Sport and Surveillance: new Brazilian football fans ID

Sport and surveillance might not seem the most closely linked topics, but there are intersections and these are increasing in number. Sports ‘mega-events’ are often the trigger for surveillance surges, with the introduction of new technologies and practices. Because of the use of drugs and other medical techniques to illicitly aid performance the practice of sport is now a subject of constant suspicion and the body of sportspeople are the sites of intense scrutiny (drugs testing, biological passports etc.). And finally, sports fans are subject to all kinds of controls and monitoring.

In this last area, the Brazilian government has recently announced a national ID card scheme for football fans… this is of course in addition to the new national ID card that everyone in Brazil will have to carry anyway.

However, in common with many commentators here, Brazilian football researcher, Oliver Seitz, does not believe the plan will or should happen. He makes a penetrating comparison to the very similar proposals in the UK in the 1980s and also notes that, whatever the problems of violence in Brazilian stadiums, they are not the main problem, which is the crumbling and unsafe infrastructure of football stadia. The one recent tragedy in Brazilian football, when 7 fans died after falling through rotten seating at Fonte Nova, he says “only happened because the stadium was literally falling to pieces. In that situation, the identification wallet it would not have saved the victims”.

He is quite right. As usual this appears to be a case of a technological ID solution to a problem that has nothing to do with what identification. To paraphrase Seitz’s conclusion, Brazilian supporters are treated like animals, so they behave like animals, and under this plan, it will be no different, except that they will be officially identified animals!

(Thanks to a dedicated Corinthians fan, Rodrigo Firmino, for this story – which is one with which I am catching up after my holiday!)

Identity and Identification in Brazil (continued)

…the Brazilian driving licence is a goldmine of personal information…

I spent a little while over the last couple of days examining the actual material identity documents currently required in Brazil. Here are some pictures with a little explanation. There will be a lot more in the final article!

The first is the simplest but in many ways the most important to life-chances. This is the Cadastro de Pessoas Físicas (CPF) (Register of Physical (or Natural) Persons) card (or Taxpayer’s Card).


‘Pessoas Físicas’ is a a piece of legalese that is draws a distinction between humans and other ‘legal persons’, like corporations or governments. The CPF number is issued to all those who pay tax and is essential if one wants any formal work. The actual document is a blue plastic card like old-style credit cards, which also has a machine readable magnetic strip on the back.

The number is also required for many other government transactions, and it is, apparently a major disaster if you lose the card, or if for some reason, your CPF number is rescinded (which can happen if you don’t pay tax in Brazil for more than a year, for example if you are abroad, without explanation). Many people who live in the favelas, and who are involved in the shadow economy do not have a CPF, which is a severe obstacle to social inclusion.

The second document is the Registro Geral (General Registry) (ID) card, a double-sided piece of thick paper, just larger than a credit card. It is oriented vertically at the front and horizontally at the back.

RG card

As I noted in the first post I made on this subject, the RG card cross-references the CPF and also birth certification (it lists the full names of both mother and father and city and state of origin). This card is the one that is being replaced by the new RIC smartcard ID system.

Finally, we have the Carteira Nacional de Habilitação, the driving licence which, despite its name, is issued at state rather than national-level. The colour and format differs from state-to-state, however they all have pretty much the same level of information (a lot!) and cross-identification with other forms of ID. This one is from Paraná, which is a paper usually folded in half horizontally. It is specifically forbidden to laminate it.


The Brazilian driving licence is a goldmine of personal information. Partly this is because the licence had been intended to be a unifying piece of identification (a practice typical of ‘autocentric’ cultures!), containing all the information on both the CPF card and the RG card, and more. This will now not be the case following the issuing of the new RIC cards, so it will be interesting to see if the quantity of information on these licences will be reduced or, if not, what the justification will be for having this much visible personal information on one paper document.

The new Brazilian ID system

The new Brazilian ID-card
The new Brazilian ID-card (from Renato Siqueira's Conversa Digital)

There are more details of the new Brazilian ID card and system on Renato Siqueira’s Conversa Digital blog, including some informative images and photos. It seems that far from eliminating the various different numbers currently used, this new system will merely create a kind of overlay. And, not only that, but the CPF, RG and electoral number will be printed on the back. Unless every single transaction will actually require the taking of fingerprints or the verification of photos, this card will be even more of a convenient source of personal information to thieves and fraudsters than ever before. Plus the chip technology is the same standard format that has proved to easy to clone and access illicitly elsewhere…

Identity and Identification in Brazil

My host and colleague here at PUCPR, Rodrigo Firmino, and I are working on a small bit of research and a paper for The Second Multidisciplinary Workshop on Identity in the Information Society (IDIS 09), at the the London School of Economics, on June 9th this year.

Our paper is based around a case of identity theft, which is endemic in Brazil, which we use to open up the laws, practices and technologies of identification here. One thing that is already clear is that Brazil is a highly bureaucratic state – for example, the forms you need to fill in just to get a mobile phone are incredible in their detail – yet the forms of identification which one needs for every transaction with the state and many private organisations too, are highly insecure.

One example is that every personal cheque has printed on it not only the usual information (bank name and address, bank sort code, account holder name and account number), but also has the 11-digit Cadastro de Pessoas Fisicas (CPF) (a taxpayer’s card) number and the 9-digit Registro Geral (RG) (the national ID card) number. This must be a utter joy to fraudsters and identity thieves!

What’s more, all these are not just numbers in a database somewhere but physical documents in their own right, and on each there is a lot of this cross-identification: the CPF card also has the name and date of birth, the CPF number is ubiquitous, appearing also on the RG card and the driving licence. The latter has its own 11-digit registration number, but also has the RG number, name, and place and date of birth. What is even more interesting is that the RG card not only contains a photo and a thumbprint (the state database contains prints of all 10 fingers and thumbs), but also the names of both parents. This means it can be related more easily to the birth certificate. It reminds me a little of the Japanese system which still prioritises the family above the individual in some ways, but there is no actual equivalent of the koseki, the Japanese family register.

Now, in the name of security and “para integrar os bancos de dados de diversos órgãos dos sistemas de identificação do Brasil” (to inegrate the databases of the diverse organisations of identification systems in Brazil), the Ministry of Justice is proposing to merge some of these – the RG, CPF, Driving Licence and Electoria Regisirtation, into a new, smart, Registro de Identidade Civil (RIC) card based on a unique number. Whilst this will have many of the same problems as new smart ID systems everywhere else, at the very least it might stop Brazilian citizens carrying around multiple documents that list almost everything thieves and fraudsters need and can access without any sophisticated equipment. The process is due to start now, and run until 2017, so we will be taking a look at this as it proceeds.

I’ll put some pictures up with explanations later today…