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11/3/2005
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Privacy And RFID: Are The Tags Spy Chips?

In a wide-ranging interview, privacy-rights advocate Katherine Albrecht discusses her belief that unaccountable corporations and governments have nightmarish plans for RFID-chipping everything--and everyone.

Consumer privacy groups have grown in strength this year almost as fast as radio frequency identification technology deployments at businesses and governments.

Spearheading the most vocal efforts is Katherine Albrecht, founder and director of Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering (CASPIAN), and co-author of the new book Spychips." Albrecht founded CASPIAN in 1999 to advocate free-market, consumer-based solutions to problems she sees as retail privacy invasion, and since 2002, has led efforts to alert the public to privacy and civil liberties implications of RFID. Albrecht said she and co-author Liz McIntyre have uncovered information on surveillance in retail stores that the public needs to know.

She has testified before state legislatures, the Federal Trade Commission, European Commission and Federal Reserve Bank on consumer privacy issues. The following are excerpts from an interview with Albrecht on Wednesday.

Click on this podcast link to download and listen to part one of a two-part series.

Click on this podcast link to download and listen to part two.

TechWeb: How do you see RFID imposing on consumer privacy?

Albrecht: The key problem with RFID boils down to how it's different from a bar code. Think about having computer chips that can transmit information wirelessly using radio waves becoming as ubiquitous as the bar code, and in some cases more prevalent. And the idea that information from the computer chips is scanned whenever it comes in range of a reader device and stored in a database is really a mind boggling concept. It's the notion of assigning every physical object manufactured on earth its own unique ID number and retailers linking our identity to the unique item numbers to keep track of what we purchase when we use a credit or ATM card.

TechWeb: Do you see anything positive emerging from RFID technology?

Albrecht: Sure, there are potential benefits to using RFID if you're in supply chain management and your job is getting widgets from point A to point B. It's effective for tracking physical objects. My concern is when you look at the tradeoff between potential benefits to society and risks of essentially privacy as we know it making it so every physical object is observed at all times. The benefits of having shelves better stocked in stores or faster and efficient product recalls in my mind pale in comparison to the potential threats to civil liberties and privacy at the notion of having a world where everything is seen by global corporations and powerful governments.

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