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Chip and pinned

German police are to introduce groundbreaking microchip-tracking technology in an effort to stop next summer's World Cup being wrecked by hooligans. Although the finals are more than a year away, fears are already growing that the tournament could be marred by widespread violence.

German police are to introduce groundbreaking microchip-tracking technology in an effort to stop next summer's World Cup being wrecked by hooligans. Although the finals are more than a year away, fears are already growing that the tournament could be marred by widespread violence.

Cheap air travel and strong local beer plus the historical emnity between the hosts and many of the countries set to qualify, have left organisers preparing to mount one of the largest security operations in the tournament's history.

But in addition to the more orthodox security operation being planned, with thousands of police officers and stewards being specially trained, organisers are also planning to employ revolutionary new tickets which will carry details of every fan attending the World Cup.

Each match ticket will be embedded with a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) smart tag that contains a unique number specific to the person who has purchased it.

The RFID smart tag number on each ticket can be read by scanners from a short distance away. Tickets do not have to be physically passed through scanners for its unique number to be read and can be monitored by police nearby.

Each RFID number read by a scanner correlates to the personal details of the person who bought the ticket, such as home address, telephone number and even passport number. Next year's World Cup marks the largest ever use of RFID technology, which will be operated by Dutch electronics company Philips.

The decision by tournament organisers to use such modern technology is being heralded as a major step forward in the battle against hooliganism and in attempts to curb the black market trade in match tickets.

If, for example, trouble breaks out in or around the stadium, police or stewards equipped with scanners will be able to identify those involved provided they have match tickets in their possession.

Once the RFID number has been read, authorities will be able to trace the details of that particular person and establish their exact location at the time of the trouble.

Police believe it will help enormously in the battle to identify and punish troublemakers. If the ticket has been sold on the black market to fans who then cause trouble, the authorities will be able to trace the person who bought the ticket originally and take action against them.

Tickets purchased on the black market from touts could also become invalid under RFID. If, for example, it is known that a particular batch of tickets is being sold on the black market, scanners would be able to identify them and prevent those holding them from gaining entry into stadiums.

While RFID technology cannot identify ticketless fans involved in any trouble, its use will be instrumental in helping to identify those fans who might not be hardened hooligans but become embroiled in football violence.

A total of 3million tickets are already on sale, with just under 1m already sold. So far, organisers have received more than 4m orders for tickets from 191 different countries.

The majority of fans are buying tickets via the internet and are being asked for the greatest level of personal detail ever required from the organisers of a major sporting event.

Gerd Graus, spokesman for Germany 2006 World Cup organising committee, said: "By inserting a small chip inside a paper ticket we are able to identify the person who bought it, if we have to.

"RFID will be of enormous help in our attempts to fight hooliganism and the black market trade in tickets.

"In Germany, we have many people who are not allowed to come to the stadium or buy tickets for next year's World Cup.

"By using RFID, if these people get hold of tickets we will be able to identify who actually bought the ticket and try to establish how someone who is banned managed to get hold of it. This is the first time that RFID chips are being used for such a large, high-profile event. Issues over civil rights have been raised but ordinary football fans have nothing to worry about."

Organisers have actually watered down their use of RFID technology following protests and threats of legal action from civil rights groups in Germany anxious that the personal freedom of football fans was being violated.

Initially, it is believed that plans were being laid for a fan's entire personal details to be revealed.

Civil rights groups in Germany also protested that scanners could be located at various locations around cities where World Cup matches are taking place and that fans could be monitored miles away from stadiums without their knowledge.

Rena Tangens, of the German civil rights group FoeBud e.V, said recently: "I don't understand why so much personal data is required to attend a soccer game. Such information isn't required for a large concert. With a bar coded ticket, a card-holder has control over who or what sees the ticket. This isn't the case with an RFID smart tag.

"Ticket holders won't be able to tell if hidden scanners in doors or floors are tracking their whereabouts." Germany 2006 organisers insist that there will be no scanners placed away from stadiums and that the sole reason for using RFID is security and curbing the trade in black market tickets. Graus added: "If football fans are drinking beer outside a bar then we have no intention of monitoring them. Their civil rights will not be under threat."


©2005 Associated New Media

Vivek Chaudhary

Evening Standard, London, 26. April 2005

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