Sunday, April 30, 2006

Children Playing Tag

There’s nothing like a nifty new scientific or technical development to start a fight. Biometric identification makes the civil rights activists mad. Cloning has the medical ethicists screaming at each other. Genetically modified crops enrage the whole-earthers, and nuclear power drives the anti-glow-in-the-dark crowd nuts. As if there were not enough arguing and protesting going on already, a new development has emerged that has the ability to start another war. RFID Tags have arrived.

Radio frequency identification tags are very small devices that can receive and respond to signals and can be attached to or embedded in products, animals, and people. The really powerful RFID’s are battery powered. When inserted in products, they can transmit all kinds of nifty information needed for shipping, sale, maintenance, and disposal of an item. When inserted in animals they can help find lost pets, ensure breeding information, and track herds. When inserted in people thy can provide medical background information, ensure identity, and help find missing drunks. These little devices are showing up everywhere and transmitting all sorts of information to all sorts of people, companies, and government organisations. Let the warfare begin.

The big retailers like RFID Tags a lot. Wal-mart in the US, and Marks and Spencer in the UK are planning to tag everything they sell. Albrecht Von Truchsess, of the German retailer Metro Group, is really excited about tags. He says, “RFID really brings a revolution to everything that is transported from one point to another, and in the future you will have it really on everything.” One can imagine Herr Von Truchsess calling all the items in the frozen food section to attention for an identity check. “Achtung! You vill tell us who you are und vere you came from! We haff vays of making you transmit!”

On the other side, consumer groups are concerned that too much information will be put in the wrong hands and that the tags will happily keep transmitting long after the customer buys the product. Apparently, the risk that a rogue pair of boxer shorts will report in from the laundry basket is a concern.

Viviane Reding, of Luxembourg, EU Commissioner for information society and media, is also upset. As she warns, “A new technology that is bound to multiply by 10 to 15 times in the next coming years in numbers of sales will not fly…” Luckily, fire, the wheel, flush toilets, the light bulb, and gin were all invented before Madame Reding became an EU Commissioner.

If you want really intense concern and upset however, there is only one group to turn to: Christian fundamentalists. They are worried that RFID tags will be implanted in people and evolve into the mark of the beast. Pretty soon everyone will be transmitting 666 and it will be the end of the world. Katherine Albrecht, author of The Spychips Threat: Why Christians Should Resist RFID and Electronic Surveillance, says, “My goal as a Christian is to sound the alarm.”

With so many fundamentalist Christians sounding so many alarms, Katherine might need a little help in getting her alarm heard. It might help her to sound this particular alarm if someone inserted a really powerful RFID transmitter in Ms Albrecht. Inserting the batteries is another thought altogether.


Anonymous Blighty Blog said...

You can rely on the Christian fundamentalist brigade to bring a debate down to an infantile level. A good read as always.

2:43 PM  
Blogger birdwoman said...

you parody this, but my bible-banging brother-in-law was warning me about this 15 years ago. How, in the near future, we would all have chips in our skin that would have our information, like medical and financial, no more wallets... it sounded convenient but it was really a precursor to the mark of the beast (then he quoted scripture).

Sounded cool to me, tho. I'm terrified of losing my credit cards. Now I'll only have to worry at an exfoliating spa.


9:46 AM  

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