Okay, now let’s write about RFID, (Radio-Frequency IDentification) one of the scary things that is about to descend upon us, around us and even inside us. This is one of those inevitable things that we are going to have to learn to live with like death, taxes, gravity, global warming, and belly button lint. These cheap little passive radio transponders are going to make our lives better in many ways, and lower the monetary costs of everything, but ultimately they are also going to be very invasive of our privacy. We are going to be tagged, and monitored in all sorts of ways — so my advice to you is to clean up your behavior right away, because whatever it is you are doing, or even thinking of doing, will soon be available to interested parties. That paranoia is clearly overblown at the moment (2008), but in ten years that the worry about privacy is paranoid will be as passe as Windows 3.1 is right now.
Jennifer King a research specialist at UC Berkeley School of Law spoke at the CITRIS (Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society) yesterday. It was an excellent lecture, very detailed, and up beat. It was about what RFID’s can do, and what they can not do. To some extent she was trying to assuage our fears about the power of these little identification tags, and what they can be used for.
She said she was on several governmentally sponsored panels trying to work out reasonable policies for these issues, but that it was complex and very difficult. There are so many different people’s issues, and so many different ways these things are going to be used, that it is impossible to even begin to satisfy all the legitimate concerns. Some of the larger RFIDs have a relatively long range, and can be read from 30 meters or more, and some of them are already tiny, the size of a grain of sand. The tiny ones can only be read from up close, almost touching, but they will be unnoticeable, and thus effectively invisible. These tiny ones still have unique IDs, and can be used to track anyone or anything. If placed in food they could trace where people went even if they went off to some distant city.
To me it appears that these RFID’s will prove to be the opposite of the computer revolution which has occurred over the past couple of decades, even though it is based on some of the same electronics, and communication infrastructure. The difference is that it is not used by the common person or for the interests of the common person, but rather it will be used by those who control quantities of things, and quantities of people. Computers, and the Internet are used by and for the common person, and for their personal benefit. But, the aim of RFID’s is for corporations, and governments to bring things into the world in an efficient and orderly way such that they will be cheaper to produce, market and control. This will be what the profferers of this technology will proclaim, and how they will claim it will be of great benefit to the common person, because it will make all products cheaper. Thus everyone will have a greater abundance of goods and services for a smaller outlay of money and energy.
The only problem is that it sacrifices a great deal of personal information which in the end translates into personal freedom. If they know what you are doing they can surmise what you are thinking, and with that knowledge they can send you filtered information, and control what you are going to think, and thus what you are going to do. That’s the scary part.
Still, I like getting all the new goodies cheaper. So do you, I suppose. And, so do the great majority of people. Thus it seems inevitable that we are going to sell our freedom, and our individuality, and our souls for more toys. For a few more years we will be relatively untracked, but after that there will be a slow, almost imperceptible, closing down of our private time and private space while even more goodies become available to satisfy some newly generated, but perceived to be necessary pleasure.