Every four years, soccer fans from across the globe flock to the FIFA World Cup. Most recently the games have drawn hordes to Brazil, South Africa, and Germany—which, as all destinations do, saw their fair share of travel warnings and safety advisories ahead of the games.
But this year’s host, Russia, is prompting some unique travel warnings from the FBI, State Department, and officials in other countries.
World Cup Travel Warnings of Hacked Phones
Cybersecurity is shaping up to be a big World Cup travel concern, with the director of the FBI National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC), William Evanina, advising that attendees “don’t assume you’re too insignificant to be targeted” by Russian hackers via phone, laptop, or any other electronic device. “Make no mistake—any data on those devices (especially your personally identifiable information) may be accessed by the Russian government or cyber criminals,” Evanina said.
The science-fictionesque advice only gets weirder. Evanina tells Reuters, “If you can do without the device, don’t take it. If you must take one, take a different device from your usual one and remove the battery when not in use.”
So, yes, it appears the FBI is advising World Cup travelers to use a burner phone.
Officials at the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Center have also warned Britons and the English soccer team itself of the potential for phones to be hacked at the games, Reuters reported. Cybersecurity was also a buzzed-about issue at this year’s Olympic Winter Games in South Korea.
While this seems like an extreme case, it should come as no surprise that phones and laptops, especially those on public Wi-Fi networks or with Bluetooth on, can be easily hacked if you don’t use a virtual private network, or VPN. Someone could always be watching if you’re not prepared. Then again, the FBI seems to think that being in Russia in particular might make you more vulnerable to having your personal data breached.
World Cup LGBT Warnings
For World Cup travelers who are part of the LGBTQI community, though, cybersecurity isn’t the biggest threat. Russia’s far-right, anti-LGBT sentiment—especially in sports—is well documented, and public displays of affection between LGBT people are, vaguely, illegal in Russia.
“Russian law bans providing ‘the propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations’ to minors. Foreign citizens face fines, up to 15 days in jail, and deportation for violating this law,” the U.S. Department of State’s visitor information for the 2018 World Cup states. “What Russia considers propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations is vague. Russian citizens found guilty of violating the law could face a fine of up to 100,000 rubles ($3,100).”
The Russian Football Union has said gay spectators and rainbow flags will be welcome at the 2018 World Cup. However, British members of parliament have also said in the days leading up to the World Cup that “vague reassurances from Foreign Office ministers have not been enough to reassure us that UK nationals will be safe, regardless of their background or sexual orientation.”
When laws aren’t on your side in a foreign country, it’s better to be safe than sorry and avoid any public behavior that could offend locals or police. The State Department reminded World Cup travelers that non-Russians at the games are “subject to all Russian laws, which may differ from those in the United States. If you violate these laws even unknowingly, you may be arrested, fined, expelled, and banned from re-entering Russia. Expect increased police presence and enhanced security measures in and around stadiums.”
The next World Cup will be held in 2022 in Qatar, where same-sex relationships are also widely unaccepted.
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SmarterTravel Editor Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Instagram at @shanmcmahon.