Risks for German fans – “Qatar is a surveillance state”

More than a million fans are expected at the World Cup in Qatar. Anyone traveling to the Gulf state should be aware of a few things.

“Expect Amazing” – that’s the slogan of the World Cup in Qatar. In German it means something like: “Expect great things”. With state-of-the-art stadiums, completely new metro lines and high-gloss gloss everywhere, Qatar wants to impress football fans and polish its own image in the world. According to the organizers, about 1.2 million fans are expected. Most come from Iran or Saudi Arabia. Some 35,000 supporters are expected from Germany.

The same rules apply to everyone upon entry. And they may look straightforward and harmless, but they pack a punch. Qatar requires all guests to download and install the so-called “Hayya” app. “Hayya” is Arabic and is used to mean “come” or “let’s go”. Fans can use their Hayya card through the Hayya app. And only with such a card can they enter the World Cup stadiums or use local public transport for free.

It is better to uninstall the operating system afterwards

But privacy advocates have been criticizing the app for months. According to the Norwegian medium “NRK”, the app asks for more data than the developers claim. “NRK” security chief Øyvind Vasaasen responded to the app after his analysis saying, “It’s not my job to give travel advice, but I would never bring my private cell phone into Qatar.” The Hayya app offers the ability to determine the exact location of the phone and can prevent the device from falling asleep, it says.

The Hayya app looks innocent, but it’s clearly heavy. (Source: IMAGO/Rüdiger Wölk)

The Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (BfDi) recommends installing the app only if absolutely necessary. Also consider using your own phone for installation, which will be used exclusively for the apps. (…) After that, the use of the apps, the operating system and all content on the used phone must be completely removed.”

“We have to be careful”

The Hayya app is an example of how the Qatari state is trying to maintain total control over what happens during the World Cup. There may also be clashes between fans and rules in other areas of Qatari life.

Homosexuality is banned, but heterosexual couples should also refrain from kissing outside the hotel room, Human Rights Watch’s Wenzel Michalski told t-online: “It is possible that Qatar will turn a blind eye during the World Cup because it looks bad. But I would Don’t count on it. I would advise against showing my love in public or talking about it. Qatar is a surveillance state with high-quality surveillance cameras. Mobile phones are tapped and chats are tapped. We have to be careful.”

Wenzel Michalski is the German director of
Wenzel Michalski is the German director of Human Rights Watch. (Source: IMAGO/M. Popov)

Caution also applies to journalists. Qatar ranks 119th out of 180 in the press freedom ranking of the organization Reporters Without Borders. In an interview with the “Frankfurter Rundschau”, General Director Christian Mihr said: “In Qatar, we have had short-term arrests or expulsions of bloggers they reported critically about the construction sites. The law is very strict.”

On possible monitoring, he said: “In my opinion, there is a good chance that this will also happen to World Cup reporters, that attacks with Trojan horses will take place, for example.”

Critical messages could harm Qatar and the purpose of the refreshed image. The state wants to prevent that. There were already clear rules for this in advance. Video recordings are prohibited in government buildings, universities, places of worship and hospitals, among other places. The same goes for apartment buildings and private companies.

Demolition or broken camera

But even with video switching on the street, there were already the first problems. Danish journalist Rasmus Tantholdt of TV 2 was disturbed by security personnel during a live broadcast. There were even threats to destroy the video camera if he did not complete the transfer immediately.

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