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Published:January 29th, 2010 13:48 EST
The Home Again Chip: Should Something Like it Be in People Too?

The Home Again Chip: Should Something Like it Be in People Too?

By Kate Bennett

 

Even with all our technological conveniences, we might think that the time when people can buy their groceries, pay for a movie, or buy clothing with a mere wave of their hand is a long ways off.  

But for many techies " at the online The Tagged " RFID Implant  Forums (http://tagged.kaos.gen.nz), the future is here. 

For DiMartin, a retiree who lives in Canada, the future couldn`t arrive fast enough.  I had told my family and friends that as soon as there was some way that I could either tattoo myself with a barcode or get some implant that could . . . allow me access to my personal info no matter where I was, so that I didn`t have to produce a plastic card. . . I was all for it ", she says. 

Her implant ", known as Radio Frequency Identification " RFID " is a miniscule device with a microchip inside that uses radio waves to automatically identify people or objects, most commonly via the device`s stored serial number.  Originally developed around the 1970s, the technology was designed for basic automatic identification, so that it could eventually replace the barcode.  Until now, however, RFID tags and readers were extremely pricey, and no standards existed for the systems.

Unbeknownst to most of us, the average person encounters RFIDs often in his/her daily life.  One well known example [of a RFID] is EZPass, " says professor Chien-Chung, from the University of Delaware`s Department of Computer Sciences.  With EZPass, he explains you have an RFID tag in your car, and every time you drive through a toll booth, the RFID reader picks up your passing and takes notes.  Another popular example is that all the goods in a supermarket, like Wal-Mart, are tagged with RFID so that they could be tracked and checked out easily. "

However, the problem with tagged goods, such as those Professor Chung highlights, is that once a product leaves the store, the tag is still on it and active.  Katherine Albrecht, founder of CASPIAN (Consumers against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering), believes that this seriously oversteps the boundaries protecting consumer privacy.  She feels that tags on such goods are only the beginning of a cycle of tagging that . . . will have chilling effects on consumers` ability to escape the oppressive surveillance of manufacturers, retailers, and marketers " and that government and law enforcement will be quick to use the technology to keep tabs on citizens, as well. "  Her website, www.spychips.com, gives surfers tips for finding RFIDs in products that they`ve purchased, along with information for how to deactivate them. 

Albrecht`s organization, however, isn`t seeking a ban on RFID technology.  We believe the best solution to privacy invading technologies like RFID is the free market, " her coauthor, Liz McIntyre says.  According to industry studies, two-thirds of people object to RFID on privacy grounds.  If those two-thirds vote on the technology by refusing to buy items from retailers and manufacturers promoting it, then companies would be forced to honor the wishes of the majority.  But in order for the free market to work, consumers need to understand the implications of the technology and know what products contain RFID tags. Since these tags can be so easily hidden . . . we believe it is appropriate to require labeling. "

CASPIAN`s opposition and social activism is only the beginning.  According to many Christian radicals, RFID chipping, especially when practiced on humans, is a sign of the coming apocalypse (or the end of the world).  Groups like These Last Days Ministries, Inc. refer to RFID as the mark of the beast ", often quoting the Bible to support their claims: and He shall make all, both little and great, rich and poor, freemen and bondmen, to have a character in their right hand or on their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, but He that hath the character, or the name of the beast, or the number of His name " (Apocalypse, Chapter 13:16-17).  

However, many who already have this implant, like DiMartin, hold other fears.  One of my greatest fears for technology isn`t big brother or a coming apocalypse, but that it will be used to perpetuate plain old vanilla meanness and discrimination against others, like as in using self aware clones for extra body parts as in The Island, " she says. 

Kai, the administrator of the Tagged " forum, has no fears whatsoever about the RFID chips in hand.  I would be totally fine with using a small scalpel and popping it out myself if worst came to worst, " Kai admits. 

Regardless of theories predicting anything from government conspiracy to world destruction, Kai points out there are so many different tag types, frequencies, etc. on the market, that finding one reader to read them all would be nearly impossible and not something the government could place everywhere without raising some eyebrows. "

Like people, RFIDs come in all different types.  The microchips within them can be read-only or read-write and work just like CD-Rs and CD-RWs.  RFID tags can also operate on one of several different frequencies: low, high, and ultra high.  Low-frequency tags can only be read from about 1 foot or less; high-frequency tags are read from 3 ft; and ultra-high-frequency tags are read from 10 to 20 ft.  If a company needs to be able to read a tag from a longer distance, they then utilize active tags, which have their own power source.  This can boost the range to 300 ft and beyond.

The typical RFID tag can hold only 2KB of information and costs about $2.  It can interact with a reader, running around $50, which is installed in a computer or any other kind of electronic device.  When in the human body, the tag can only be read from about 3 inches away, but can last up to 100 years. 

As Professor Chung asserts, the fact that people are now getting these tags injected may be both good and bad, depending on the application and the intention.  For some people, like the elderly, it could be helpful because they could be tracked all of the time.  And having your medical history stored on an RFID could save your life in an emergency.  But, if you cannot turn off the response of read ", you can be tracked, anywhere. 

So where will RFID tags lead us in the future?  The possibilities are only limited by our imaginations.