World Cup 2018: The privacy debate surrounding Russia’s fan IDs

World Cup 2018: The privacy debate surrounding Russia’s fan IDs

Now that we're at the quarterfinals stages, has Russia's fan identities, a security feature, proved advantageous?

Russia's fan IDs for the World Cup
Everyone attending the World Cup 2018 has been given a fan identity by the Russian government. Here you can see Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona sporting one around his neck.

Ahead of the World Cup 2018, Russia mandated that all fans attending the tournament acquire what they called a fan identity. This, distributed by the government, grants entry to the stadium and allows authorities to track every fan’s location at all times. The government said it is to ensure security and comfort for the over 1.6 million fans — the largest the country has hosted at one time — from at least 32 countries attending the tournament. Russians attending the tournament will also be given cards.

Russia’s fan identities are acquired after the government receives personal information including ones name, date of birth, passport number, phone number, email and home address. The card doubles as a Russian visa and transport pass. While the move raises security concerns, the details provided are technically required to obtain a visa anyway. Russia, which conducted background checks based on the information received ahead of the tournament, iterated that data collected would remain “strictly confidential”.

Now that we’re at the quarterfinals stages, has Russia’s security feature proved advantageous? To begin with, this feature could be the reason the country was able to arrest Rodrigo Vicentini, a Brazilian gangster, on June 22. Vicentini had entered the stadium to watch Brazil’s match against Costa Rica. Once his fan ID information matched Interpol’s wanted list, it was just a matter of time before he was arrested. He will soon be extradited to Brazil, reported the New York Times.

Authorities have also been able to issue warnings to unruly fans. Mexican fans were told their cards would be confiscated if they continue racially abusing players — the chants stopped post warning. Further, according to NYT, fans from Latin American countries who tricked Russian women into using homophobic chants, were also identified.

The problems


For a country that has been accused of breeding international hackers and is known to closely monitor its citizens, this mass database poses concerns. Privacy advocates have criticised the country for enticing its visitors by offering additional perks, such as free transport and discounts in certain shops and restaurants, in exchange for information, reported NYT.

Ahead of the World Cup, Reuters had reported a loophole in Russia’s security measures. Documents accessed by the news agency revealed that a Russian fan, who was blacklisted by the country for being a suspected troublemaker, had received a fan identity. Further, it was reported that at least nine fans had managed to skirt the ban and attend matches.

There are also concerns whether Russia will destroy the information after the tournament ends, as it could otherwise be leaked, stolen or lost.

Qatar, which is hosting the 2022 World Cup, and its successors, the US-Mexico-Canada trio, are already studying this mass surveillance system.