And now, under-the-skin RFID tags replace paper train tickets in Europe

Posted on May 21, 2017 by Rick Falkvinge

The Swedish State Railways has decided to accept under-the-skin RFID tag implants for ticket purchases, arguing it enhances ticketless travel better than having your ticket in your mobile. Actually, they didn’t argue that at all. They just said “we’re digital” and “it works” as if that would justify the rest.

Sweden is a European state which, until recently, celebrated the fact that people were able to travel between European and Nordic countries without a passport or other identification papers. Since a few years back, the governmental train company, which operates with all the efficiency of one, changed all that on its own — by requiring photo ID to take the train just to the next city. The official reason for going all papieren, bitte on people just going to the next town was to “prevent the second-hand sale of attractive tickets”.

This company — the Swedish State Railways — has an insanely bad reputation in the country, known for never arriving on time and for mediocre service. To paint a picture of the service level, the company offers some compensation if passengers get more than an hour delayed with a local train (within the European state of Sweden).

This is the company now priding itself on “being digital” and announcing an extremely privacy-invasive method for travel. It may well be that it’s more convenient. That’s obviously not where the cause for concern is.

“We will never force somebody to have a chip implanted”, says Stephan Ray, press spokesperson for the State Railways.

I wish I could believe this — for this has been the standard line every single time a new privacy invasion has been presented. And there’s a catch which sounds all too familiar:

“We don’t rule out giving special advantages to travelers with under-the-skin RFID chips,” Ray adds.

At what point does this translate to putting ridiculous burden on people without under-skin RFID tags, even if it will technically not require them to implant? That’s usually a few years before the option is taken away altogether, judging from history.

As a final note, the article from the Stockholm local paper also notes that the local buses, trams, and subways are also seeking to start using passenger under-skin-RFID-tags for travel. Yes, you read that right: people in Sweden are seriously considering under-skin RFID tags to be a nice, cozy form of bus and subway ticket.

Fortunately, this is not something that would go over well in other European states. If I were to describe the Swedish attitude to this in a few words, I would choose “trusting and naïve”. This is in stark contrast to other states — say, Germany — which take privacy extremely seriously: Berlin’s ticket vending machines to the local public transport sell paper tickets for cash, and it would be inconceivable to remove that option, as was done a long time ago in Sweden (where you can instead buy identified tickets to your identified phone using an identified credit card).

As a final note, the image to this article shows animal tags. That’s because it’s the technology used. “Tagged like an animal” is quite literal. There’s also the concern of malware infecting such chips, which has been proven possible – and with RFID technology, the malware could spread quickly.

Privacy remains your own responsibility.

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  1. Elikal Ialborcales

    “And Satan forced all the people, the small and the great, the rich
    and the poor, the free and the serfs to receive a mark on their right
    hand or their forehead, so that none could buy or sell, unless he has
    the mark, and that is the name of the Best and its number.”

    – Revelation 13, 16-18

    7 years ago
  2. goulo

    Since this is about Sweden specifically, and the article even explicitly says near the end that “this is not something that would go over well in other European states”, it seems blatantly misleading that the headline says “And now, under-the-skin RFID tags replace paper train tickets in EUROPE” instead of “…in SWEDEN”.

    If e.g. something was being introduced into Arizona, would you write a headline that it is being introduced into USA?

    7 years ago
    1. Falkvinge

      If something was being tested in Uttar Pradesh, would you not write that it was being tested in India?

      7 years ago
      1. goulo

        In the article title/headline? Only if I thought the readership might not know where or what Uttar Pradesh is; but I think “…in Uttar Pradesh, India” would be a lot clearer and less misleading than “…in India”, which suggests a national initiative across all of India, instead of in one part (Uttar Pradesh) of India.

        But I think that most readers of this article could reasonably be expected to know that Sweden is a country in Europe, and that they would not be scratching their heads thinking “WTF is Sweden? Is that a country or what? Where is it?” Saying “Europe” in the title really misleads the reader into thinking that it’s some kind of European initiative affecting all of Europe, instead of a Swedish initiative affecting only Sweden.

        It’s rather like writing an article titled “Donald Trump elected president of North America”. :)

        7 years ago
    2. craig

      in case you didnt know sweeden is IN EUROPE as ARIZONA IS IN THE USA so yes they are being introduced in EUROPE and even if you assume it in the literal sense do you not think it wont be long before it is being forced upon us all? i seem to remember here they were just testing speed cameras out on 1 stretch of road in london then its oh look they just sprung up everywhere but its ok because they are painted yellow and everyone can see them and now they are everywhere and everyones accepted them now they are on about hiding them and disguising them as other things, just like a paedo offering a child sweets or having a friendly chat on the net, it all starts off oh so innocent and before you know it hes balls deep in your ass…….

      7 years ago
  3. Anime TeeShirts

    Ridiculous. Perhaps, if you’d like a ring on your finger with rfid, or a necklace. Brain dead Sweden. I used to believe the Swedes had class… however, their society is just pathetic today. A totally backward nation.

    7 years ago