May 31, 2007

Oklahoma lawmakers seek to prevent microchipping, not promote it


Interesting legislative goings on in Oklahoma around human chipping.

Oklahoma State Sen. Brian Crain and Rep. Sue Tibbs are the authors of a bill opposing the microchipping of people, SB 47. It passed out of the state Senate in March and has been making its way through committee. Creepily, it was apparently amended to allow for the microchipping of criminals, but calmer heads are prevailing and that provision has now been stricken (see article below). One interesting human interest note: Rep. Tibbs is a 73 year-old grandmother.

While I am pleased to see these legislative efforts (Liz and I submitted testimony in favor of the bill), we need to let lawmakers nationwide know about our Bodily Integrity Act. It covers all the bases and is urgently needed before society becomes numb to the violation these chips represent.

Our model bill is just one page long and written in plain English.

-Katherine Albrecht

House rejects microchip implants for violent criminals
By Tim Talley Associated Press Writer

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Legislation that would authorize microchip implants in people convicted of violent crimes was sent back to a committee for more work Wednesday after state House members questioned whether the proposal would violate constitutional civil liberties.

The measure, approved by the Senate, authorizes microchip implants for persons convicted of one or more of 19 violent offenses who have to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence, including murder, rape and some forms of robbery and burglary, while prohibiting government from requiring microchips implants in anyone else.

The tiny electronic implants are commonly used to keep track of pets and livestock, but several House members questioned whether their forced use in people would be unconstitutionally invasive.

"We are going down that slippery slope," said Rep. Ed Cannaday, D-Porum.

Lawmakers never voted on the measure. During debate, its author, Rep. Sue Tibbs, R-Tulsa, asked that it be sent back to a joint House-Senate conference committee where the exception for violent offenders was inserted.

Cannaday and others said the measure may violate the Fourth, Fifth And Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, the Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment and the Fourteenth Amendment contains the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses.

"I see it as invasive," Cannaday said. He said many sex offenders and prisoners convicted of other crimes are already required to wear wrist or ankle bracelets when they are released from prison so their movements can be monitored by satellite tracking devices.


Posted by Katherine Albrecht at 8:36 AM | Comments (1)

October 12, 2006

Retinal Scans can reveal sensitive health and lifestyle info


The eyes are the window to the soul, say the poets, but they may also reveal some very private information about you. Researchers have developed a scanning device that takes photos of the retina, then analyzes them for everything from medical conditions like high blood pressure and AIDS to drug use and pregnancy.

According to the article:

Many health problems show up in your eyes, potentially creating non-invasive tests for everything from cocaine to sickle cell anemia. Cocaine, alcohol, and other drugs can make the OSI a non-invasive drug test. Infectious diseases such as malaria, AIDS, syphilis, Lyme disease, and chicken pox all show up in your eyes. Interestingly enough, so does pregnancy–no more pink lines.... Even genetic diseases like leukemia, lymphoma, Stevens-Johnson syndrome, and sickle cell anemia affect the eyes. In addition, your eyes show signs of chronic health conditions like bleeding or clotting disorders, congestive heart failure, arthrosclerosis, and high and low cholesterol. Other poisons like botulism manifest themselves in the eyes, too.

Source: Retinal Scans Do More Than Let You In The Door, August 31, 2006

The next time someone proposes retinal scanning as a security measure, say, at an airport terminal or for access to a job site, be sure to point out the potentially invasive nature of such scans.

-Katherine Albrecht

Posted by Katherine Albrecht at 8:12 AM | Comments (4)

October 4, 2006

Tracking Where You've Been

If you've read the foreward to Spychips, you know that sci-fi writer and futurist Bruce Sterling is up on all things RFID. He did a stint last year as Art Center College of Design's "Visionary in Residence," where he assigned his class to use their industrial and graphic design skills to come up with novel uses for RFID. Then he invited me to fly out to California and throw in my two cents at the end of the semester.

Some of the designs were nutty (a retirement home for the oversexed was one standout example, though the RFID connection was tenuous). Others were inventive, like the power diet that would turn you into Vince Lombardi if only you'd continually scan the spychips on all your food and workout equipment.

