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

Young woman with luggage on the platform waiting for aeroexpress

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.

Syndicated Article
This article has previously appeared at Private Internet Access.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. He works as Head of Privacy at the no-log VPN provider Private Internet Access; with his other 40 hours, he's developing an enterprise grade bitcoin wallet and HR system for activism.

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Discussion

  1. mkai

    I remember a post in this blog from a few years back on the same topic. There was the idea that if enough people just refused the security checks, the system wouldn’t hold. Everybody, just refuse.

    But people conform. And after a while, as predicted above, the next generation will just suppose this is the way things are and should be. Not unlike the monkeys in the legend* about the bananas and the ladder.

    Would signs at airports and train stations help, flash mobbed signs that told people not to show their ID? No, I don’t think they would. (Even if they were allowed there for more than a short moment before taken down.)

    The matter is urgent in that this shouldn’t pass into the law of any country. (Well, it did already…?) One precedent is one too much. But getting it through people’s skulls that such surveillance is not OK even if they have nothing to hide… It seems like bad legislation takes less time nowadays than the media and the people would need to chew what’s coming at them.

    * http://www.wisdompills.com/2014/05/28/the-famous-social-experiment-5-monkeys-a-ladder/

  2. U Möller

    What’s the problem?
    When I went eurailing after high school in the summer of 1980 I had to show my passport at every border crossing in Europe. This is the norm, not borders without control.
    Showing your passport or ID card only when traveling with high speed trains is a huge step up from what it used to be. Europe is not a country, it’s a lot of independent countries with borders.
    Stop whining and be thankful that the governments of Europe are trying to keep citizens and tourists safe from terrorist attacks.
    And there is no such thing as domestic Scandinavian flights, Scandinavia is not a country.
    Besides, when I did my military service on the island of Gotland in 80-81 we sometimes had security checks before boarding our plane at Visby airport when we flew home on leave.
    So security checks (even domestic) and border controls are not a new thing at all.

  3. Anonymous

    What’s the problem?
    When I went eurailing after high school in the summer of 1980 I had to show my passport at every border crossing in Europe. This is the norm, not borders without control.
    Showing your passport or ID card only when traveling with high speed trains is a huge step up from what it used to be. Europe is not a country, it’s a lot of independent countries with borders.
    The reason they check the passport/ID card before you enter the train is just so that they wont have to stop at the border crossing and do it there, that would make the high speed train a lot less high speed.
    Stop whining and be thankful that the governments of Europe are trying to keep citizens and tourists safe from terrorist attacks.
    And there is no such thing as domestic Scandinavian flights, Scandinavia is not a country.
    Besides, when I did my military service on the island of Gotland in 80-81 we sometimes had security checks before boarding our plane at Visby airport when we flew home on leave.
    So security checks (even domestic) and border controls are not a new thing at all.

    1. mkai

      ^Your reasoning why there’s an ID check upon boarding a train dismisses the idea behind the Schengen agreement, which is exactly to rid the people of participating countries of such control and hindrance to travel.

      I don’t think the argument that the situation used to be worse works, either. In pointing to the summer of 1980, you’re just picking an arbitrary moment in time and comparing current things to that. Why not compare to 1000 BC? No passport control anywhere. Beheadings, maybe. What I’m saying is that if a law was once made, it doesn’t make it a universal norm.

      Society isn’t static. In my view, and the OP’s, obviously, this is a turn for the worse. And when current data seems to point out quite clearly that the airport security checks are ineffective in catching the bad guys* while being very intrusive to the privacy of the average joe, I fail to see how I should be thankful for this. It is not helping to make travel safer. While it arguably may create an illusion of safety for some people (old folks?), it’s not doing it for me.

      * https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Security_theater#References
      Pretty much a random click on the references in the Wikipedia article will lead to criticism of the security theater. Take a pick.

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