The Truth About Hotel Key Cards

On September 19, 2005 ComputerWorld blogger Robert Mitchell posted an entry about an IT director named Peter Wallace who supposedly found his name and personal credit card information encoded on the magnetic strip of several hotel key cards.

The next day Slashdot linked to that blog entry in this article where much debate took place and several readers pointed out that internet myth debunking sites such as Snopes had debunked this urban legend several years ago. You’ll even find that I went back to the original ComputerWorld source and pointed out this was false information.

That evening Robert Mitchell responded to criticisms of his earlier entry. He included links to both the Snopes report and an article by Jane Ann Morrison which appeared in the Las Vegas newspaper in 2003 which also seems to debunk the myth. Mitchell again contacted his informant, Peter Wallace, who stated he had also been receiving much feedback and would like to respond but “is awaiting clearance from his organization’s legal dept. before he can do so”.

As far as I know Peter Wallace then disappeared but this topic did not. On January 16, 2006 ComputerWorld published a feature length expose where they tested 100 hotel card keys and determined that…drum roll please…there was no personally identifiable information on any of them. Astute readers will note that this was the comment I made on Mitchell’s original blog entry. You see, I happen to own a three-track magstripe reader myself and have made an interesting hobby of scanning all kinds of cards to see what they contain. I can happily state that I have never ever found any personally identifiable information on any hotel key cards.

In any event, if you’re interested in this sort of thing I strongly suggest you read the complete ComputerWorld expose which has all kinds of interesting information about how hotel key card systems work and why it would be so unlikely that personal information could end up on a key card. As for Peter Wallace the IT director of a travel company who started all of this? When asked he had “no comment” for the ComputerWorld story.


  1. I think you and I are on the same page the minute this rumor started – bogus.