RFID — IN OUR STORES, IN OUR ANIMALS, AND NOW IN OUR EMPLOYEES, NEXT IN OUR KIDS AND OLD PEOPLE — AND THEN???
By Amber William
The RFID tagging of these items is quite shocking from a consumer privacy standpoint, since the RFID industry has been telling lawmakers and the press that they are interested in only "supply side" inventory tracking on crates and pallets. They have claimed that item-level tagging of consumer goods is not feasible for the near term, thus there is no need to worry about its consumer privacy implications.
Over 40 consumer groups (including CASPIAN) came out against item-level RFID tagging of consumer goods in a position statement issued last November. Since that time, the RFID industry has carefully kept any item-level tagging far from public view. The fact that vendors were openly promoting item-level tagging among themselves at this "private conference" is huge news — news that I am sure they would prefer not be discovered by the public.
The RFID industry's desire to keep these images hidden underscores the dangers the public faces from this powerful and insidious surveillance technology and the companies that would deploy it in secrecy.
RFID & Chip Implants
Consumer privacy advocate Katherine Albrecht presented an update on RFID and chip implants. Around 300 people have voluntarily had an RFID chip implanted in them, but they could be at an increased risk for cancer, she said. Studies of animals who've been chipped show that up to 10% of them come down with tumors at the site of the implant. The microchipping of pets preys on owners love for their animals, she commented. A plan is also in the works to chip all farm animals, Albrecht added.
She expressed concerns about Border Crossing IDs issued in various states which can be read as far as 20 feet away. Personal information could possibly be gleaned from these cards by electronic readers not associated with the government. Companies such as Checkpoint Systems and Sensormatic Electronics plan to offer RFID tags hidden in clothing and shoes, but legislation is under consideration that would force stores to disclose that the tags were there, said Albrecht.
RFID users say no to privacy law.
Retail giant Walmart has said a US law enforcing privacy rules for RFID is not needed because companies experimenting with the technology are committed to protecting privacy.
Wal-Mart Stores continue to move forward with plans for case- and pallet-level tagging of products with RFID chips.
But item-level tagging, where individual products are identified with RFID chips, is about 10 years away, Linda Dillman, executive vice-president and chief information officer of Wal-Mart, told the US House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection.
Privacy advocates said that legislation is needed to protect consumers from potential uses of RFID.
They offered few current examples of privacy concerns caused by RFID, but as the range of RFID scanning grows beyond the current 10-20ft RFID could allow corporations and governments to track people's movements and purchases, they said.
A United Nations-affiliated group, the International Civil Aviation Organization, is already developing global standards for passports that include RFID chips, with the group looking for a chip that could be read up to a metre away, said Barry Steinhardt, director of the Technology and Liberty Program for the American Civil Liberties Union.
In the hands of a dictatorial government, RFID-chipped passports or other identification could be used to track visitors to the country or identify people attending a political rally, Steinhardt said. Such uses could create "a whole new surveillance regime", Steinhardt added.
Users of RFID defended it, however, saying that its range was too small and its cost too prohibitive to use on most consumer products.
Others at the hearing noted that Wal-Mart had conducted product tests on lipstick in an Oklahoma store in early 2003. Representative Jan Schakowsky questioned whether consumers had been adequately warned about the lipstick tests.
With the potential to use RFID chips in passports and other government identification, as well as consumer products such as clothing, the misuse of RFID tracking raises "seriously Orwellian concerns", she said.
"Soon we could have Big Brother and big business tuning into the same frequency, where not only will they know where you are, but what you're wearing," Schakowsky added.
The Wal-Mart test on lipstick had the RFID tags on large packages, not individual products, said Sandra Hughes, global privacy executive for Proctor & Gamble, Wal-Mart's partner in the test. Consumers were notified of the RFID test, and although the lipstick display was monitored by a web cam, the purpose was to track the supply of lipstick, not consumers, Hughes said.
Hughes and other defenders of RFID said the technology has great potential to lower supply chain costs, reduce theft and counterfeiting, improve the rate of products being in stock and even track livestock diseases.
With RFID chips in the ears of cattle, livestock sold could be tracked within hours instead of the weeks it can take to track down a paper-based sale, said John Molloy, managing director of ViaTrace, a maker of tracking technologies.
The US is ahead of the rest of the world in experimenting with RFID, he said, and its use could end threats of diseases like BSE. "This is the opportunity [for the US] to lead the world in traceability," Molloy said.
But safeguards are needed so that the potential of RFID is not misused, privacy advocates said.
