CASPIAN Newsletter
April 27, 2005

Consumer privacy and RFID newsletter

Edited by Sunni Maravillosa and Katherine Albrecht


Caspian Activists Update:


All right, you intrepid, privacy-loving Texans -- it's time once again to show the rest of the country what you're made of. You're in the spotlight as the test case for the government to see if it can get away with spychipping cars!

A bill in the Texas House of Representatives would require an embedded RFID tag to be placed on your windshield, within your mandatory inspection sticker. The sticker could be read from over 30 feet away by government reader devices that can function like gestapo-style invisible checkpoints -- ID'ing all Texas vehicles as they pass. Along with requiring this device in your cars, the government could hide reader devices in the roads to monitor all cars entering a given neighborhood, driving into a given parking lot, or even just heading down the open road.

Your ability to travel anonymously is at stake, but you can win this one if you fight it!

Contact your state Rep and tell them you'll be remembering how they vote on this one when election time rolls around again. Better yet, stop by their office and tell them in person. But whatever you do, don't sit idly by and let this happen!

Source: My San Antonio, 4/8/05
Find your Texas state representative to write to



Here's proof that "biometric security" -- using a fingerprint or iris scan to verify a person's identity -- isn't a deterrent to theft. A Malaysian man whose Mercedes car was "protected" by a fingerprint recognition system had his finger chopped off with a machete by thieves who wanted his car.

We predicted last year that something similar could happen to people who get VeriChip implants to make payments or access secure areas. Rather than just steal your wallet or keys, if YOU become the form of access, thieves will have to kidnap or harm you if they want to get at your chip -- and its "benefits."

Source: BBC News, 3/31/05



The big news this month was the RFID Journal Live! conference in Chicago. Former Homeland Security head Tom Ridge was on hand to deliver the keynote address, shilling for spychips by telling attendees that "biometrics and RFID will make us safer."

"That's one of the beautiful things about RFID," said Ridge. "It's another security measure embedded in the U.S. economy."

Really? We think RFID is more likely to leave companies vulnerable to security threats in the long run. Just imagine what would happen to a company's inventory if a terrorist blasted a warehouse full of tags with a powerful microwave burst. Can't you just hear the sizzling sounds? Or worse yet, imagine the flames?

Source: Wired News, 4/12/05



Sentry Foods, a chain of supermarkets in Wisconsin, recently announced they're discontinuing their "loyalty" cards in response to customer feedback. Two owners of Sentry stores explained why:

"A lot of people didn't like the card," said Joe Wirag, owner of the Sentry store in Madison. "They didn't want to give up that private information."

Charles Galle, owner of the Sentry store in Prairie du Sac, said he hopes the company's move starts a trend away from the loyalty-card concept.

"Everyone and their brother asks you for a card these days,' he said. 'Lets get back to basics and sell groceries."
Thank you, Sentry, for listening to your customers and getting rid of the cards!

Drop by Sentry's web site and tell them "Thanks!"

Source: Wisconsin State Journal, 4/11/05



RFID proponents say the most amazing things. A recent example is Australian analyst Ann Grackin. In her enthusiasm for spychips, she suggested that RFID pushers are "forgetting the customer." However, based on her comments, we may be better off that way. Grackin made these recommendations to the retail industry on RFID use:

"Linking personal identity (smart cards), to sales, or lack of sales is key. The customer enters your environment [and] huge potential value might be in store if the relationship is managed intelligently."
If remembering the customer means "managing" us, we'd rather be forgotten. Perhaps Grackin herself could use a crash course in consumer attitudes. Here's what we'd tell her:
Dear Ann: We don't want spychips in our loyalty cards, on our products, or in our stores. We are not merely "huge potential value" for retailers. We are people. And we have no desire for a "relationship" with you or your retail clients if that means milking us for cash. -- Yours truly, the customer.

Source: Supply Chain Review, 3/29/05



Lately the spychippers have been trying to gussy up RFID with new names, hoping the public won't figure it out. Fortunately, Wired's indomitable Mark Baard is wise to their tricks. He writes:

"...the Homeland Security Department is very carefully avoiding use of the term 'RFID.' The department, along with Philips, is also backing a trade group that is branding ID documents with RFID tags as 'contactless smartcards.'
"'We'd prefer,' said Joseph Broghamer, Homeland Security's director of authentication technologies, 'that the terms "RFID," or even "RF," not be used at all (when referring to the RFID-tagged smartcards). Let's get "RF" out of it altogether.'"
Yeah, we bet they'd love to dangle a hypnotic watch before our eyes and have us forget everything we know about RFID. "RFID? No, this isn't RFID, it's just a bad dream ... Go back to sleep ..."

