For every stay in a hotel, our passports were copied and we had to pose for a photo. Travelling on a train was not possible without giving the passport number either, and that’s nothing compared to the masses of data we were asked for when applying for a visa or buying a SIM card. To enter a railway or subway station, we had to have your luggage scanned and walk through a metal detector. CCTV cameras are a regular feature of the urban environment.
Seeing those men with machine guns at the airport entrance is not a comforting experience. By now we are used to having our passport inspected everywhere, but this time that is not enough. Only those who can show a ticket are allowed to enter the terminal building. Our case is an eventuality they are not prepared for – that someone might have an electronic ticket which they can only present in digital form. Or maybe they are: a man appears with a long list of names. Several metres of fan-fold paper containing all known data of those that will depart from this airport today. They give us the list and ask us to find our own names among all that passenger data. Only then are we allowed to enter. Still holding the list, that is – we are supposed to hand it over to the colleagues at the counter inside.
12 hours later, as I show my passport to the German immigration official, I feel relieved. For the first time I can rest assured that German data protection rules will be applied as my identity is checked. I never felt such an intense sense of protection resulting from these rules as I do at this moment.
That’s how a three-week journey to India ended for me in November 2013. Is was an exciting trip with a lot of new experiences. What stuck most in my mind is how much surveillance the Indian population and their visitors are subjected to: