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11/22/2005
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Free Software Advocate Attracts U.N. Security After Blocking RFID Tags

GNU founder Richard Stallman wrapped his RFID-equipped badge in aluminum foil at the U.N. World Summit on the Information Society, and found his travel blocked by U.N. security.

A GNU expert's talk was welcomed at the U.N. World Summit on the Information Society. His stance on RFID was not.

Richard Stallman, GNU founder and featured speaker at the gathering in Tunisia last week, was held by U.N. security after wrapping his identification badge in foil, according to Bruce Perens, vice president of developer relations and policy for SourceLabs.

Stallman, who opposes RFID because of the technology's potential for privacy invasions, objected to wearing the badge because it could track him as he moved around at the summit. Organizers said the technology would not be used since objections were raised over use at the 2003 summit in Geneva, according to Perens.

Stallman was still in Tunisia Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation, reportedly unwrapped his badge only to pass through readers.

He briefly addressed the RFID issue during a speaker's panel, passed a roll of aluminum foil around the room and encouraged several people to follow suit, according to Perens' eyewitness account. U.N. security watched in the crowded room until speeches and an open discussion were finished.

Perens said he left to speak with reporters and heard later from several attendees that security would not allow Stallman to leave. Once they allowed Stallman to exit, they prevented him from entering another room, where he was scheduled to appear, according to Perens.

"I got to the room just as the panel was about to start, at the moment that the problem suddenly evaporated and Richard was allowed to enter," Perens wrote on his company's Web site. "No doubt some of our UN hosts had been dealing with security during those two hours, and eventually got an order from a high-enough officer or something. We'll probably never know how, but imagine the headlines: Kofi Annan Frees Richard Stallman."

Perens said Stallman recounted the incident as people gathered for the next panel.

Representatives from the summit could not be reached for comment and did not immediately respond to an e-mail inquiry.

During an interview Tuesday, Perens said he understood the need for intense security at a world summit taking place a mere train ride from Libya. He said he believes Stallman also understood it, but a bar code system could have been used.

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