But one project really stood out in my mind, perhaps because the danger in it was so difficult for the students who'd created it to grasp. It was called "Kilroy," as in "Kilroy was here" of 1960's graffiti fame. The idea was to place passive RFID tags in the form of little stickers in public locations, like the doorways of clubs, music stores, restaurants, etc. as a sort of spychip graffiti. Whenever you saw one of these dots, you could aim your cellphone at it and download information about the venue from a social network, or add your own thoughts on the venue. ("The pad thai here is great, but avoid the duck salad," or "Look out, the bouncer at this place is a real jerk.".)


That all sounds pretty cool, but a very different scenario immediately occurred to me. "Wait a minute, guys," I said. "If you put these things everywhere, bad people will use them to keep track of where you've been."

"Huh?" they responded."These things aren't readers, they're tags. They can't track anything."

"Maybe not, but if you put them everywhere, they'll act like little real world cookies, and eventually some device you carry around with you will suck the data off these tags as you pass, as a way to monitor your travels and activities. Somebody could download the data and see everywhere you've been and when."

"Huh?" they replied again unfazed and uncomprehending. I tried a few more times then finally gave up with a sigh.

I'd almost forgotten about that incident until this morning, when I learned that someone else has been thinking along the same creepy lines as me. But it's not your friend Sarah or Jodie wanting to tell you about the pad thai down at the Siam Palace. It's NTT, the mobile phone provider to most of Japan, one of the planet's biggest megacorps.

"...NTT DoCoMo recently developed a system that utilizes mobile phones and RFID tags to monitor and infer people's behaviors and deliver relevant information. The system uses mobile phones that have the RFID reader capability. Those RFID reader phones read tags embedded in retail stores, for example, and the software running on the phones sends out information such as the stores people visited.."

Source: (a trippy weblog with lots of RFID tidbits)
and Keitai Watch (In Japanese)

Sometimes it sucks to be right.

-Katherine Albrecht

Posted by Katherine Albrecht at 4:58 AM | Comments (5)

May 23, 2006

High-tech Fences in Urban Corridors?


President Bush's immigration address May 15 was mined with privacy and civil liberties bombshells if you read between the lines. His call for "high tech fences in urban corridors" to nab undocumented aliens was particularly chilling, and suggests his administration is planning some kind of national Identification system that would demand the electronic equivalent of "your papers please."

See for the offical transcript of the President's address.

How else would his high-tech fence system work? There couldn't be gaping holes in the fences that would allow people to pass through without scrutiny. To be effective, every one of us would have to prove we have the government's permission to pass through the "gates."

The President offered no details about how his high-tech fences would function or how we would prove our identities to the system, but I suspect he would prefer this proof to be quick and automatic so as not to create long lines and constantly remind citizens that the state is watching. This could be facilitated by grids of biometric and RFID readers stationed at choke points in key cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Houston.

The President's recent statements should be red flags to citizens who value their privacy and civil liberties. While he didn't spell out the details of his plans, it's clear he wants to know "who is in our country and why they are here."

I spoke with John St. George about "high-tech fences" on FMNN World News (starts at 4:10):

- Liz McIntyre

Posted by liz at 3:11 PM | Comments (1)

March 29, 2006

Be careful what you wish on your enemies


Think pedophiles and/or illegal aliens should be tagged with RFID?
I'd say that's a very bad idea.

Living in this surveillance and power-mad century, there's a wise Chinese proverb we should all keep in mind:

"The fire you kindle for your enemy often burns you more than it burns him."

While some people may, at first glance, think it's a good idea to tag the more dangerous and unsavory elements of society with a computer chip, it's actually a very bad idea in the long run. An industry that's built around tagging human beings against their will, whether they're illegal immigrants, criminals, or even mass murderers, will grow fat and powerful and bureaucratic from feeding at the trough of our tax dollars. An infrastructure of human tagging will take root, then, like all industries, it will want to see its market expand. (Think of the prison-industrial complex today -- or any powerful lobby.)

The human-implant-prison-industrial-complex will shmooze at political fundraisers and send lobbyists to urge politicians to expand the mandatory chipping program to other "markets." They'll urge the tagging of parolees and ex-felons. In fact, they'll say, society would be safer if all criminals -- rapists, drug dealers, prostitutes, thieves, and domestic abusers -- had a chip implant, along with gun law violators, marijuana smokers, drunk drivers, custody violators, tax cheats, habitual traffic violators, shoplifters, protesters who won't stay in their designated First Amendment zones, rowdy college revelers, and eventually the guy who didn't fill out the right paperwork to add a deck onto the back of his house.

