New Hampshire is debating RFID legislation that would put parameters on how the technology can be used says the Union Leader. Most of the rules have to do with mandating labeling of products that utilize RFID technology (like a credit card, for example) and restrictions on the state using the chips to track individuals.
It all seems rather benign until you consider a few things. First, the legislation is calling for "universally accepted symbols" to designate RFID usage. Yet, it seemingly would take some time before a symbol is universally accepted and credit card issuers, for one, are eager to implement the technology to speed payments and provide safer transactions. Would this mean that everyone but New Hampshire residents could use a card with a RFID chip on it before the universe coalesced on a symbol to put on packaging?
Secondly, beyond electronic payments, RFID is still a far ways away from moving from the pallet to the product level. One wonders what the rush is. Or where the fear is derived from.
Which brings us to our third point.
See our previous post on the perception troubles that RFID is having in it's nascent, early phase of growth (RFID: Satan's Technology - and here we thought it was Grand Theft Auto). We note that the anti-RFID CASPIAN is behind much fear-mongering about the technology:
CASPIAN is a hard-core privacy group headed by the articulate and tenacious Katherine Albrecht. She's been a darling of the mainstream media in her efforts to paint RFID use as a direct line to a Orwellian state.
Volia! This is how the Union Leader introduces its piece:
George Orwell, in his 1949 political novel “1984,” envisioned a society in which the state’s powers were omnipotent and omnipresent.
Readers ... shuddered over an oft-repeated warning in the novel that “Big Brother,” as the eyes of the state were called, “is watching you.” But we, the younger generation, believed that no such over-arching breach of privacy would ever become a real threat.
Perhaps the Orwell readers were wrong. Technological developments have advanced the science of identifying people and things in invisible ways.
Later, it reveals that the New Hampshire legislation has been shaped by CASPIAN:
“I am pleased with the legislation,” Albrecht said, noting that much of it is based on a model law CASPIAN developed called the “RFID Right to Know Act of 2003” which called for labeling RFID-embedded products and packages.
Again, as we noted in our our earlier post, Albrecht believes that RFID is the Mark of the Beast (i.e., Devil). From Wired News:
(Albrecht) believes that RFID technology may be part of the fulfillment of the Mark of the Beast prophesied in the Book of Revelation....
"The Mark of the Beast, 666: a prophesy from 2000 years ago," says Albrecht, at the beginning of her video, On the Brink of the Mark, produced two years ago. "How many people (know that) technological developments of the last 10 to 20 years could be combining to make the Mark of the Beast a reality, and possibly even in our lifetimes?"
Is this thinking in line with the New Hampshire legislature?
And, if Albrecht's religious point-of-view doesn't grab you, what about her oft-repeated insistence that legislation like New Hampshire's is necessary because Wal-Mart is a bad actor when it comes to use of the technology? In the Union Leader piece, Albrecht skillfully gets the reporter to include the yarn about how Wal-Mart took photos of lipstick shoppers at one store in 2003.
When a customer picked up the product, it triggered a picture of the woman interacting with the lipstick, Albrecht said. Proctor and Gamble and Wal-Mart both denied the allegation. “But they used it to spy on shoppers,” Albrecht said. “Wal-Mart has a poor history of using this (technology) in a bad way.
Here's what the editor of RFID Journal (which is rather balanced) had to say about this issue back in 2003...
Albrecht says in CASPIAN’s press release: "This trial is a perfect illustration of how easy it is to set up a secret RFID infrastructure and use it to spy on people.” The only problem is that P&G and Wal-Mart weren't’t spying on people. The test was designed to determine whether the shelf could help the companies ensure that the lipstick was always in stock and, perhaps, to determine what improvement in sales could result from that. Let's look at the facts....
1. The shelf was not connected to any back-end computer database; therefore, there was no way to determine who might be picking up the lipstick.
2. There were no point-of-sales readers, so no data was collected on any shopper.
3. The camera wasn’t set up to spy on customers but to spy on the shelf. How could P&G know if the shelf was accurately forecasting out-of-stocks unless researchers could check inventory on the shelf visually? The images from the camera, which captured backs of heads, were not saved, according to P&G.
4. The tags were placed in the packaging, not on the lipsticks. That was done because it was expected that the consumer would throw the packaging—and the RFID tag—away.
Net result: No data was collected on any shopper. No shopper was identified as the purchaser of the lipstick. And even if the tags could be read in the packaging after someone left the store, the serial number on the tag was meaningless.
As we have mentioned many times, it is idiotic and damaging for businesses to use RFID for purposes that create a shadow of a doubt about privacy issues. Still, the Union Leader story brings up reasonable questions on whether New Hampshire is addressing the supposed RFID privacy "problem" based on facts or fear-based emotions built off of urban legends and extreme religious perspectives.