Business & Finance
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11/4/2005
06:25 PM
John Soat
John Soat
Features
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IT Confidential: RFID: Be Smart, Not Cynical, About Religion

I'm reading a book called Spychips: How Major Corporations And Government Plan To Track Your Every Move With RFID (Nelson Current; 2005). The book is selling well: It's currently #19 on Amazon.com's list of best-selling non-fiction/current affairs books. It's written by Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre. If you follow the debates about privacy, Albrecht's name might be familiar. She is the founder and head of Caspian (Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion And Numbering), a privacy lobbying group. (An interview with Albrecht is at Privacy And RFID: Are The Tags Spy Chips?.)

I recommend reading Spychips; it contains a lot of interesting information about radio-frequency ID technology. For example, did you know that IBM has applied for a patent for "Identification And Tracking Of Persons Using RFID-Tagged Items"? As we know, all patent applications are realistic and feasible. In fact, doesn't IBM have a patent for a system to organize bathroom lines on airplanes? Anyway, I went looking for other books by Albrecht, and I found this on Amazon, a book scheduled for publication early next year: The Spychips Threat: Why Christians Should Resist RFID And Computer Tracking(Nelson Current; 2006). Albrecht had mentioned a religious objection to RFID in Spychips: "This application startles many Christians, who have likened payment applications of RFID to biblical predictions about the Mark of the Beast, a number the book of Revelation says will be needed to buy or sell in the 'end time.'"

This worries me. Religious opposition to technology could be a serious factor, and it isn't something to be taken lightly. Religious issues are a part of both the political and educational landscape. Why not technology? Could religious objections be a significant factor in slowing the adoption of RFID? I E-mailed an old friend and former colleague, Mark Roberti, who heads up RFIDJournal. "I don't see the religious angle having any impact on [RFID] adoption," Mark wrote back. Then he threw me. "My personal view is that Katherine doesn't believe the religious stuff but uses it to achieve her aim, which is to persuade people not to accept RFID tags in the products they buy. I could be wrong about that." Cynical and exploitative about the religious implications of RFID? Albrecht doesn't sound that way in a podcast by my colleague Laurie Sullivan (informationweek.com/1063/ albrecht _pod.htm). But others may be. I found an article on Wired News from July that explores this area. In it, Bill Scannell, identified as "a privacy advocate" (and reportedly founder of the Web site www.dontspy on.us), is quoted as saying: "I can work with anyone willing to fight this stuff." That's not the most idealistic reason to embrace a religious conviction, but it may indicate how serious certain factions are in raising objections to RFID--and how seriously they should be taken.

I can't wait for RFID tagging--then maybe I can find half the stuff I lose, like the TV remote control, or my socks, or my dog when she runs away down the street. Wait, who gets access to the tracking part of this equation? Maybe I have more in common with "privacy advocates" than I think. I'd certainly rather be the tracker than than the trackee--but that applies to all aspects of my life. If you've got one of those tracking devices, or an industry tip, send it to jsoat@cmp.com, or call 516-562-5326.

Watch Laurie Sullivan's piece about Katherine Albrecht on The News Show, at www.TheNewsShow.tv or on informationweek.com. The News Show debuts at noon EST every weekday.

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