World Cup-bound German civil servants told to leave smartphones at home | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 03.06.2018
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World Cup-bound German civil servants told to leave smartphones at home

One of Germany's state-level interior ministries has warned employees about Russian espionage. Nevertheless, Russian authorities are already collecting extensive data about World Cup visitors via so-called fan ID.

Civil servants in Germany's most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) could become victims of espionage at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. At the end of February, the state Interior Ministry referred to the fact that private electronic devices could be the target of spying. "It is therefore recommended not to take private IT and smartphones with you," stated the ministry's security notes for the event.

According to media reports, the town clerk of Mülheim an der Ruhr, Frank Steinfort, advised his employees in an email to use a "non-web-enabled spare mobile phone" in Russia.

"It should be ensured that no business content is stored on private IT. This includes, for example, 'business' contact lists in the phone book." The city administration declined to make any further comment to DW, merely referring to the NRW Interior Ministry.

Read more: Why are Russia and the West allowed to spy on each other?

Russia on the list of risk countries

The Interior Ministry's press office explained that there have been incidents in the past in connection with Turkey and Russia in which travelers had their mobile phones confiscated. The phones were returned without any comment after a certain time, but afterwards it was discovered that the devices had been partly read.

"I believe that last October we published travel tips for Turkey and Russia because such incidents occurred," Interior Ministry press spokesperson, Tobias Dunkel, told DW.

In Germany, Russia is on a list of about 30 risk countries. The list is compiled with the participation of diplomats, members of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) and the Military Counter-Intelligence Service (MAD). Certain officials who have access to state secrets must inform their superiors of their travel plans when travelling to such countries.

Read more: UK says Russia spied on poisoned expats for five years before chemical attack

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World Cup visit only with a 'fan ID'

The procedure for assigning fan ID is another reason for the NRW Interior Ministry's security instructions. Russia is introducing a kind of "fan passport." It was tested for the first time at the Confederations Cup 2017 in Russia. There has been nothing comparable at previous big tournaments. With fan ID, visitors can go to games, get free train tickets for travel between World Cup cities and use the city's public transport on match day.

Even more important for foreigners is that they can enter the Russian Federation without a visa, if they have a "fan passport." According to security information for private trips to the World Cup in Russia: "Although visa-free entry into the Russian Federation is being promoted, an alternative measure has been created with the fan ID. Extensive data must be provided when applying for fan ID."

When applying for fan ID, a football fan must agree to his or her personal data being processed. The following data is made available to the Russian Ministry of Communications and Media for the purpose of verification by Russian security authorities: Last name, first name, birthday, gender, identity card details (type of document, series, number, issuing authority and date of issue), nationality, photo, mobile phone number, email address and the delivery address of the personalized spectator card.

Read more: German foreign minister urges Russia to change its ways

Safety information at a federal level?

The applicant must agree to the disclosure of this data by ticking a box online. But most people don't even read the lengthy regulations. For this reason, the North Rhine-Westphalian Interior Ministry decided to draw its employees' attention to this and to issue its own safety instructions, says Dunkel. "Because not everyone is so careful and they may perhaps end up wondering where their data has been shared.

The authorities' internal security instructions also state that "the use of business email addresses, business mobile phone numbers or the use of business addresses as delivery addresses is prohibited when applying for the fan ID." But, Dunkel stresses, this should not be taken as a general warning against traveling to the World Cup.

It is still unclear whether there will be similar safety instructions at a federal level. The Federal Interior Ministry confirmed that it received a request for a response on this from DW, but did had not responded at the time of publication.

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