The Russian authorities said that the only purpose of the badges is to improve the security and comfort of fans.
The Fan IDs – a passport-sized badge of honour which is a must-have accessory for all the fans attending FIFA World Cup 2018 in Russia has raised concerns about privacy in a country that has a past with international hackers and a long history of closely monitoring its citizens. These fan IDs allow fans to get into World Cup stadiums, grants them access to perks like visa-free entry into Russia, free transport in and occasionally between host cities and discounts in certain shops and restaurants.
The Russian authorities said that the only purpose of the badges is to improve the security and comfort of fans. According to a report by The New York Times, a total of 1.6 million Fan IDs have been distributed to tournament visitors, including VIPs and celebrities.
Not just usual fans, even the former president of FIFA Sepp Blatter and Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona were required to obtain and wear them. These IDs allow Russian authorities to track every person that enters into every game.
They also allow the Russian government to obtain information like names, dates of birth, passport numbers, phone numbers, emails and home addresses. The organisers said that the government had agreed to keep this information ‘strictly confidential’.
The ID is somewhat similar to Aadhaar – the government ID database used in India which contains information like fingerprints and iris scans on more than 1.1 billion registered Indian citizens. Aadhaar can be used to open a bank account, buy a cellular SIM card, enroll in utilities, and even receive state aid or financial assistance. It is also needed to access many government services.
The concern, however, is that privacy advocates have qualms about the harvesting of so much personal data. “It’s part of a surveillance economy where you are offered something that sounds enticing, like going to a sporting event without hassle and some freebies, in exchange for valuable personal information,” said Timothy Edgar, a cybersecurity expert who teaches at Brown University.
Edgar added that if this information leaks, it can lead to a massive damage and the Russian government should destroy it as soon as the World Cup is over.
These IDs have already become an important part of fan experience and offer them many privileges. An example of this was seen during the round of 16 match between Brazil and Mexico when Mexico’s soccer federation, under threat of fines or worse from FIFA over fans’ use of a homophobic chant, issued a warning to ‘avoid getting your Fan ID taken away from you’ in order to tamp down on the slur. The chanting stopped (And, Mexico lost).
However, these fan IDs are not going away anytime soon. Qatar, which will host the 2022 World Cup, have studied the program this month as part of their preparations. Meanwhile, the organisers of 2026 FIFA World Cup in North America have confirmed that they are considering a similar program as that edition of the tournament will require cross-border movement of fans between the United States, Mexico and Canada.