Witnesses at the hearing disagreed about what kind of legislation is needed, however, with the Electronic Privacy Information Center calling for RFID-specific legislation, and the Center for Democracy and Technology repeating its call for general privacy legislation that would cover all kinds of technologies.
When Representative Darrell Issa suggested that legislation should focus on what companies and government agencies do with the information they collect, instead of what technology is used to collect the information, Paula Bruening, staff counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, agreed.
Recent debates about a House spyware bill showed how difficult it is to legislate based on specific technologies, she added. "You end up with a better result if you have baseline privacy legislation that focuses on the information itself," Bruening said.
Hughes said legislation is premature because companies are being responsible about data collection. Her company retains consumer data only as long as necessary, she said.
The New Slavery
Sue Bushell, CIO
“We are turning our bodies into data. Since information can confer both power and wealth, we are at risk of a new slavery, with its attendants of old: loss of self-sovereignty, discrimination, corrosion of individual identity, dignity denied. At risk only — this is not a prediction — but sufficiently at risk to make it prudent pre-emptively to develop the language of a new emancipation.”
So writes Paul Chadwick in a compelling article, “The new slavery, body as data” in the fourth issue of the Griffith Review, a joint venture between Griffith University and the ABC.
Chadwick worries that increasingly sophisticated information communication technologies are facilitating the determination of commerce and government to collect, sift, match, trade, use and store information about us; he worries too about newer methods of data collection about our bodies such as biometrics and genetics.
“We slough off data like skin, unnoticed and constantly,” he writes. “Someone usually vacuums it up.”
He points out that how we collect samples, conduct tests, interpret and communicate results, and then act on our understanding of results, involves public policy issues of profound significance. “The risk of a new slavery lies in this realm,” he says.
It seems a fair point. As technology advances, privacy advocates and civil libertarians fear they are losing control. Technologists seem determined to push the privacy boundaries, despite mounting concern amongst some privacy advocates about the dangers of such potentially privacy-invasive technologies as RFID chips. The war looks to be ongoing, and ultimately unwinnable. And the potential for technology to play havoc with our personal privacy seems to grow by the day.
Reports earlier this year about a Copenhagen-based firm, EmpireNorth, supposedly demonstrating a modified sniper rifle as a means to inject unsuspecting targets with an RFID tag in order to track their movements, mercifully proved to be a hoax.
That reports of governments secretly planning to insert miniature tracking chips into persons deemed enemies of the state proved false should have come as a blessed relief. Instead, civil libertarian John Gilmore, posting on the Politech mailing list, quickly drew a vision of another, even more horrid dystopia.
“Nice hoax,” Gilmore wrote. “But the opposite is more likely to come true. Rather than shooting RFID chips into people, people with RFID chips already in or on them will be shot. People with RFID chips in their clothing, books, bags or bodies could be targeted by “smart projectiles” that will zero in on that particular Smart.”
On the other side, Gilmore points out, freedom fighters could also use RFIDs mounted on tyres to ensure roadside bombs only went off when enemy troops were driving over them.
“Welcome to automated personal death,” Gilmore writes. “Courtesy of RFID and leading shortsighted global corporations, with government encouragement.”
If civil libertarians and privacy advocates can envision such nightmares, shouldn’t governments start planning to prevent such ill dreams from coming true?
Wal-Mart Radio Tags to Track Clothing
By MIGUEL BUSTILLO
Marc F. Henning for The Wall Street Journal
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. plans to roll out sophisticated electronic ID tags to track individual pairs of jeans and underwear, the first step in a system that advocates say better controls inventory but some critics say raises privacy concerns.
Starting next month, the retailer will place removable "smart tags" on individual garments that can be read by a hand-held scanner. Wal-Mart workers will be able to quickly learn, for instance, which size of Wrangler jeans is missing, with the aim of ensuring shelves are optimally stocked and inventory tightly watched. If successful, the radio-frequency ID tags will be rolled out on other products at Wal-Mart's more than 3,750 U.S. stores.
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"This ability to wave the wand and have a sense of all the products that are on the floor or in the back room in seconds is something that we feel can really transform our business," said Raul Vazquez, the executive in charge of Wal-Mart stores in the western U.S.
Before now, retailers including Wal-Mart have primarily used RFID tags, which store unique numerical identification codes that can be scanned from a distance, to track pallets of merchandise traveling through their supply chains.
