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Sunday, March 02, 2003
"Ultimately this technology will enslave humanity,"
Subject: Financial Times story out
From: Katherine Albrecht
Date sent: 01 Mar 2003 23:20:18 -0500
BACK PAGE - FIRST SECTION: Radio ID tags spread waves of anger among
privacy activists By Simon London Financial Times; Mar 01, 2003
"Ultimately this technology will enslave humanity," says Katherine
Albrecht, a privacy campaigner and Harvard University doctoral
The objects of her ire are radio-frequency identification (RFID)
tags, slivers of silicon coming soon to supermarket shelves.
Gillette, the US consumer products group, last month ordered 500m
RFID tags for tracking packets of razors through its supply chain.
Michelin has developed a manufacturing process to vulcanise a tag
into every tyre.
Many companies see RFID tags as the 21st century successors to
barcodes, but activists see a world where the movement of every
object - and by implication every person - can be monitored.
Ms Albrecht, who runs Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion
and Numbering (Caspian), a group that opposes data collection by
retailers, is among the most vociferous opponents of RFID technology.
Many Caspian members, she says, "would rather walk naked than wear
clothes that have been tagged".
Chris Hoofnagle, of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (Epic), a
Washington-based watchdog says: "There are going to be any number of
entities who will want to use the information collected from RFID tags to
track individuals or groups. The issue is control. Can you determine when
the tag is active and who is using the information collected?"
An RFID tag consists of a silicon chip with a unique serial number.
Pass the chip through a radio frequency field and it can broadcast
its identity for a few feet.
According to Caspian, proponents of the RFID tag envisage a pervasive
global network of millions of receivers along the entire supply chain - in
airports, seaports, along roads, in distribution centres, warehouses,
retail stores, and homes. This, Caspian says, would allow for seamless,
continuous identification and tracking of physical items as they move from
one place to another, enabling companies to determine the whereabouts of
all their products at all times.
One of the tag's big advantages over barcodes is that information can be
collected without a line of sight to the tag. This makes it possible to
scan a pallet of goods by simply passing it through a radio field.
Moreover, RFID chips can store enough information to give each item - not
merely each product line - a unique identity. This should allow companies
to be more precise about recalls of faulty products, for example.
While the idea has been around for 30 years, the chips are only now
becoming cheap enough for companies to consider widespread
Gillette is believed to be paying between 15 cents and 25 cents for
each tag. Alien Technology, its California-based supplier, says the
cost per tag could fall to 5 cents or below if tags are manufactured
in high volume. Getting the price down will be essential if RFID tags are
to be economically viable for low-value goods.
Procter & Gamble, the household goods group, is also running a pilot
project. And retailers such as Wal-Mart in the US, Tesco in the UK and
Metro in Germany are testing the technology. The stores have been
attracted by potential applications including "smart shelves" that sense
when items are removed and re-order automatically, and check- outs that
calculate totals when a shopping cart is wheeled through a radio field.
But it is possible to see how RFID technology could be misused and
some consumers are taking steps to protect themselves against being
tracked. >From a small office in Brooklyn, Stephen Galluccio sells
bags lined with radio frequency-blocking material. It is not only
RFID tags against which consumers should think about protecting
themselves, he says.
The location-tracking chips in cell phones and toll payment cards
have similar privacy implications, he argues. "They are selling
technology that does not turn off. You just don't have control
Suggestions for an industry-wide solution range from Ms Albrecht's
call for a total ban to self-regulation and restraint by companies.
Mark Roberti, editor of the RFID Journal, an online newsletter,
argues for a code of practice that would switch off tags once they
have been scanned at the point of sale.
The tag specification drawn up by the Auto-ID Center at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a"self-destruct" command,
allowing its owner to deactivate it.
Mr Hoofnagle goes further. He calls on the US government to set up a data
protection commission to look at the privacy implications of RFID and
other emerging technologies.
On one thing, however, almost everyone agrees: without a concerted
effort to address concerns about privacy, RFID technology could face a
posted by Vetzine