Spychips: How major corporations
and government plan to track your
every move with RFID
By Katherine Albrecht & Liz McIntyre
Foreward by Bruce Sterling, Wired.com
Hardcover, 270 pp
Nelson Current, 2005
want to tag data to identify you and profile your possessions so they can
target you with marketing and advertising material wherever you go. Government agents crave the power of
hidden spychips to monitor citizens' political activities and whereabouts. And,
of course, criminals can't wait to
identify easy marks and high-ticket items by scanning the contents of shopping
bags and suitcases at a distance.
[authors' emphases]. --Katherine Albrecht & Liz McIntyre, Spychips, p 29.
RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification.
Organizations that promote RFID, which include companies whose names and brands
you recognize, such as Wal-Mart, Gillette, Procter & Gamble, Intel, UPS and
Benneton, as well as government agencies such as the Department of Defense and
the Department of Homeland Security, want to implant an RFID tag on every item
Unlike current bar codes in which all similar items, e.g. 12
oz. cans of Coca-Cola, have the same number, RFID tags would give each
individual item a unique identification number. Such tagging, combined with
databases of purchasing histories tied to credit cards, ATM cards and
supermarket loyalty cards, would create a system of universal product
registration. "Spychips" explains what marketers, government agents
and criminals are doing and could do in the near future with such a system.
Katherine Albrecht is the founder and director of
C.A.S.P.I.A.N. (Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering)
and Liz McIntyre is C.A.S.P.I.A.N.'s communications director. The C.A.S.P.I.A.N. web site, which asks, "Is Big
Brother in your grocery cart? " and the companion Spychips web site provide a lot of
information about RFID and related strategies, as well as efforts by
C.A.S.P.I.A.N. and other groups worldwide to derail the effort to make
everything we carry, wear or drive traceable to us. The book "Spychips"
is the natural continuation of their years-long efforts to inform the public
about this global threat to privacy and liberty.
In "Spychips," Albrecht and McIntyre prove that
the RFID industry's claims that their tags would not be used to track people
are total lies. They do so by excerpting patent applications made by the some
of the biggest proponents of RFID: transnational corporations such as IBM
(patent application # 20020165758 -- IDENTIFICATION AND TRACKING OF PERSONS
USING RFID-TAGGED ITEMS), Procter & Gamble (patent application #20020161651
-- SYSTEMS AND METHODS FOR TRACKING CONSUMERS IN A STORE ENVIRONMENT) and
Philips Electronics (patent application # 6,611,206 -- AUTOMATIC SYSTEM FOR
MONITORING INDEPENDENT PERSONS REQUIRING OCCASIONAL ASSISTANCE). Patents have
been granted for some devices mentioned in the book.
A regimen of ubiquitous RFID does not stop at tagging
things. The plans include tagging people. Already, the FDA has approved a
subdermal RFID implant and, as Spychips graphically details, Persephone, Inc, a
California-based company calls for surgical implantation of tracking devices in
patent application # 2004174258 -- METHOD AND APPARATUS FOR LOCATING AND
A major thesis of this book is that, contrary to the claims
that RFID tags will make for a better world, the ubiquitous presence of
spychips will only make the evils of the world worse. And in these times when
we see people from Saddam Hussein to George W. Bush likened to Hitler, Albrecht's
and McIntyre's imagining of what it would have been like for the Nazis to have
had access to RFID is especially chilling:
In a world filled with RFID readers, the Nazis could have
been far more efficient in depriving Jews of access to basic necessities and
the stuff of daily life. RFID numbers encoded in their chips could mark Jews as
social and technological pariahs, causing any doorway, elevator, or appliance
equipped with RFID-based authentication to shut down when a Jew attempted to
use it. In a cashless society where an ID swipe is required for nearly every
activity, pay phones could be programmed to withhold dial tones, subway gates
could remain firmly closed, and store equipment could refuse to ring up "Aryan
only" foods like eggs and milk for the "wrong" kind of person.
--Katherine Albrecht & Liz McIntyre, Spychips, p. 211
"Spychips" is a must read for anyone interested in
preserving democracy, civil liberties, the concept of "innocent until
proven guilty," and personal privacy. It is also a must read for people
who want to be free from constant and intrusive marketing, and safer from
criminals. The book will also be of interest to people concerned about abuse of
technology, and people interested in Biblical interpretation. ("And he causeth all, both small and
great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or
in their foreheads. And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the
mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name." Rev. 13:16-17,
quoted in Spychips, Chapter 14 Are You Next? p. 167).
That quote from the Book of Revelation reminds me of a bank
commercial -- perhaps you've seen it -- where the customers stand passively in
a long line after having had a barcode stapled to their foreheads. It's
passivity that will make the scary world of ubiquitous RFID a reality, say
Albrecht and McIntyre. Although RFID is already with us in forms such as "FasTrack"
and "EZ-Pass" electronic toll collectors, the authors hope that the
tagging of everything, and thus of everyone, can be stopped dead in its tracks
with massive consumer action reflecting the very high level of consumer
opposition to RFID. The chapter called "Pull the Plug: How you can help
win the RFID war," recounts some anti-RFID victories, and lists a series
of small, moderate and bold steps consumers can take to oppose RFID, as well as
listing a number of "the worst of the spychippers," i.e., companies
that deserve to be boycotted for their "past, present, or future plans to
use -- or abuse -- RFID on consumer products."
The authors also promote their "RFID Right to Know Act,"
a piece of model legislation that would require the labeling of items
containing RFID. Considering the federal government's promotion of RFID, well
documented in "Spychips," and industry opposition to labeling
legislation in other contexts, such as foods containing genetically modified
organisms (GMOs) and dairy products containing growth hormones, the chances
that an "RFID Right to Know Act" will be passed are probably
somewhere between slim chance and fat chance. Nevertheless, the legislation is
available at the Spychips web site where
Albrecht and McIntyre keep news about consumer actions against spychipping
companies and other information about RFID.
Interested consumers should read "Spychips" and go
to the web site for more information. Then go out and rent a copy of the movie "Minority
� 2006, K�llia
Ramares. For Fair Use only.
Journalist K�llia Ramares interviewed Katherine Albrecht
on KPFA's popular "Living Room"
show on January 2, 2004. K�llia also interviewed Albrecht for Universal Spy
Devices, program #32-03 of Women's International News Gathering Service (WINGS). K�llia's
web site is Radio Internet Story Exchange.
She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.