As we’re counted one by one so goes our privacy

Thanks to Lovely Lizzie for the tip: If you received a passport recently, you’ve probably got one with an RFID tag in it. Radio Frequency Identification tags are a chip and antenna combination that receive a signal from a scanner. When the scanner sends one a signal, the RFID tag uses the energy in the signal to possibly do a light bit of computation and broadcast a signal back.

RFID tags are embedded in a number of goods we already own and that is quite troubling from a privacy standpoint, but chief among them is in the passport and in a human being. By carrying an RFID tagged passport one is basically broadcasting some information about their passport to anyone with an RFID scanner. I don’t need to get into the details of how unwise this as the US bombs the world into democracy.

Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre co-authored “Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Purchase and Watch Your Every Move“, long-time listeners of my show will probably recall the interview. In Spychips Albrecht & McIntyre examine ways in which our privacy is being eroded through RFID, shopper cards, and similar tracking technology. They take on the ethical implications of making us all more easily tracked by anyone who wishes to do so. You’ve probably read about their protests and informative talks in the mainstream media. I keep up with their activities through the CASPIAN mailing list.

In case you’re thinking “why would I care about privacy, I have nothing to hide!” Bruce Schneier reminds you that privacy is not about hiding a wrong, it’s a fundamental requirement for human decency. There are plenty of things we commonly do where we desire privacy; we’re not doing something wrong or shameful, we just don’t wish to broadcast our activities. We also use privacy as a check on those in power by denying those who would oppress us the information they’d use against us. Privacy should be respected and not given away without serious consideration about how the information will be used and who will have access to it.