Posted on Jan 31, 2017 by Rick Falkvinge

Told you so: Airport-style identity checks coming to train travel




Several European countries will start requiring photo ID from passengers to ride trains, similar to airport identity checks. The requirement concerns the high-speed Thalys and Eurostar services in Europe, with the vague goal of “tightening security and tracking criminals”. Activists said this would happen when useless security theater appeared in airports – it will just spread, but people dismissed the idea at the time as preposterous, probably because it still is.

Reuters reports that Belgium, Netherlands, and France intend to have passenger lists and passport checks in place on high-speed trains by the end of the year. This is despite all three countries being part of the European Schengen zone with borderless and paperless travel – similar to how you don’t need to show papers when traveling between states inside the US or Canada.

When the airport security theater was rolled out, spearheaded by the USA following September 11, 2001, many privacy and security professionals criticized it for being intrusive and ineffective, respectively. Most notably, security guru Bruce Schneier pointed out that the only thing that really had a positive effect on security was the locked cockpit door, with a half-nod to armed air marshals as another possible measure that actually works (though being an air marshal is apparently one of the most boring jobs ever, with a horrible turnover combined with long and expensive training).

As a tragic side note, that one positive security measure – locked cockpit doors – has instead resulted in the death of 144 people.

The rest just doesn’t work. It’s theater, security theater. There’s even a YouTube channel with a guy constructing explosive devices and weapons only out of things he buys after the security check on airports.

And of course, it’s violating people’s privacy – their privacies of movement and of location. (In the TSA case, also their privacy of body.)

When these identity checks and this security theater appeared at domestic flights (at least domestic Scandinavian flights, which were as unchecked as bus rides before 9/11), activists warned of a slippery slope that politicians would like it so much, despite it being utterly ineffective, that train travel would be next. Everybody dismissed the idea as absolutely ridiculous. And it is. It is just as ridiculous when being forced onto train stations this year, as it already is at airports. We’ve just gotten used to it at airports already.

“The bullshit this generation puts up with as a temporary annoyance, the next generation will instead regard as the natural order of society and how things have always been.”

Germany is refreshingly choosing to not participate in these identity checks. It would increasingly seem that Germany is the only contemporary country who learned anything from totalitarian near-history, the only country that really has it in its blood, bones, and marrow that civic rights are there for a reason and are not to be taken lightly.

Make careful note at this time of the little remark at the end of the Reuters story: “The scheme will not be enforced… on bus services.” This is the first time I see somebody even mentioning the possibility of having a photo ID requirement to ride a bus. The idea has been conceived.

Privacy remains your own responsibility.

About Rick Falkvinge

Rick is Head of Privacy at Private Internet Access. He is also the founder of the first Pirate Party and is a political evangelist, traveling around Europe and the world to talk and write about ideas of a sensible information policy. Additionally, he has a tech entrepreneur background and loves good whisky and fast motorcycles.


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