Once the mandatory chipping lobby really gets going, they won't stop at criminals. For our own safety, they'll get the lawmakers to agree that we ought to chip nuclear plant workers, anyone handling biological or chemical agents, drivers transporting hazardous materials, anyone owning a gun, anyone working with children, anyone preparing food for public consumption, anyone...

Get the picture yet?

No matter who you are and how saintly a life you lead, I can almost promise you that if we light this fire to burn the pedophiles, somewhere down the road it will burn us and our children, too.

Big Brother has surrounded us with dried kindling and he's hankering for a match. Don't hand it to him.

- Katherine Albrecht

Posted by Katherine Albrecht at 5:41 AM | Comments (13)

March 28, 2006

If you tag the police, they'll want to tag you


Some police departments have begun testing spychipped police badges. Here's how Inforrmation Week describes it:

South Carolina Highway Patrol, Brookline Massachusetts Police Department, and Louisiana State Capitol Police are testing SmartShield, said John Domurad, director of research and development at Blackinton. Furthest along on deployment, the South Carolina Highway Patrol began September testing badges in the field. The agency deployed the software earlier this year. Next, deploying Datastrip Inc.'s DSVII-SC readers running Windows CE.Net in the field, Domurad said.

The DSVII-SC reader can communicate over wireless LAN or cellular networks, has biometric capabilities, and reads PDF bar codes, magnetic strips and RFID chips. It also can retrieve data from on-board memory or an external database via wireless 802.11 or Bluetooth technology, said Stuart Tucker, customer and sales support manager at Datastrip.

Blackinton's application uses 125 kilohertz or a 13.56 megahertz RFID chip. Each encoded with an identification number and law enforcement agency number specific to the division and embedded into the badge made from ferrous metals. "The chip is embedded into the badge, not attached," Domurad said. "The chip becomes inoperable if someone tries to remove."

Read more on Blackinton's website, Information Week, or RFID Journal.

- Katherine Albrecht

Posted by Katherine Albrecht at 11:15 PM | Comments (5)

Amusement park or testing ground for a total surveillance state?


This just in from RFID Update:

Computing reports that the Alton Towers theme park in Staffordshire, England, will roll out a new service for guests that incorporates RFID with souvenir DVDs. Guests wear RFID bracelets during their day, while cameras located at strategic points throughout the park snap pictures of them. The pictures are identified by the RFID information such that when guests leave the park at the end of the day, a DVD with up to thirty minutes of personalized and stock photos is available for sale. The system will go into production next spring, according to the article. (For another RFID wristband tourism application, see Friday's article RFID Goes to the Poconos.)


According to the article, Andy Davies, commercial services director at Alton Towers, believes visitors will not be overly concerned about the invasion of privacy implications of wearing the bracelets.

"We will not force the bracelets onto people and the cameras will be unobtrusive, so they will not feel like they are being watched," he said.

But of course they are being watched. Closely.
And photographed.
That's the "beauty" of RFID's power -- if you're one of the watchers.
You can identify and track people everywhere they go, closely monitoring and photographing their every move -- secretly, silently, and invislbly.

Will you be stupid enough to wear one of these wristbands? Or to have an equivalent RFID device embedded in your shirt, shoes or driver's license? They could be there already for all we know.

The industry's sure working hard to keep us from finding out.

- Katherine Albrecht

Posted by Katherine Albrecht at 10:38 PM | Comments (1)

March 20, 2006

RFID Chipped chompers


Chipped chompers could take a bite out of privacy if Belgian scientists convince the public to open wide and say "ahhhh" to spychips. Dr. Patrick Thevissen and his team from the Catholic University of Leuven think embedded RFID tags in teeth would be an ideal way to uniquely identify people, according to an article in The Register today. After all, they note, teeth are the most enduring of human remains, and certain RFID tags can withstand temperature changes in excess of 800 degreees Farenheit.

The university's interest in identifying humans with RFID should come as no surprise. Members and associated members of one of the university's consortiums, Leuven Security Excellence Consortium, include Philips, HP, Sun Microsystems, and IBM, among others.

- Liz McIntyre

Posted by liz at 9:20 AM | Comments (0)

March 17, 2006

Time to buy a flyswatter

The Pentagon wants to insert RF equipment into insects at the larval stage, so they'll pupate into hard-shelled surveillance drones, maneuverable by remote control.


