Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Total Surveillance with RFID Tags

Total Surveillance is nearer than ever with the cost of RFID tags dropping as more and more uses are discovered. This is a Mother Jones recap article and interview with Katherine Albrecht of NoCards, and SpyChips. She has also written a book opposing RFID tracking with Spychips name. I've been aware of the work of Albrecht for some time but just noted a comment made in this interview that shocks me due to the dramatic privacy implications if it is ever implemented.
Let’s say I buy a pair of size 7 women’s Nike running shoes with a credit card. Currently, most major national chains are recording information about what people are buying. In the future, however, my pair of size 7 Nike running shoes will have a unique ID number in an RFID tag embedded in the sole—unless we stop it—so anytime that I step on carpeting or a floor tile that’s been equipped with an RFID reader, it can scan that number and know: “Hey, I’m at the Atlanta courthouse, and I just saw shoe number 308247 step by. Let me cross-reference that in the database. That’s the shoe that was purchased by Katherine Albrecht.”

And shoes are a particularly interesting example to think of in that regard because we don’t trade shoes with other people, for a variety of hygiene and fitness reasons, and most of us tend to wear only a few pairs of shoes regularly. So if you can identify a pair of shoes as belonging to an individual and strategically locate reader devices—put them in the entrance to the airport, the entrance to the courthouse, the entrance to the Wal-Mart store—you can pinpoint the time and place at which a person was seen entering that location. That opens up a whole new horizon of tracking capability to watch people, for marketers and homeland security folks.
While this may sound a bit paranoid at first hearing, it really is possible to track people very easily with RFID tags embedded their shoes - very easily done by injecting the tiny tags into the shoes of anyone you want to track and placing readers anywhere you want to confirm their presence. There is no need for government spooks to wait until Nike is embedding tags for them. Law enforcement are restricted from using other surveillance methods and constantly seek new ways to circumvent those restrictions.

Here is one un-regulated method of tracking. Until shoe-tagging is used as a method to track someone and then gets challenged in court, it will be legal to track anyone this way. We all hope that it will only be used to track bad guys, but it's quite likely to lead to misinterpretation of data on an innocent if used consistently.

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posted by RealitySEO at 7:27 PM


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