CASPIAN Newsletter
June 14, 2004: "The newsletter is back!"

Consumer privacy and RFID newsletter

Edited by Sunni Maravillosa

This Week:

  1. Media Appearance Tonight
  2. Publisher's Note
  3. Editor's Note
  4. Feature: Is the end of privacy near?
  5. Activism tools you can use


11PM-2AM Pacific time

CASPIAN founder Katherine Albrecht will be featured on Coast to Coast AM with George Noory tonight, Monday, June 14. Coast to Coast is one of the most listened-to radio programs in America, with over half a million listeners. Don't miss this chance to hear Katherine live!

To find a station near you that carries the broadcast, go to:


Dear CASPIAN members and friends,

I'm pleased to announce that our popular newsletter is back, and will begin publication on a weekly schedule. There's a lot to keep up with in the areas of supermarket/consumer privacy and RFID, so it's more important than ever to stay on top of things. If you don't wish to receive our weekly newsletter, please follow the instuctions at the bottom of this message, and we'll remove you from our list.

Part of the reason we're able to bring the newsletter back is the addition of a new CASPIAN staff member, Sunni Maravillosa, whom some of you may know from her work at Free-Market.Net (online at Sunni (pronounced "Sunny") has joined the staff as the editor for our newsletter.

Says Sunni, "The increasing use of corporate database information -- often collected without the customer's knowledge, let alone consent -- in questionable ways by corporations or by governments, has made it clear that CASPIAN's work is more urgent than ever. I'm a long-time supporter, and happy to be aboard in an official capacity."

Though Sunni is too modest to boast about it herself, she has a Ph.D. in Psychology and a solid research and teaching background. I have long admired her work on freedom and privacy issues and feel honored to have her working with us. Look for Sunni to contribute to our work in other ways in the future. Welcome aboard, Sunni!

In other good news, our efforts on RFID and consumer privacy issues continue to reach more and more people. Look for several major television programs, well-read magazines and newspapers to feature CASPIAN's work in coming weeks.

As just one example, tonight I will be a guest on Coast to Coast AM with George Noory, a three-hour program with over half a million listeners. If you have any friends or family members who still don't get why RFID and retail surveillance are so alarming, ask them to tune in to tonight's broadcast where they can learn the whole story.

And as always, thanks to each of you for your ongoing support.

In freedom,

Katherine Albrecht
Founder and Director, CASPIAN


Hello everyone,

Thanks, Katherine, for the warm welcome, and thanks to you readers for the hot tips some of you have already begun sending my way! For those who may not know me, I'd like to give you a brief introduction to me, and my work.

I'm a psychologist and longtime freedom activist; currently I am the Director of Operations for Free-Market.Net, and the editor of its daily newsletter, Freedom News Daily. CASPIAN has been an FMN partner for some time, so I've been reading about what y'all have been doing, and covering related news items. Privacy issues have been important to me for a long time, and recently, it's become clear that many people seem to have the mistaken idea that governments are the only groups that can be enemies of privacy. Rather than go into that at length here, I'll save it for the featured essay of this newsletter.

If you want more information about me, please visit my personal web site at . It's a slowly progressing archive of all my writings, which span a wide range of topics. Obviously, you may not agree with all of my outside views, but as Katherine says, "while we may differ on outside issues, we are united by a common belief: It is wrong to spy on people through the products and services they buy." I think we all can agree with that!

It's great to be among energetic individuals who share both my concerns about our vanishing privacy, and the willingness to do something about changing that situation. As I settle in to the newsletter editor job, you'll see some changes. I could never replace

Katherine's informed and energetic style, but I hope to keep the best of her approach while adding my own strengths. Suggestions, comments, and URLs for items of interest can be sent to me at I won't be able to respond to each email, but I will give your input serious consideration. Thanks for caring, and for taking the time to help me make the CASPIAN newsletter an invaluable resource.

Now let's get to business!



I've never really thought of myself as the alarmist type, but the recent news on the privacy front has been almost all bad. Maybe it's just a touch of "privacy paranoia". Add to that a recent feature by Reason Magazine that questions whether we really need all that privacy, and I'm starting to feel some "conspiracy fever" coming on too. Is it the "privacy flu", or what? Whatever it is, it sure has many privacy advocates concerned.

First, Reason Magazine. If you're unfamiliar with Reason, it's a libertarian group publishing a print mag and a web site that features daily updates and a blog. Their June print issue got a lot of media attention even before its release (1). It featured a unique cover for each subscriber -- a satellite map with the subscriber's home enclosed in a big red circle (2). Ads inside the article are also tailored to the subscriber's geographic area. But the real kicker is the featured article, titled "Database Nation" (3). Reason editor Nick Gillespie introduced it with a bit titled "Kiss privacy goodbye -- and good riddance, too." (4)

Gillespie justifies this view by saying that being in a database nation "makes life easier and more prosperous". So ... that means we should just shut up and accept it? Am I the only one who finds this as offensive as the "it's inevitable, so lie back and enjoy it" advice given to potential rape victims?

