Slow down and look at the implications, work for democratic control of your economy.

Ultra-groovy Lizzie pointed me to the BBC article on RFID’s march through Europe. It is a rather one-sided article; it reads more like an advertisement for RFID. If you haven’t already thought of the social consequences of increased tracking, you might benefit from a piece which educates readers on multiple frames of debate or one which warns readers of what they’ll lose in exchange for increased RFID proliferation.

First, we should ask if RFID has any role to play at all. But the article starts by framing the issue from a proponent’s perspective:

The European Commission is setting up a group made up of citizens, scientists, data protection experts and businesses to discuss how the tags should be used.

Why jump past the question of whether to use them at all? How about restricting their use to prevent any contact with a consumer, leaving RFID as an industrial tracking mechanism?

Shouldn’t any discussion of RFID require proponents to justify why anyone outside the shipping dock needs RFID (if indeed shipping docks need this at all), and not how they are to be used?

As RFID tags become smaller and less easily detected by the naked eye, countries want to put them into more things in order to track more of your interactions. One ought to be concerned about RFIDs implanted into cash and product packaging. So if you want anonymous cash, what effect would uniquely identifying every bill and coin have? What if cash registers were fitted with RFID scanners that could read RFID tags no larger than a couple of ridges on a human finger (0.05mm²) (which should be on the market soon), and those registers wirelessly conveyed the scanned information to a database somewhere on the Internet? Is this the world you want?

The BBC article continues:

Viviane Reding, information society and media commissioner

Her quote: Europe is very strong in this domain could be reworded to read “Europe is keen on knowing more about people, even when they think nobody is watching” and it would be more revealing.

The article comes across as a advocacy piece for RFID interests because it twice reminds us that Reding doesn’t like regulation:

  1. We must not over-regulate RFID
  2. Ms Reding warned that heavy-handed regulation could stunt this growth.

This is a red flag signalling large-scale action without your informed consent. She frames the debate this way before “The European Commission [sets] up a group made up of citizens, scientists, data protection experts and businesses to discuss how the tags should be used”. Perhaps the interviewer spoke with too few people on this issue, leaving out well-spoken opponents of RFID, or perhaps Mark Ward knows too little about privacy rebuttal to write on their behalf.

“It’s the whole application of these chips to solve problems in our society that will be of the utmost importance,” she said.

Exactly which problems is “our society” trying to solve with RFID? The article doesn’t say. Is it a problem that we don’t know where and when Jane Smith spent that 10 pound note she got from a particular ATM on a particular time and date?

She [Reding] cited the example of German retail giant Metro, which had run trials in which shoppers deactivated any tags on the goods they had bought at the checkout.

If an RFID tag is “deactivated” by sending a signal to the tag what’s to prevent reactivation? Permanent destruction of the chip and/or breaking the link between the antenna and the chip (thus rendering the tag inoperative) is not what RFID advocates call “deactivation”, so be wary. You should not leave it up to your oppressor to work in your interest, so it’s foolish to trust them to preserve what’s left of your privacy after you leave the store.

One of the most striking results from the year-long consultation, she said, was the 60% of respondents who said they simply did not know enough about the technology to know whether it would be good or bad.

Suddenly I understand why the article says Instead, she [Reding] said, industry had to get the chance to “go for it”..