It's pretty bad when the government is trying to hide the fact that they're planning to spychip all U.S. passports. You're not fooling us, guys. "Contactless chips," "proximity chips" -- call them whatever you want, we know what they are. And we don't want you using them to track us.

SmartCard Alliance

Wired News, 3/29/05



Card-loving Safeway just doesn't get it. They're spending $100 million dollars to woo shoppers back into their stores and get current shoppers to spend more. They could accomplish far more by simply eliminating their awful "club card" program. A news article states that Safeway is taking a cue from "specialty grocers" including Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe's with recent changes to their stores.

Here's a big clue for you, Safeway, and we won't charge you for it: One of the reasons Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe's are doing so well is they don't have the privacy-stripping card program you do.

Source: Atlanta Constitution-Journal, 4/5/05



With all the concerns over privacy these days, you'd think the database peddlers might want to lie low for a while. But a British scientist is doing just the opposite. Alec Jeffreys, a pioneer of DNA "fingerprinting," has gone on record in favor of a worldwide DNA database. Here's part of his comments:

"Having your DNA profile on a database makes sense to you as an individual ... If any of you had been in Thailand or Indonesia on holiday and, heaven forbid, killed by the tsunami, how would you have been identified? If your DNA profile is on that database, you can look in there and immediately carry out the identification. It is worth considering having your profile in the database."
He did have the foresight to say that the database should not be maintained by authorities, but we wonder who he thinks can be trusted with such a sensitive database. When banks and other corporations that regularly deal with sensitive information are regularly in the news for security breaches, who's left to trust?

Source: The Guardian, 4/11/04


The San Jose Medical Group is the latest corporation sending out letters to its customers, warning them that sensitive information has been compromised. Two computers that contained patients' names, addresses, Social Security Numbers, and medical billing codes were stolen. About 185,000 former and current patients will be getting "Sorry, we lost your data" letters from the group.

Source: TechNewsWorld, 4/8/05



Three employees of an Indian call center for Citibank abused their positions and got enough information from four New York Citibank customers to steal about $300,000 from their accounts. The scheme came to light only when the account holders noticed unauthorized transactions and inquired at Citibank.

Source: ComputerWorld, 4/7/05



Thanks to all the concerned individuals who commented on the U.S. government's plan to spychip passports. The State Department received over 2400 public comments, and is reportedly re-thinking its plans. Your efforts are having a huge impact!


[The following is just a small sample of the huge volume of mail we receive each week. Comments are edited for brevity, spelling, and grammar.]

"I am sick and tired of being monitored on what I purchase, where I go, what I drive, how fast or slow it takes me to get there and data gathering agencies profiting from that makes it even worse. If they want data, have them send me a survey. I will answer what I want, but then let me INVOICE them. If anyone is going to make money on my information let it be me!"
- Anonymous CASPIAN member

"I am totally amazed to learn of this practice [of affixing RFID tags to goods] by Tesco. Are they the only ones? Is it safe to shop in any of the big supermarkets if one of them is doing this? How dare they! I will not be stepping into Tesco again. It is one of the two supermarkets I patronise in my town. Well, it was. I hope now to be informed if others are up to this as well so as I can avoid them. I'll patronise small shops if I have to. I will not be subjected to this."

- Eleanor, Wishaw, Scotland

"Money controls government. Let's vote with our dollars as well as our ballots."

- Anonymous, Canada

"I am very concerned about the willingness of the citizens of the US giving up our freedoms without even considering what we are doing. If we have no privacy we will soon have no freedom. RFID gives huge powers of information to both our corporations and our government. "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." It would be wise to set very strict limits on both corporations and the government on how the rapidly emerging RFID technology is used making certain of the preservation of our freedom through privacy."

- Mike, Canton, Texas

"Where does it end? Or can it? Thanks for the information and PLEASE keep letting us ignorant of this, know how our privacy is being exploited! Also how the MAIN STREAM MEDIA is suppressing this important real threatening issue!"

- Anonymous

"I am with the French movement JAMEH (can basically be translated by "never with the manipulation of human being") actively fighting against rfid and intrusive technologies by informing people. We are simple citizens but determined in a lobbying action."

- Mark, Paris, France

"Caught the last 2 minutes of your interview [on local radio] this AM and spent 4 hours following links on this evening. I didn't know. Thanks for the eye opener and keep up the great work."

- Phillip, Garland, Texas

"I personally choose not to shop at businesses that have "membership" cards. I'm an avid recycler, everything from paper trash to tools and furniture. I choose to grow my own produce, buy fresh farm eggs, poultry, ham and beef. Yes, there some necessities that must be purchased at retail stores that have shopper incentive programs. However, it is my choice NOT TO PARTICIPATE in such programs."

- Susan, Vancouver, Washington