"Darpa seeks innovative proposals to develop technology to create insect-cyborgs, possibly enabled by intimately integrating microsystems within insects, during their early stages of metamorphoses," its advertisement says.

Embedding the control equipment deep in their bodies will overcome those annoying "instinctive behaviours for feeding and mating" that kept bugs with RFID tags glued onto them from performing "reliably" in past studies. (How pesky of living creatures to believe they own their own bodies! How annoying of them to want to live their own lives!) Among other things, Darpa wants the power to force the insects to "remain stationary indefinitely or until otherwise instructed." Sounds like a real barrel of laughs for the bugs.

The goal is for insects to covertly transmit video and "bug" conversations by lurking unseen in enemy hideouts with micro-transmitters strapped to their bodies.

Of course.

Even more details:

- Katherine Albrecht

Posted by Katherine Albrecht at 7:37 PM | Comments (0)

March 10, 2006

Homeland Security puts remote tracking plan on hold

dhs-logo.jpgA few weeks ago, we disclosed a Homeland Security plan to use RFID "tokens" tucked in people's wallets to identify them as they walked through doorways and scan them from 25 feet away as they travel in a "car, truck or bus" at speeds of up to 55 mph.

Here's what the government's RFI (request for information) specified:

"The Government requires that [an RFID device] be read under circumstances that include the device being carried in a pocket, purse, wallet, in traveler's clothes, or elsewhere on the person of the traveler. The device must be readable when the traveler walks into a (Port of Entry) or crosses the border... Readers are located in doorways and in individual pedestrian and vehicle lanes to allow identification of where the token is read and to allow association of the token with the individual and, if applicable, the vehicle in which the token is carried."

Evan Schuman of eWeek followed up on our press release and contacted DHS to learn the full story. He discovered that the plan has been put on hold while the government "is trying to determine what technology we are going to use," said Bob Richards, the DHS specialist handling the project.

Apparently, it was not privacy concerns, but bureacratic wrangling that put the project on hold in mid-December. Though DHS reports receiving "a lot of responses" from vendors eager to created the system, Schuman reports that "interdepartmental jurisdiction" issues have become a concern. "Now it's also going to involve the State Department," said Richards. (Feeling safer yet?)

-Katherine Albrecht

Posted by Katherine Albrecht at 6:31 AM | Comments (0)

February 22, 2006

NY RFID System Prompts Peaceful Protest

NY PATH scanner.jpg

Thanks to a supporter who snapped this photo of a New York City RFID scanner with a "SPYCHIPS.COM" sticker attached. Scanners like this are being installed in PATH train stations so riders can pay for fares with new RFID smart cards.

We're guessing this is the work of a grass roots activist who decided PATH train riders should visit our website to learn about the downsides of RFID technology. (This is not a CASPIAN sanctioned project, but we can't help but smile when we see this kind of peaceful protest and education campaign.)

Reportedly, these SPYCHIPS.COM stickers are showing up in other locations where RFID is in use. They appear to be non-destructive labels like you might see on file folders.

Here are some links to recent articles about the new PATH RFID system that might have prompted the recent activity:,0,6637845.story

- Liz McIntyre

Posted by liz at 4:27 PM | Comments (3)

February 10, 2006

CityWatcher Implant Controversy

verichip with attrib.jpg

Our press release about CityWatcher implementing a new VeriChip-based security system has prompted some to "slam the [CityWatcher] site with irate emails," according to its Network Administrator Khary Williams. He says he's willing to have a dialogue about the system, but asks that those opposed show a bit more restraint.

"Posting raving emails about RFID doesn't really help anything. It makes me lose respect for your cause...," he said.

He's got a point.

Besides, the downsides of getting a VeriChip implant need no embellishment. The chip is not only a privacy and civil liberties nightmare, it is a poor option for security, and it's got serious problems as a medical device. That information alone should prompt CityWatcher and its employees to rethink the new system.

Please be kind. Thanks.

--Liz McIntyre

Posted by liz at 11:20 AM | Comments (10)

January 16, 2006

VeriChip or dog chip?

VeriChip Home Again chip rice and dime.jpg

There are two glass encapsulated RFID tags pictured above. One is intended for human flesh, the other for the scruff of your pet's neck. Which is which?

Answer: The chip pictured at the top is VeriChip's VeriMed chip that former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson would like to see implanted in all Americans. Directly below the human chip is the animal chip marketed by Schering-Plough under the "Home Again" brand name.