Wal-Mart's broad adoption would be the largest in the world, and proponents predict it would lead other retailers to start using the electronic product codes, which remain costly. Wal-Mart has climbed to the top of the retailing world by continuously squeezing costs out of its operations and then passing on the savings to shoppers at the checkout counter. Its methods are widely adopted by its suppliers and in turn become standard practice at other retail chains.
But the company's latest attempt to use its influence—executives call it the start of a "next-generation Wal-Mart"—has privacy advocates raising questions.
While the tags can be removed from clothing and packages, they can't be turned off, and they are trackable. Some privacy advocates hypothesize that unscrupulous marketers or criminals will be able to drive by consumers' homes and scan their garbage to discover what they have recently bought.
They also worry that retailers will be able to scan customers who carry new types of personal ID cards as they walk through a store, without their knowledge. Several states, including Washington and New York, have begun issuing enhanced driver's licenses that contain radio- frequency tags with unique ID numbers, to make border crossings easier for frequent travelers. Some privacy advocates contend that retailers could theoretically scan people with such licenses as they make purchases, combine the info with their credit card data, and then know the person's identity the next time they stepped into the store.
"There are two things you really don't want to tag, clothing and identity documents, and ironically that's where we are seeing adoption," said Katherine Albrecht, founder of a group called Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering and author of a book called "Spychips" that argues against RFID technology. "The inventory guys may be in the dark about this, but there are a lot of corporate marketers who are interested in tracking people as they walk sales floors."
Smart-tag experts dismiss Big Brother concerns as breathless conjecture, but activists have pressured companies. Ms. Albrecht and others launched a boycott of Benetton Group SpA last decade after an RFID maker announced it was planning to supply the company with 15 million RFID chips.
Benetton later clarified that it was just evaluating the technology and never embedded a single sensor in clothing.
Wal-Mart is demanding that suppliers add the tags to removable labels or packaging instead of embedding them in clothes, to minimize fears that they could be used to track people's movements. It also is posting signs informing customers about the tags.
"Concerns about privacy are valid, but in this instance, the benefits far outweigh any concerns," says Sanjay Sarma, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "The tags don't have any personal information. They are essentially barcodes with serial numbers attached. And you can easily remove them."
In Europe some retailers put the smart labels on hang tags, which are then removed at checkout. That still provides the inventory-control benefit of RFID, but it takes away other important potential uses that retailers and suppliers like, such as being able to track the item all the way back to the point of manufacture in case of a recall, or making sure it isn't counterfeit.
Wal-Mart won't say how much it expects to benefit from the endeavor. But a similar pilot program at American Apparel Inc. in 2007 found that stores with the technology saw sales rise 14.3% compared to stores without the technology, according to Avery Dennison Corp., a maker of RFID equipment.
And while the tags wouldn't replace bulkier shoplifting sensors, Wal-Mart expects they'll cut down on employee theft because it will be easier to see if something's gone missing from the back room.
Several other U.S. retailers, including J.C. Penney and Bloomingdale's, have begun experimenting with smart ID tags on clothing to better ensure shelves remain stocked with sizes and colors customers want, and numerous European retailers, notably Germany's Metro AG, have already embraced the technology.
Robert Carpenter, chief executive of GS1 U.S., a nonprofit group that helped develop universal product-code standards four decades ago and is now doing the same for electronic product codes, said the sensors have dropped to as little as seven to 10 cents from 50 cents just a few years ago. He predicts that Wal-Mart's "tipping point" will drive prices lower.
Better yet put them on your kids and keys so you stop losing them all the time.
"There are definitely costs. Some labels had to be modified," said Mark Gatehouse, director of replenishment for Wrangler jeans maker VF Corp., adding that while Wal-Mart is subsidizing the costs of the actual sensors, suppliers have had to invest in new equipment. "But we view this as an investment in where things are going. Everyone is watching closely because no one wants to be at a competitive disadvantage, and this could really lift sales."
Wal-Mart won't disclose what it's spending on the effort, but it confirms that it is subsidizing some of the costs for suppliers.
Proponents, meanwhile, have high hopes for expanded use in the future. Beyond more-efficient recalls and loss prevention, RFID tags could get rid of checkout lines.
"We are going to see contactless checkouts with mobile phones or kiosks, and we will see new ways to interact, such as being able to find out whether other sizes and colors are available while trying something on in a dressing room," said Bill Hardgrave, head of the RFID Research Center at the University of Arkansas, which is funded in part by Wal-Mart. "That is where the magic is going to happen. But that's all years away."
According to 4 major biblical prophets something truly terrifying is coming our way, and it will hit homeland before the 1st of January 2017…