RFID, Revelations, and Big Brother

September 27, 2007 at 8:03 am | Posted in RFID | Leave a comment
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Last night at the library I found a book entitled The Spychips Threat: Why Christians Should Resist RFID and Electronic Surveillance. In this book, the authors, Albrecht and McIntyre, express their concern that RFID technology, when used inside a human being, could be the mark of the beast referenced in Revelations 13:16-18.

I just don’t think this is what RFID is all about. Even pretending that the technology is in place for such a thing (which it isn’t),  it isn’t possible or even desirable to tag every citizen and require tags to participate in the economy. Imagine the sheer logistics of placing an RFID tag under the skin on both the  hand and forehead of every citizen of the US. Even crazier, think of trying to tag every citizen of China?  The cost  would  be astounding, and the logistics of such an operation would be mind-blowing. Furthermore, if there were a tag in every person, and a reader at every POS, the amount of data such a tagging scheme would generate would be so mind-bogglingly huge that I don’t see any way it could be collected, stored, backed up, or made useful.

The idea that humans would allow an RFID-only economy is also pretty silly. How long have magnetic strip bank identifiers been around, and how many billions of people in the world still don’t have one? How many don’t have a checking account? The trend, it seems to me, has been for merchants to want to accept as many forms of payment as humanly possible, so they can attract the largest clientele. It’s good business to accept multiple forms of payment. I don’t think it’s likely that any businessperson is going to be the first to stop accepting cash at the point of sale unless the customer has a rice-sized transmitter in his forehead. I’m not out to knock Revelations; but I don’t think RFID is a fit for the prophecy.  

Then I saw that McIntyre and Albrecht are not merely concerned with the religious problem they feel RFID represents. They have another book, a secular version, which is all about how Big Brother wants to track our every move with an RFID ‘chip’.  The government, or our favorite corporate tyrant, could use this technology to track our every movement and purchase, and to somehow use that information to subjugate us to their will. 

This is also unreasonable. We live in a (mostly) rational society, driven by the demands of the market. Most governments are elected ones. No majority is going to agree to such a thing, and if human implants or tracking are found undesirable, the market will not support the development of the technology.

For technical reasons, I also feel Big Brother is just plain out of luck. An RFID signal from a tag in the skin of a human being would not travel very far. In order to read such a signal, an RFID reader would  have to be placed very close to the skin. You’d know if your RFID tag was being read, because you would see the reader. Don’t want your tag to be read? Don’t put it near a reader.  Want to block a reader? Put a piece of metal in front of it, or hold a can of Diet Coke over your tag. The liquid and metal combination will wreck your tag’s signal.

Given how easy it is to block the signal from a tag, even once it is in your skin, RF identification from a human implant would require cooperation with the technology, just like handing someone your social security card. It’s a choice you can make, or not.

It’s also a myth that RFID can be used to track your location. While it is true that if you came within an inch or two of a reader, your tag could be read, and your position recorded at that reader, once you are a couple feet away, you are no longer being tracked until you approach another reader. Putting RFID readers every few feet on every sidewalk on every street in the city would be prohibitively expensive. Even if there were a reader on every block, given all the random ways you could move around, the things you could be carrying or wearing, or that you could be inside a metal car, there’s no way Big Brother could guarantee a good read of your tag. You’d need one of those James Bond GPS thingies for that. 

If anything, the cool parts of  having an RFID implant would be for non-tracking uses. I’d love to go through life without worrying about losing my keys or bank cards. It would be great to have my front door pop open for me with a brush of my  hand when my arms are full of groceries. I’d like to quit having to carry forms of identification that can be stolen & leave me open for identity theft. I’d like to quit remembering PINs and passwords. That would be nice. Would it, however, be worth a whole lot of money and a voluntary experience with a huge hypodermic needle? Hmm. I think I would rather have mine on a key chain, ring, or necklace.

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