RFID: World Cup Tickets Get Smart

The question surrounding World Cup tickets this summer may not be how much you paid for a ticket, but rather, how much does your ticket know about you? In an effort to foil ticket scalping and hooliganism, the German organizing committee of the 2006 World Cup (Deutscher Fussball-Bund), has embedded the more than three million match tickets with RFID chips.

In order to obtain tickets, would-be spectators must provide their name, birth date, nationality, team they support, bank or credit card information, and an ID or passport number. This information is used to check prospective buyers against lists of known hooligans, and also helps the DFB to separate fans of opposing teams in an effort to reduce the violence that sometimes occurs during tense matches. According to the DFB and Royal Philips Electronics—the RFID chip’s manufacturer—no personal data is stored on the chips themselves, but each numbered chip is linked to the DFB’s database of ticket-holder information.

Security personnel are equipped to check tickets against a fan’s ID or passport, though with an estimated three million fans descending upon Germany for the tournament, DFB spokesman Gerd Graus is realistic about the likelihood of verifying every spectator’s identity. “There is no way for us to stop the black market one hundred percent,” he says, “and you could probably get into the stadium with a ticket that isn’t registered to you.”

German privacy groups such as Foebud are concerned that the eagerness of soccer fans to obtain Cup tickets will overshadow what they see as a mass invasion of privacy. Foebud’s Web site questions the legality of collecting sensitive data on millions of ticket buyers and suggests that fans keep their tickets “in a metal box” during the game to prevent unwanted readings after arriving in the stadium.

According to Graus, however, the Big Brother paranoia is unwarranted, and all ticket-holder data will be destroyed once the World Cup is over. The DFB cites full compliance with Germany’s data-protection laws. Graus adds, “Really, the chips are just a way for us to make sure people are entering the stadium with valid tickets.”

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