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21st October 2006
- Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track ...
21 Oct 2006 ... Each RFID chip contains a unique identification number, .... it could obviously take away our remaining shreds of privacy. ... in 1999 to educate consumer-citizens about shopper surveillance. ... The Coming China Wars, Where They Will Be Fought and How They Can Be Won, Revised and Expanded Edition ...

Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID
By: Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre

RFID, which stands for Radio Frequency IDentification, is a technology that uses computer chips smaller than a grain of sand to track items from a distance. And as this mind-blowing book explains, plans and efforts are being made now by global corporations and the U.S government to turn this advanced technology, these spychips, into a way to track our daily activities-and keep us all on Big Brother's short leash. Compiling massive amounts of research with firsthand knowledge, Spychips explains RFID technology and reveals the history and future of the master planners' strategies to imbed these trackers on everything-from postage stamps to shoes to people themselves-and spy on Americans without our knowledge or consent. It also urgently encourages consumers to take action now-to protect their privacy and civil liberties before it's too late.

What critics are saying about Spychips, the book:

Spychips make[s] a stunningly powerful argument against plans for RFID being mapped out by government agencies, retail and manufacturing companies. - Evan Schuman, CIO Insight

The privacy movement needs a book. I nominate Spychips. - Marc Rotenberg, EPIC

Brilliantly written; so scary and depressing I want to put it down, so full of fascinating vignettes and facts that I can't put it down. - Author Claire Wolfe

Spychips makes a very persuasive case that some of America's biggest companies want to embed tracking technology into virtually everything we own, and then study our usage patterns 24 hours a day. It's a truly creepy book and well worth reading. - Hiawatha Bray, Boston Globe

You REALLY want to read this book. - Laissez Faire


Compiling massive amounts of research with firsthand knowledge, "Spychips" reveals the history and future of master planners' strategies to spy on Americans without their knowledge or consent.

Q&A with authorss Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre

Q: Your book is called Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID. What is RFID, and why are companies so interested in the technology?

Katherine: Companies like Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble, and Gillette are talking about uniquely numbering every physical object on earth with a tiny computer chip. They call the technology RFID or Radio Frequency Identification. The RF part is for "radio frequency," which is how the technology worksÑby invisible radio waves. The ID part is for identification. We call them "spychips." Hooked up to a miniature antenna, they're capable of transmitting information about the objects they're attached to. Companies want this because it will allow them to keep track of their products anywhere on the globe. Wal-Mart would like to be able to scan the contents of a truck without even having to open it, for example. Of course, since radio waves travel through cardboard boxes and shipping containers, this would be entirely possible.

Liz: That same capability is what makes it so dangerous to privacy. In the same way, these radio waves can travel right through clothing, purses, backpacks, and wallets, giving strangers a kind of x-ray vision to spy on you and the things you are wearing and carrying. Based on our research, the potential for this kind of surreptitious scanning has not been lost on the industry.

Q: We're all familiar with the bar code. How is RFID different?

Katherine: Probably the most important difference is that you can't scan a bar code if you can't see it. No one can secretly scan the bar code on your underwear, for example, right through your clothes. But RFID tags are a different story. They can be scanned invisibly, silently, and secretly, and the reader devices that do the scanning can be hidden in everything from doorways to floor tiles to shelving. Already companies have used hidden readers to spy on consumers, as we detail in the book.

Liz: There's another important difference. Each RFID chip contains a unique identification number, and no other object on earth would share it. The individual ID numbers make it possible to link up objects in a database with the person who bought them using their credit card and ATM card information. Once chip number 508072 is linked to your left shoe, anyone who captures that number later could use it to track your movements, and potentially learn a great deal about you.

Q: You describe plans for RFID that will impact every area of our lives. What is being planned?

Katherine: Manufacturers and retailers envision a day when every single item on the planet has one of these spychips. Marketers could keep track of what's in your refrigerator and on your kitchen shelves, cars could be monitored as they pass by roadside "hot spots," and corporations could scan your garbage to find out what products you had bought and how quickly you had used them. And, of course, some would even like to tag and track us.

Liz: Even the government has plans for these. They've suggested putting RFID tags in gunstocks so they can remotely enable and disable weapons, and they plan to start putting RFID tags in passports beginning in early 2006.

Q: Considering how advanced these plans are, it's amazing how little we've heard about RFID. Why do so few people know about it?

Katherine: Big corporations have been working on these plans behind closed doors since 1999. In our book we talk about confidential documents we found, including some studies the industry did early on to find out how people would react to RFID. When they discovered that 78 percent of people would oppose it on privacy grounds, they decided to keep their plans quiet until the infrastructure was in place. They hoped that people would be "apathetic" once they found out. That's the exact word they used in one of their confidential PR documents.

Q: You've obviously done your homework -- the book contains a lot of original research and hundreds of footnotes. But you also discuss how secretive this industry is. How did you piece the puzzle together?

Katherine: We attended trade shows, infiltrated their meetings and events, subscribed to their publications and even traveled to Europe to get a first-hand look at their technology. And, of course, Liz spent hundreds of hours poring over documents at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Liz: It's amazing what you can find out by reading a company's patent documents. If you can stomach wading through the dry, boring parts, you can get some rich insights into how a company operates, its ethical standards, and its long-term thinking. The beauty of these documents is they are public records, and the inventors have to sign a sworn statement that their invention works. Companies can deny they plan to track people with RFID, but when they spell out detailed plans to do just that in their patent documents, in their own words, you've got them dead to rights. They must have figured no one would bother to look at them.

Q: You make some pretty bold claims in the book. Do companies really plan to use spychips to spy on people?

