Big Brother is watching you with RFID microchips

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      Imagine you’re at the grocery store and you take some tortellini from the cooler. Embedded in the packaging is a microchip that emits radio waves. The next thing you know, an ad for a high-end pasta sauce is flashing on a screen mounted on your shopping cart.

      Then imagine that by scanning your house for the tiny chips implanted in every manufactured item you own, a thief generates an inventory of your clothing, DVDs, and pricey electronics, and decides to rob your house.

      Finally, imagine you walk into an airport and a security officer is immediately able to find out your identity, banking information, and travel history by reading data stored in a chip in your passport—or even implanted under your skin.

      Although these scenarios may sound like science fiction, the technology—known as radio-frequency identification, or RFID—is already being used to track goods such as Gillette razor blades and Gap clothing in stores. The patent for a chip that could be used in passports to monitor people in airports belongs to IBM, and a company called VeriChip is marketing a chip that is implanted under the skin in order for people to keep tabs on children, the elderly, and prisoners.

      Consumer-privacy advocate Katherine Albrecht, who has briefed Canada’s federal privacy commissioner on the technology, advises Canadians to resist RFID.

      “There are certainly things you can do with RFID that might be cool, but the costs of introducing this technology into our society so vastly outweigh the benefits, the technology shouldn’t be deployed at all,” Albrecht told the Georgia Straight.

      Since May, enhanced driver’s licences containing RFID chips have been available to British Columbians for an extra fee of $35. The licences broadcast data that can be read by U.S. border officials up to 50 metres away, and allow the cardholder to enter the U.S. without a passport.

      In the 2005 book Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move, Albrecht and coauthor Liz McIntyre argue that the use of RFID in identification cards sets up governments to misuse private information.

      “If you went to a political event, such as a peace march, political rally, or gun show,” Albrecht explained from her New York office, “with RFID, all the law-enforcement agents would have to do is mill around the crowd with an RFID reader in their backpack and they would be able to pick up all of the ID cards of everybody within a 30-foot radius of where they stood.”

      While RFID chips aren’t new—the technology has been in development for some 50 years—companies have only recently embraced their consumer applications. The chips are so small—smaller than a grain of rice—that they are virtually invisible when contained in a product, and are superior to bar codes because they contain data specific to each individual item and can be read through packaging up to 10 metres away. At a cost of about five cents each, RFID chips are an inexpensive way to track inventory as it’s shipped, distributed, and sold.

      Having researched hundreds of RFID patents for her book, Albrecht said that companies also plan to track products after they are sold to learn about “how consumers interact with products” for marketing purposes.

      “The end point is that every physical object manufactured on planet Earth would have an RFID tag instead of a bar code,” she said. “There would be reader devices to pick up signals everywhere you go, including in our refrigerators to keep track of what we’re eating.”

      What is most alarming to NDP MLA Maurine Karagianis, is that consumers aren’t aware that RFID tags are already widespread.

      “First and foremost, it [RFID] is being embedded in consumerism without our knowledge or approval,” Karagianis said in a phone interview.

      The representative for Esquimalt–Royal Roads is concerned that Canada’s privacy laws aren’t sufficiently robust to deal with the unique challenges of RFID. “We have no regulation around the use or prohibition or restriction on RFID,” she said. “I’m worried that, without adequate discussions of RFID use and application and what the ramifications could be in the future at a legislative level, the discussion will be led by consumer advocates or corporate retail interests.”

      Although B.C. information and privacy commissioner David Loukidelis wonders why the U.S. government is pushing for the adoption of a relatively insecure technology for use in border identification documents, he questions the gravity of related privacy concerns. In a phone conversation with the Straight, he pointed out that along with the licences, the B.C. government is issuing a sleeve that blocks the RFID signal when it is not being used.

      Loukidelis asserted that global-positioning-system tracking in cellphones is a much more significant privacy issue. “Nevertheless, the principle of being able to track people as they move about is what is of concern, regardless of the particular technology,” he said.

      RFID is just one of a growing number of technologies—including Internet marketing, GPS devices, and store-loyalty cards—that threaten our privacy and are not fully understood by consumers, according to Richard Rosenberg, a UBC professor emeritus of computer science who sits on the board of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

      “All of this taken together leads to a substantial decrease in privacy and a lessening of the importance of privacy in a democratic society,” Rosenberg told the Straight.

