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John Soat
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The Public's Bipolar Take On Technology

Just the mention of RFID implants gives most people the creeps.

The general public probably can be forgiven for having something of a schizophrenic attitude toward information technology. The convenience and productivity gains are at this point a given, but the security and privacy implications are only now getting widespread attention. Also, the offshore outsourcing debate has created a haves-versus-have-nots attitude about the IT industry. And it doesn't help when the federal government metaphorically speaks out of two sides of its mouth, on the one hand blessing an IT development that many people react to with horror, on the other hand demonizing a technology that most people have experienced through the enthusiasm of their children. I'm not saying either pronouncement is wrong, just that together they represent something of an unintended dichotomy.

First, the Food and Drug Administration last week approved the use of a subcutaneous radio-frequency identification chip for storing medical data. The upside is immediately apparent to those involved in health care. "A completely unambiguous way of identifying a patient would be advantageous," says Alan Abramson, CIO of HealthPartners, a Minnesota health-plan provider. But the general public already is skittish about the privacy questions around RFID, and just the mention of RFID implants gives most people the heebie-jeebies. Some fundamentalist Christians equate it to the mark of the devil referred to in the Book of Revelation, and even people with less extreme views have second thoughts about introducing hardware into their own or their childrens' bodies, especially technology potentially used for tracking.

Second, the Department of Justice released its months-in-the-making report on the prosecution of intellectual-property crimes last week, and it points a very critical finger at peer-to-peer networking, calling it "one of the greatest emerging threats to intellectual-property ownership," and making it clear that even "passive sharing" of copyrighted material should be subject to prosecution. Justice recommends that copyright holders bring legal action against companies that "intentionally induce" copyright infringement. Does that mean the entertainment industry is cleared to sue developers of peer-to-peer networking technology? We'll see.

On a lighter note, the Los Angeles Times reported last week that Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has had preliminary talks with the National Football League about purchasing a team and moving it to Los Angeles, which has been without football since the Raiders moved back to Oakland in 1995. Oracle and the NFL aren't commenting.

I don't believe it. If Larry Ellison was interested in football, I'd think he'd just buy the whole league and declare himself the winner. Can I buy an industry tip? Send it to or phone 516-562-5326. If you want to talk about RFID and privacy, peer-to-peer networking and copyright infringement, or your football picks, meet me at's Listening Post.

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit John Soat's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about John Soat, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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