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World Cup 2006 'abused for mega-surveillance project'

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Germany's football authorities have been accused of Big Brother tactics over their decision to incorporate RFID chips into tickets for World Cup 2006.

Around 3.7 million tickets are to be sold in four online sale rounds, the last on 15 April, 2006. In the first sales round,Around 160,000 fans applied for one million tickets covering all 64 matches.

To apply for a ticket you have to give your name, address, nationality, which team you want to support and your bank details. You must also supply your ID or passport number and your birth date.

Assuming you are successful, you receive a fully personalized ticket containing an RFID chip; this enables authorities to check the ticket against your passport. Very little information resides on the chip: the identity check is conducted against a database at the German Football Association (DFB).

"The World Cup will be abused to stage a mega-surveillance project, that allows total control over football fans," warned Thilo Weichert, data protection officer of the Independent Center of Data Protection in Schleswig-Holstein (www.datenschutzzentrum.de). While RFID technology makes good sense for logistics purposes, to use it on people breaks the principles of German data protection; also, the amount of information stored by the DFB is against the law, Weichart argues. He is supported in his analysis by several civil rights and consumer organisations such as Foebud.

For example, it is only necessary when selling tickets to know if a person was over or under eighteen. The exact birthday on the other hand is very much appreciated by marketing companies; and opt-in procedures on the online sale questionaires were not clear-cut enough. Data protection rules of the system provider CTS Eventim, are also questionable, Weichart claims.

"This is a World cup," says Jens Grittner, spokesman for the Organisation Committee. "We have to address very delicate security concerns," he said. The personalizing of the tickets would help to avoid black market sales and fraud in entering the football stadions. Controls in which RFID number and the set of personal data in the DFB database where matched would only be made at random or in suspicious cases.

The ticketing scheme had been presented to the Data Protection Authorities in Darmstadt, the German Ministry of the Interior and even to the European Commission, he said. "Every comment we got has been considered and we are somewhat amazed by the imagination of the critics." According to Grittner, it is "very German" that the World Cup had now gained such attention - for the wrong reasons.

Football fans may not care about being tracked - but they are complaining about practical issues. It is impossible to order tickets first and then decide later who you will take to a match, because of personalization. According to BAFF, a Germany-wide fan club, applicants can't buy tickets for different people for different matches. So if you take your husband to one match you have to take him to every match.Clear rules on what happens if he is ill on the day of the match are still lacking.

BAFF is calling for an easy-to-use official platform for ticket changes. Said one BAFF spokesperson: "With all the technique in use this shouldn't be a big problem." ®

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