Monday, November 07, 2005

Your Every Move 

Via Zemblan patriot J.D.: If you were even mildly distressed by Barton Gellman's WaPo article on the startling increase in domestic surveillance activity under the Patriot Act --
"National security letters," created in the 1970s for espionage and terrorism investigations, originated as narrow exceptions in consumer privacy law, enabling the FBI to review in secret the customer records of suspected foreign agents. The Patriot Act, and Bush administration guidelines for its use, transformed those letters by permitting clandestine scrutiny of U.S. residents and visitors who are not alleged to be terrorists or spies.

The FBI now issues more than 30,000 national security letters a year, according to government sources, a hundredfold increase over historic norms. The letters -- one of which can be used to sweep up the records of many people -- are extending the bureau's reach as never before into the telephone calls, correspondence and financial lives of ordinary Americans.

Issued by FBI field supervisors, national security letters do not need the imprimatur of a prosecutor, grand jury or judge. They receive no review after the fact by the Justice Department or Congress. The executive branch maintains only statistics, which are incomplete and confined to classified reports. The Bush administration defeated legislation and a lawsuit to require a public accounting, and has offered no example in which the use of a national security letter helped disrupt a terrorist plot.
-- then you may want to skip the following review of a new book entitled Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID, by Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre. RFID, as you may know, stands for Radio Frequency Identification, a technology that enables remote tracking of objects -- and people -- through the use of miniaturized computer chips:
Tiny, traceable chips are in stuff we buy, right now. It’s a creepy concept and very 1984-ish, but it’s reality and we’d better get a bead on the current and planned-for applications of the simple, little technology with big privacy invasion potential. This book primes the pump for a huge consumer backlash, because leviathan corporations have gone to great lengths to make sure consumers don’t find out how extensively RFID technology is being (secretly) used and promoted. Big companies like Wal Mart, Proctor& Gamble, Exxon- Mobil, Benneton, Philips, Gillette, Max Factor…. to name a few, and, as you might expect the federal government are already using traceable chips all the better to spy on you with, my dear . . . .

Spychips details a world of no more privacy “where your every purchase is monitored and recorded in a database and your every belonging is numbered.” The book outlines how RFID is being used in medications Viagra and Oxycontin and how the FDA is pushing for RFID on all prescriptions . . . . Gillette placed an order for 500 million RFID tags and was busted after secretly placing the devices in Mach3 razors. Add these products to the list of RFID-tagged consumer goods like Pantene Shampoo, Purina Dog Chow and Huggies baby wipes . . . .

The technology that yesterday enabled manufacturers to keep track of pallets of shipped goods is already being proposed for decidedly more invasive applications. One patent application describes a “sniffer” or RFID reader which would be used on the doorway of homes and cars to inventory the consumer’s spychipped items and send the results to marketers. The book points out that as with everything related to RFID, the motive is to spy on us for marketing purposes.

The potential for the government’s abuse of this technology is discussed as well.
Among the applications that have already been patented are a system that photographs the customer when he removes a package of Gilette razor blades from the rack, and a shelf display that can automatically change the price of various products depending on who's looking at them.
Oddly for a book with an introduction by Bruce Sterling, Spychips is being published by a Christian imprint, Thomas Nelson. Reportedly, "a forthcoming Christian edition of the book will contain an additional chapter linking RFID to the Mark of the Beast passage in the Bible's Book of Revelation."

The official Spychips website is here. Bruce Sterling's open letter to the RFID industry is here:
People get a heavy dose of future shock when they discover that nerdy sorcerers beyond their ken can treat them like cattle or Wal-Mart inventory. Remember Philips' doomed effort to install RFIDs in US passports? Newspapers pointed out that such a document would effectively cry out to terrorists, "Potential kidnap victim at 12 o'clock!" The Feds backed off overnight.
TANGENTIALLY-RELATED SIDEBAR (via our esteemed colleague Gatorchick at Florida Blues): Just in case you were wondering where your civil liberties went . . . .

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