There's no visible difference between the chips. They look the same, and they're both manufactured by subsidiaries of VeriChip's parent company Applied Digital Solutions. The whitish substance on the end of the chips is an anti-migration coating called "biobond" that encourages tissue growth so the chip doesn't move around inside of the animial--human, feline, or canine.

There is a technical difference between the chips that you wouldn't see with the naked eye. The pet chip contains a 10-digit number while the human chip contains a 16-digit number. I asked VeriChip spokesman John Procter why the human version contained 16-digits. His reply: "flexibility." He said the company wanted to ensure there would be enough unique numbers available for all the people it envisions chipping. Yikes!

Note: The VeriChip corporation tries to ease consumer fears by referring to the chip as being "about the size of a grain of rice." The rice in the photo above is long-grain rice--the longest grain I could find in my pantry. As you can see, the VeriChip is much larger.

- Liz McIntyre

Posted by liz at 3:33 PM | Comments (17)

January 6, 2006

New device senses through concrete walls

DARPA has developed a 1.5 pound, $1000 device that can detect a person breathing through a brick wall from 50 feet away.

From the article on

"The new 'Radar Scope' will give warfighters searching a building the ability to tell within seconds if someone is in the next room... By simply holding the portable, handheld device up to a wall, users will be able to detect movements as small as breathing....

"The Radar Scope, developed by DARPA, is expected to be fielded to troops in Iraq as soon as this spring, Baranoski said. The device is likely to be fielded to the squad level, for use by troops going door to door in search of terrorists. The Radar Scope will give warfighters the capability to sense through a foot of concrete and 50 feet beyond that into a room, Baranoski explained.

It will bring to the fight what larger, commercially available motion detectors couldn't, he said. Weighing just a pound and a half, the Radar Scope will be about the size of a telephone handset and cost just about $1,000, making it light enough for a soldier to carry and inexpensive enough to be fielded widely. The Radar Scope will be waterproof and rugged, and will run on AA batteries, he said."

Learning of this device makes me want to read Anne Frank all over again.

Posted by Katherine Albrecht at 8:57 AM | Comments (2)

Wired lampposts hit Scotland

A company called "Compliance Technology" will soon install 4,000 solar powered lampposts in Scotland to provide not only off-the-grid light, but wi-fi wireless Internet access, as well. And there will apparently be enough energy left over to sell the excess to the national grid.

According to a news article at Dundee University, where the first lights are being installed: "It is envisaged that every street lamp in the UK could be changed to solar energy over a period of approximately 3-5 years. The impact of this is enormous....Every solar panel is also fitted with the latest WIFI or WIMAX technology, powered by the solar cell."

Of course, it wouldn't be hard to build RFID readers right into those lampposts, too. Already, solar powered street lights are being equipped with surveillance cameras.

Imagine the potential of electrical power and anywhere-placement combined with Internet connectivity and surveillance capabilities. Were it not for the camouflage benefits, a snoop might be tempted to dispense with the light fixture altogether and jump right to the chase. Authorities (or marketers) could set up wi-fi/surveillance-cam/RFID scanning anywhere there's sunlight.

In our book, Spychips, Liz and I discuss places where creative companies have hidden RFID readers, like floor tiles and picture frames. (Yikes! Could the Mona Lisa someday secretly scan your skivvies?) And the thought of of an RFID reader hidden in a lamppost has crossed my mind on more than one occasion.

When I was in England last year, I was creeped out by the thought that their RFID-rigged Oyster cards could be read right through people's wallets or purses to identify them anywhere British authorities had thought to place a reader. Of course, this could be a picture frame or a floor tile, but at the time the example that occurred to me was a lamppost. "What if I'm carrying this Oyster card in my wallet and the lamppost on the corner scans me as I walk past?" That day may not be far off.

Posted by Katherine Albrecht at 7:11 AM | Comments (2)

January 5, 2006

VeriChip Corp's new competition - DIY chippers

Thanks to Steve for sending me this link to fascinating videos about a tech type who decided to implant an RFID tag in his hand: Warning: the pictures and videos linked at the site are quite graphic, showing things like metal rods being shoved under the skin and the suturing of slits and puncture holes.