What happened to that fundamental principle underlying free markets -- the ability to choose? Declan McCullagh (who wrote the "Database Nation" feature) and Gillespie may be completely at home in a society where everyone lives in a glass home, but what about those of us who like something a little less transparent -- or even totally opaque?

The implication from this position seems to be that government databases are bad, but corporate databases are good. They're good, in this view, because they allow commerce to happen easier and faster. And everyone knows those are always good, right? Well, *I* don't know that, and nobody has been able to convince me of it yet. A glaring example is credit fraud. Easier and faster just means that more of this kind of fraud can happen, which ends up costing all consumers more, both in higher prices and more intrusive requirements for information.

Besides, where do government databases come from? Well, aside from the many databases they collect from all the pieces of paper we're required to have (birth certificate, marriage license, driver's license, occupational certification/license/permit, building permit, pet license -- the list goes on), they buy them from corporations. Or they subpoena them, or use some other legal threat to get the information they want. And then they (both governments and businesses) do interesting things with them, like:

Using them to set up government screening programs (5, 6);

Coming after people who've been targeted (whether rightly or wrongly) with nonpayment of government fines or fees (7);

Tallying the number of painkillers you've been prescribed, so that either you or your doctor -- or both of you (and maybe even

your pharmacist, too) -- can be arrested for drug abuse (8, 9, 10); and

Tracking your movements across the region, or across the world (11).

Do you feel better knowing that the last pizza you ordered to be delivered to your home may have put you in a database your state government bought for debt collection? Remember, once they have the database they can use it for other reasons. Maybe your state will pass so-called "anti-obesity" laws, and if you order too many pizzas too often your kids may be taken by the state, in order to protect them, of course. Or maybe your purchasing habits at Costco could be used against you in a custody battle, or in a hiring decision (12).

Would you like to be a hospital patient, knowing that your every movement was tracked by an ID tag? Even better, would you like to have a job where your every move was logged via RFID tags? (13)

Privacy is not a one-size-fits-all item. Some individuals have no problem giving up all kinds of information -- you'll see lots of them on television these days. Some individuals like to keep personal business private, but are okay with giving some other information in order to get something they want -- or to make a transaction easier or faster. Some individuals, like me, will counter almost every request for information with, "What do you need to know THAT for?" Each person ought to be able to wear a cloak of privacy that suits his or her comfort.

Right now, that's very difficult. After all, who knew that every pizza purchase from a national chain was going into a computer database? And who would have dreamed that state governments would start buying such databases as a means to find people? I bet most people don't even think about the fact that when they buy groceries with a so-called consumer loyalty card, those items are being included in a personal database that tracks all purchases made with that card. Those who criticize us for our concern over possible privacy invasions of tracking on grounds that we're naive or trying to stifle market forces often seem to miss the point that if we don't know about tracking devices, our concerns can't be easily dismissed (14).

If I don't want to have my grocery purchases logged, I ought to be able to do so, without penalty for that choice. I should be able to open a bank account, get a job, leave the hospital with my newborn child, or transact other business without needing a Social Security number. I should have a reasonable confidence that my shampoo or razor purchases don't make me a marked woman in a store -- or beyond its doors (15).

Changes in consumer privacy are coming fast, with Wal-Mart pushing RFID tagging around the world, and the technology becoming smaller and cheaper. Most consumers, even in shopper-savvy places like the U.S. and western Europe, are totally unaware of the databases already being collected, let alone the new technology that makes tracking even easier. That's why I, in a recent essay, called activists like us "privacy's canaries" (16). We're the ones who read all this stuff, and help spread the word about its possible use and abuse, to others. We need to keep the heat on both government agencies and private corporations, so that those of us who value privacy can make informed choices about where to do business.

That's what it comes down to: accurate information (17) and the ability to make our own choices. Those who want to live in a Database Nation will have no argument from me -- as long as I'm given the same courtesy, in choosing to live in my wood-paneled, private little nook with small windows.


(To reconstruct two-line links, cut and paste; delete any spaces)



















The FTC is holding a workshop titled "Radio Frequency IDentification: Applications and Implications for Consumers" on June 21 in Washington DC. The event is open to the general public and our own Katherine Albrecht will be among the featured speakers. The FTC is also accepting email comments on the subject. Please browse their information, and share your thoughts on this fast-moving technology. COMMENTS DEADLINE IS JULY 9, 2004.

If you've been anywhere on the web where privacy is valued, you've probably seen or been emailed a story alleging that Matrics' loyalty card's RFID tag is supposed to be a swastika. While the shape is somewhat similar, Katherine Albrecht dispels the notion of sinister intent. She reports that a Matrics employee told her that the shape allows the card to be read remotely, no matter what its orientation in a shopper's purse or wallet. And isn't that scary enough? (scroll down for the tag)

RFIDiocy currently has four different anti RFID bumper-sticker-sized designs ready for printing. Graphics are protected under an open copyright.

Blog site that focuses primarily on U.S. RFID advances. Lots of information, very little editorializing. Assumes some understanding of technology and jargon.

And that's it for this week! Thanks for reading, staying informed, and pushing for privacy.

Confidentially yours,


CASPIAN: Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering
A national consumer organization opposing supermarket "loyalty" cards and other retail surveillance schemes since 1999

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