Quite a furor arose when consumers learned that (RFID) tags had been put into the products we buy on a regular basis. For those who do not know, RFID stands for radio frequency identification. RFID chips, or "tags" are tiny microchips connected to an antenna that send out whatever information they store when a reader signals them. Gillette was one of the first manufacturers to use these, and Wal-Mart was among the first retailers interested in the technology. When people learned of this, many insisted that compromising our privacy and possibly letting muggers know what we have, just so stores could take quicker inventory was not a fair trade off. An even louder alarm was sounded when the U.S. Government announced plans to integrate RFID chips into the next generation of U.S. passports. After all, who knows who has an RFID reader? Anyone who cared to, including thieves who want to steal your identity and terrorists could read such passports. Americans traveling overseas are targeted by terrorists for kidnapping and murder. With current passports, it is hard for them to pick out who is an American. With chipped passports, an RFID reader will tell them who to target quickly and easily. No one will ever know that their passport has been read. Some have advocated wrapping these new passports in aluminum foil, or carrying them in a metal case until we have to show them, but even that would leave traveling Americans vulnerable during those moments, and try getting through a metal detector!
The Government, and the RFID manufacturers who supply them have heard these concerns, and are trying to trick us. Now, they say they won't use RFID. Instead, they will use "contactless chips", "proximity chips" or "contactless integrated circuits". Do not be fooled by this spin doctoring. They are still RFID. No amount of doublespeak will change that. They have tried these word games before. One example is renaming Total Information Awareness as Terrorism Information Awareness. Congress was not fooled, and de-funded that program.
The manufacturers of these devices insist that they have a limited range, but hackers have always been able to build antennas to extend the range of any wireless device. Sometimes a simple Pringles can, a coax connector and a soldering iron are all they need to rig one up. A similar home-brewed contraption was how they got Paris Hilton's address book. Also, if a hacker, mugger or terrorist's RFID reader is too far away from a chipped passport, it can always piggyback data from a legitimate reader, and no one will ever know.
This spring, the Department of Homeland Security will begin using RFID on the badges of all employees, replacing magnetic strips. They claim that this will save money because physical conduct wears out magnetic strips and readers. While this assertion is true, it isn't their only motivation. You may be tempted to write this off as boys with a new toy who want to play with it, but it is much more than that. This part of the growing surveillance society the power hungry have dreamt of. If they get away with this at the Homeland Security department, next private employers will constantly track workers. Our drivers licenses will be in the air and up for grabs to any identity thief. Police and government officials, some of whom are corrupt, will be able to watch, but who will watch the watchers? The calendar may say 2005, but it feels a lot like 1984.
Before you say we need to loosen our tinfoil hats, please
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