The implantee and webmaster, Mikey, says he knows of more than sixteen other "midnight engineers" who have similarly chipped themselves, and he provides links to images of a few of those procedures, too. It seems there is some fascination with self-implanting tags not designed for human chipping, like animal tags, to do things like automatically open doors or access computers.

If you watch the link to the longer video interview with Mikey, you'll hear him acknowledge some potential medical risks associated with the implants. He raises the specter of cancer, for example. But I didn't hear any mention of concerns like potential MRI incompatibility, chip migration, or electrical hazards-- issues the FDA raised in a letter it sent when approving the VeriChip human RFID implant as a medical device:

Also absent from the discussion are the privacy and civil liberties implications of RFID implants--issues free-spirted individualists should take into consideration before plunging tags into their flesh.

Liz McIntyre

Posted by liz at 3:13 PM | Comments (1)

January 4, 2006

The duct tape wallet - a sign of the times

RFID-laced credit cards with names like "Blink" and "ExpressPay" are in the mail, and concerned consumers are fighting back--with duct tape. Yikes!

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and an enterprising tech type has come up with a duct-taped, aluminum foil wallet that promises to keep invasive radio waves from siphoning card data--though you might have to suffer with an oozing, gooey back pocket on steamy days. Anyone familiar with the properties of duct tape can get a mental snapshot of that pending laundry disaster.

Here's a better idea: send back the spychipped cards. Yep. Just refuse them. We've been told that credit card companies will send you the familar low-tech mag striped cards if you insist. Better still, switch credit card companies in protest and opt to use anonymous cash whenever possible.

Cash: use it or lose it.

Liz McIntyre

Posted by liz at 1:49 AM | Comments (8)

December 21, 2005

Will Bird Flu Scare You into Getting Chipped?

Beware! Americans are being prepped for a big health crisis that could scare them into lining up for a VeriChip.

In a new AP article out today, a "government advisor" is painting a bleak picture of America under seige by the bird flu. He claims that people might be too sick or too scared to go to work, companies could go bankrupt, and citizens might not have basic necessities. Here's a snippet from that article, titled "Few companies prepared for a flu pandemic":

Public health specialists and the government are pressuring businesses to prepare for a worldwide outbreak of the bird flu or some other superstrain of influenza, a crisis that could bankrupt many companies if their workers are too sick or scared to show up and their supply chains disappear.
The concern isn't just because of economics, but because many companies provide products and services that people literally can't live without, said Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota, who advises the government.
"Automobiles, jewelry and electronics will not be big ticket items" during the next flu pandemic, Osterholm notes. "We still have to feed people. How do we assure we have heat, fuel oil, electricity?"

Of course VeriChip board member and spokesperson Tommy Thompson is very concerned about this scenario, too. So much so, that he and his new Deloitte & Touche health think tank commissioned a survey to prove how ill prepared companies are for this questionable disaster on the horizon. According to the article, the survey will be unveiled behind closed doors to 25 companies and health officials this Friday.

Can't you see this drama leading to the suggestion that Americans get chipped as a way to keep us all safe in the impending crisis? I'm predicting the chip will be touted as a way to keep tabs on those who are sick so they can't infect you or your loved ones--and even protect you in your time of need should you become ill and be unable to speak in the event of an emergency.

Something's up.

According to some doctors and researchers, the bird flu is not the contagion health spokespeople would like you to think. Check out these links for other viewspoints on the human risks of avian flu:

Eliminating Bird Flu Fears by Dr. Sherri Tenpenny

Bird Flu Doctor Says Fear is Exaggerated at the UK Times Online

Liz McIntyre

Posted by liz at 11:59 AM | Comments (4)

December 19, 2005

Ad-Age features our opposition to Walgreens' RFID plans

'Spy Chip' Critics Cite Future Consumer Implications

December 13, 2005
By Jack Neff

CINCINNATI ( -- The planned rollout of a radio-frequency identification system to track promotional displays in 5,000 Walgreens stores is raising objections from privacy advocates, who cite patents as proof the system could eventually track consumers using RFID chips in loyalty cards.

In what appears to be the largest marketing application yet of RFID, the system from privately held Goliath Solutions at Walgreens electronically tracks when, how long and where displays are placed in stores. It allows the 15 package-goods marketers who have initially signed on to the program to track results of promotions by store or demographic cluster.

It also lets participating manufacturers send representatives to stores that haven't put up displays and time local, regional or national advertising according to when displays are in place. The system doesn't involve putting RFID chips on products consumers take home.

