a the disgracefully low rate of a tenner a room I'm currently paying for Travelodge hotels around the UK, I'd be a tad cheesed off if I found my privacy was being compromised.