Chips: High tech aids or tracking tools?

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Gman's picture
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Chips: High tech aids or tracking tools?

A VeriChip, held by pair of tweezers, is display in this May 10, 2002, file photo in Boca Raton, Fla. Proponents say the chips when implanted in people offer security and medical identification benefits. Detractors worry that abuse of the chips will eliminate personal privacy in the digital age. (AP Photo/Steve Mitchell)

Chips: High tech aids or tracking tools?
By TODD LEWAN, AP National WriterSat Jul 21, 11:08 PM ET, a provider of surveillance equipment, attracted little notice itself — until a year ago, when two of its employees had glass-encapsulated microchips with miniature antennas embedded in their arms.

The "chipping" of two workers with RFIDs — radio frequency identification tags as long as two grains of rice, as thick as a toothpick — was merely a way of restricting access to vaults that held sensitive data and images for police departments, a layer of security beyond key cards and clearance codes, the company said.

"To protect high-end secure data, you use more sophisticated techniques," Sean Darks, chief executive of the Cincinnati-based company, said. He compared chip implants to retina scans or fingerprinting. "There's a reader outside the door; you walk up to the reader, put your arm under it, and it opens the door."

Innocuous? Maybe.

But the news that Americans had, for the first time, been injected with electronic identifiers to perform their jobs fired up a debate over the proliferation of ever-more-precise tracking technologies and their ability to erode privacy in the digital age.

To some, the microchip was a wondrous invention — a high-tech helper that could increase security at nuclear plants and military bases, help authorities identify wandering Alzheimer's patients, allow consumers to buy their groceries, literally, with the wave of a chipped hand.

To others, the notion of tagging people was Orwellian, a departure from centuries of history and tradition in which people had the right to go and do as they pleased, without being tracked, unless they were harming someone else.

Chipping, these critics said, might start with Alzheimer's patients or Army Rangers, but would eventually be suggested for convicts, then parolees, then sex offenders, then illegal aliens — until one day, a majority of Americans, falling into one category or another, would find themselves electronically tagged.

The concept of making all things traceable isn't alien to Americans. Thirty years ago, the first electronic tags were fixed to the ears of cattle, to permit ranchers to track a herd's reproductive and eating habits. In the 1990s, millions of chips were implanted in livestock, fish, dogs, cats, even racehorses.

Microchips are now fixed to car windshields as toll-paying devices, on "contactless" payment cards (Chase's "Blink," or MasterCard's "PayPass"). They're embedded in Michelin tires, library books, passports, work uniforms, luggage, and, unbeknownst to many consumers, on a host of individual items, from Hewlett Packard printers to Sanyo TVs, at Wal-Mart and Best Buy.

But employees weren't appliances or pets: They were people made scannable.

"It was scary that a government contractor that specialized in putting surveillance cameras on city streets was the first to incorporate this technology in the workplace," says Liz McIntyre, co-author of "Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID."

Darks, the executive, dismissed his critics, noting that he and his employees had volunteered to be chip-injected. Any suggestion that a sinister, Big-Brother-like campaign was afoot, he said, was hogwash.

"You would think that we were going around putting chips in people by force," he told a reporter, "and that's not the case at all."

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reikiman's picture
Last seen: 1 year 2 months ago
Joined: Sunday, November 19, 2006 - 17:52
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Re: Chips: High tech aids or tracking tools?

That article misses a few points about this ..

There's also a move to chip kids and alzheimers patients; both are in danger of wandering away, right? So if they're chipped they're findable, supposedly. But they're only findable if they're in range of a scanner. The range of scanners is based on the broadcast power -- these chips are simple radio beacons. They are powered by power they receive from a radio broadcast, that powers up the chip, and it broadcasts a reply which identifies the chip. The range is usually a few feet.

These "FasTrak" (as they're called in the Bay Area) gizmos -- little boxes you carry in your car which automatically notify tollgates you've just driven through, and the toll authority should ding your credit card -- these are also RFID and also are a tracking issue. Namely, Big our dear government is notified of the frequency you've driven over the toll roads (bridges etc) and knows some of your movements. I think they could install similar RFID scanners along city streets and have an even more detailed picture of your whereabouts and where you drive.

The FBI and other agencies have the ability to turn on parts of your cell phone .. such as the microphone .. so they can listen in to your conversations etc. The FBI in particular used this ability to get information about some Mob Boss which they used in the court case against this guy and won a conviction. I read recently their abilities to turn on your phone remotely work even if your phone is turned off. I suppose the only safety is to remove the battery. In any case phones now often have GPS units in them; which is useful in case you run a map lookup application, but it could be useful to the FBI/snoops to track your location.

There are a wide range of useful uses for RFID chips. e.g. Walmart is a huge proponent of them, they want to have RFID things slapped on each box so their warehouses can be even more automated and know exactly where every box is and what is in every box. It would introduce efficiency into the shipping system of such distributors.

- David Herron,

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