Out of the store

But the privacy group Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering cites two patents and two pending applications by Goliath that envision extending the system to track individual consumers in stores and target ads to them at home by using RFID chips embedded in loyalty cards.

One of the patents, granted in October, for example, outlines using RFID readers to count how many consumers are exposed to a particular display or to identify consumers who "closely identified a display for a predetermined amount of time" by reading their loyalty cards. The patent envisions consumers flashing their loyalty cards in the vicinity of the displays or, it adds: "The card could be read in a shopper's purse." The patent also covers gathering data about which displays individual consumers frequent in retailer databases to provide "personalized incentives" and "focus subsequent advertising material, such as direct mail."

Vows to protect privacy

"I couldn't speculate on the future and I could never say never about anything," a Walgreens spokesman said. But he added: "All we're doing at this point is looking at using this technology to get better performance out of our displays in the stores, and that's it." Walgreens doesn't have loyalty cards, he said.

"We are absolutely focused on not impacting consumer privacy," said Robert Michelson, CEO of Goliath.

In a statement, he said Goliath is not using the system in Walgreens to track consumers and that the RFID tags there are attached to displays and signs only, not on any products. "Consumer privacy is not an issue in that displays and signs are part of the store. Consumers do not purchase them."

He did not respond to questions regarding future plans to use the Goliath system to track consumers in stores using RFID-enabled loyalty cards.

Liz McIntyre, communications director of CASPIAN and co-author of the recently published anti-RFID book "Spychips," said she knows of no retailers that currently use RFID chips in loyalty cards, a practice that was fraught with controversy for the one retailer caught trying it. German retailer Metro recalled its frequent-shopper cards in 2004 after CASPIAN founder Katherine Albrecht discovered an RFID chip in a sample card given to her by the chain.

Slippery slope

But Ms. McIntyre said technology suppliers like Goliath and retailers like Walgreens are likely to try to maximize returns from investment in infrastructure by expanding use of RFID tracking to consumers. "Today, they may just be monitoring displays," she said.

"Tomorrow, they could be monitoring individual shoppers and siphoning information from them without their knowledge or consent."

She noted promotional material from Goliath touts its system's invisibility to shoppers and store personnel, citing an ability to track RFID signals from "well beyond 30 feet" and to embed readers unobtrusively in light fixtures or above ceiling tiles.

"Once RFID crosses the line from the warehouse to the store floor, that's where we have an objection," Ms. McIntyre said, adding that the group believes any use of RFID in stores should be disclosed to consumers. But she said the group hasn't decided yet what if any action to take regarding the Walgreens program.


Posted by Katherine Albrecht at 11:50 AM | Comments (3)

December 15, 2005

AP: Tommy Thompson still plans to get chipped

Tommy Thompson still plans to "get chipped" with a VeriChip/VeriMed implantable RFID device, according to a new AP story. The former Secretary of Health and Human Services and four-time governor of Wisconsin made a commitment to undergoing the procedure back in July of 2005, but has never followed through.

When we contacted VeriChip Corporation spokesman John Procter about the delay, he said Thompson was "too busy." He added that Thompson "wants to see it [the VeriChip] in a real-world environment first," and that he was trying to arrange a tour for Thompson at Hackensack University Medical Center, the first hospital to implement the technology in its emergency room.

You can read the whole story in our recent press release.

We were hoping that Mr. Thompson was having a change of heart about the procedure, but he told AP that he will be eager to get chipped when the time is right. "In fact," he said, "I'll be in the front of the line."

The line?

Apparently, Mr. Thompson envisions a mass chipping at some point--something VeriChip has been planning.

When I asked Mr. Procter why the human version of the VeriChip implant contains a 16-digit number instead of a nine-digit number like the nearly identical pet chipping version, he told me the longer number would provide "flexibility." He said the extended numbering scheme would ensure more unique numbers would be available for the large number of people they were planning to implant at some point in the future.

I'm hoping VeriChip's "planning" is just wishful thinking. But considering the words of Senator Joseph Biden to Judge John Roberts during his Supreme Court Confirmation hearings on September 12, 2005, mass chipping plans could really be in the works. He said:

Can a microscopic tag be implanted in a person's body to track his every movement? There's actual discussion about that. You will rule on that -- mark my words -- before your tenure is over.

Liz McIntyre

Posted by liz at 9:45 AM | Comments (7)