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      Comments

      20 Comments

      Dr. Hall

      Jul 24, 2009 at 8:32am

      I recently published a book about the true account of a woman in Texas who was stalked, drugged and raped by a former FBI agent using satellite tracking technology. A New Breed: Satellite Terrorism in America is available at Barnes and Noble and at www.satweapons.com

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      Bernito

      Jul 24, 2009 at 5:05pm

      google and facebook are also sort of big brotherish ...they apparanlty are saving your info indefinitely...google even tracks you based on sites you visit on the internet that are part of its advertising program

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      muzicdiva

      Jul 24, 2009 at 8:20pm

      Mark of the Beast is on its way! Time to raise your own food, and turn back to God!

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      Bender

      Jul 26, 2009 at 12:11pm

      good-kill all the humans

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      Level Head

      Jul 28, 2009 at 7:55am

      Isn't is possible to have a discussion about the serious privacy implications of RFID technology without instantly degrading the debate to one of a conspiracy theory? Its possible to use RFID chips and have privacy - they are not mutually exclusive factors. At the same time, it's important to inform people of the real risks without sounding like a total nutbar that's worried about government conspiracies to track its population. Yes, there is potential to abuse the information found in RFID tracking chips. But there are also ways to mitigate that concern within the technology.

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      lana

      Jul 29, 2009 at 8:47pm

      the rapture of the church is almost here people get ready to go

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      Mack

      Jul 30, 2009 at 9:46am

      Level Head, perhaps you could elaborate on the "real risks" of RFID tech and give us an idea of the acceptable limits of the debate to your mind. Because it seems like you only came in here to nix any further discussion with that two-word thought-stopper "conspiracy theory". Which you then routinely associated with the word "nutbar". Other than that, your post is a little empty. How are we to "mitigate...concern"? We're all ears.

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      Voided

      Jul 30, 2009 at 11:03am

      The matrix is now real!

      Could be a great idea and may save life, but the evil is to big and unfortunately the real purpose of that technology is greater that our imagination.

      The only way i can see that technology will be adopted is when will see in our TV a recurring escalation of missing child's... "FUD" will make parents implant there children's at birth!

      When RFID will replace our IDs, this will be the end. Humans will be easily controlled worldwide, as we control food today (like beef meat).

      Imagination could go in the white or dark side. Everything that is electronic can be hacked...

      I wouldn't even tag my cat our dog with that!

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      Hellovaman

      Aug 1, 2009 at 10:04am

      The technology is the foundation that can fulfill Biblical Scripture. If you follow the pseudo-experts (those with Phd before their names who are not even Phd's in the field) He gets credibility based on Salutations used. Then he's broadcast across the airwaves over and over and over until you are assimilate into the discrediting based on nothing of substance. Some would say the same about Bible Believing people that is a form of brainwashing. It like this If an Allien landed in your back yard and was sitting on your couch when you got home from work. No matter what anyone tells you you will know and believe in aliens because that was your experience. The Bible Believing people believe for similar reasons. They know what they know what they know. There is always a group of self serving that diminish the way the collective is viewed.

      When You Cannot Buy Anything, Sell Anything or Trade anything for gain without your Implanted RFID Chip Scripture is being fulfilled, with or without you.

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      Rob

      Aug 2, 2009 at 7:14am

      don't forget that wall mart is already using them and has forced their suppliers to do the same if they want to do business with them. when you shop at gap fat chance they're in your jeans, shoes etc according to some journalists on internet. they are already in your mobile phone used with gps (police in europe have already acknowledged years ago that they keep track of people that way) paper money is next so government can trace who pays in cash still because the prefer anonimity (of course people paying with cash are suspicious as such) . in 2003/2004 the european central bank alread discussed putting chips in paper money. you think the fed in the usa will do anything less or the canadian central bank? of course they are not going to tell you.
      the whole concept of rfid chip is nonsense. has no sensible uses just downsides. they are also in your car and michelin tires. so what business is it of governments and corporations to monitor you 24/7? yes indeed.
      maybe because we live in a world where the corporation has merged with the government (according to mussolini that is the real definition of fascism)? everyone knows corporations own politicians etc. who else would finance their campaigns if they don't do what they are told?
      yes hello. this has nothing to do with "safety" crap. such a lame excuse.

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