Liz: Based on the patents we've found and the words of the companies themselves, we'd say "yes." We reveal some very disturbing patents and patent applications in the book, like IBM's "Identification and Tracking of Persons Using RFIDÐTagged Items." As part of this document, IBM details an invention they call the "person-tracking unit" that can track individuals by RFID tags in the things they're wearing and carrying. This tracking can be done for marketing purposes. Say, to serve up personalized advertising. If the system reads that you are carrying a baby bottle, you might be shown an ad for diapers as you walk by, or if you've got a man's wallet in your back pocket, you might get an ad for shaving cream. But IBM spells out in its application that the government could also use it to track people in shopping malls, elevators, sports arenas, libraries, theaters, and even restrooms.

Katherine: And watching people in public places is just the tip of the iceberg. We've uncovered other proposed applications and patent documents that outline ways to monitor people in their own homes, too. At one insider meeting I attended, someone suggested, "Wouldn't it be great to know every time a consumer takes the lid off a tube of toothpaste?" Companies ultimately want RFID reader devices in our homes so they can watch us interact with products and learn how to sell us more "stuff." Procter & Gamble once created a home of the future and talked about delivering individually-tailored advertising to our home television sets based on what RFID readers in our refrigerators communicate to the Internet. For example, if marketers detect you have Coke in your refrigerator, they might flash an ad at you for Pepsi.

Q: To play devil's advocate for a moment, wouldn't this technology be useful for preventing theft?

Katherine: On the contrary, RFID will create new opportunities for crime. In fact, the possibilities are so disturbing that we devote a whole chapter of Spychips to the problem of crime. Shoplifters could get around the RFID tag by slipping stolen items into foil lined bags. Having remotely readable tags on our belongings would put the rest of us at the mercy of criminals. Voyeurs could scan the contents of women's purses or determine what they're wearing under their clothes. Stalkers would have a new way to pursue their victims, and thieves could scan people leaving the shopping mall with expensive purchases looking for whom to mug in the parking lot.

Q: Based on everything you know, what is your "worst-case scenario" for RFID? What are the most frightening applications of RFID you've run across?

Liz: You don't have to look any further than companies' patent documents to find just about any nightmare application you can imagine. They've applied for patents on everything from tracking people around stores and public places to using RFID to enslave people. Two in particular stand out as candidates for the most awful way to use spychips. One is a patent pending deep organ implant that would be embedded in the pockets of internal organs where it can't be removed. In our book, we reprint one of the diagrams from the Patent and Trademark Office showing places they propose putting this in the female body. It has optional accessories like a microphone that can transmit conversations remotely, and an electric shock feature. Not surprisingly, the patent document talks about putting these in prisoners, but goes on to recommend them for military personnel and even business travelers. We're not making this up. This is in the inventors' own words.

Katherine: The other one is a Kevlar bullet-proof armband that has a built-in injector device. Cross the line and a radio transmitter will trigger it to deliver knockout drugs. The inventor sees this device being applied to just about anyone except the very young and very old. He regrets it might be "unsafe" for them. He even suggests putting the armband on airline passengers so if someone gets too close to the cockpit he's rendered unconscious.

Q: Normally, I would expect a book like this to be technical, depressing, and frankly, boring. But it was a real page turner, and it had me laughing out loud in places. How did you find that balance?

Liz: We realize this is a heavy topic so we infused it with a lot of humor, and frankly, of lot of it is funny. It's the kind of book you could buy at the airport bookstore and read on a five-hour flight. We've got a talking plant and Elvis in there, so you know it can't be too dry. We've been told it reads like a techno thriller even though it's a scholarly work with hundreds of footnotes. Companies have contributed a lot to the fun with their blunders, preposterous statements, and name calling. I never thought we'd say it, but thanks for the laughter, IBM.

Q: Your book ends on a very positive note and gives people hope that they can make a difference. Do you envision a consumer privacy revolution on the horizon?

Katherine: Yes. RFID is a touchstone issue for many people because it could obviously take away our remaining shreds of privacy. But the evidence we lay out in the book is the proverbial last straw for many people who have already been smoldering over schemes like frequent shopper cards, hidden cameras, spam, and telephone solicitors who interrupt dinner. Thousands of people have written to us in support of our cause, and have even called us heroes for taking on these big companies and saying "enough is enough." People are spontaneously organizing protests like the one we just had in front of a Dallas Wal-Mart. They are boycotting stores like Wal-Mart that are pushing the RFID agenda, and they're trading their Procter & Gamble products for those made by more privacy friendly companies.

Liz: Corporations depend upon us, the consumers, for their profits so we ultimately control what they do, though it might not seem that way sometimes. If we consumers join together in saying "no" to RFID and vote "no" with our pocketbooks, we can keep spychips out of our stores, our homes, and our bodies. Anyone who would like to join with us in opposing this technology should visit our website at There you can sign up for our free newsletter and get the latest news about the technology.

Article in 'The Guardian'

Tags in packs of razor blades used to track buyers
By: Alok Jha Science correspondent

The supermarket chain Tesco has admitted testing controversial technology that tracks customers buying certain products through its stores. Anyone picking up Gillette Mach3 razor blades at its Cambridge store will have his or her picture taken.

The Guardian, alerted by Katherine Albrecht, director of US-based Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy and Invasion and Numbering, to the use of the smart electronic tags, has found that tags in the razor blades trigger a CCTV camera when a packet is removed from the shelf. A second camera takes a picture at the checkout and security staff then compare the two images, raising the possibility that they could be used to prevent theft.

"Customers know that there are CCTV cameras in the store," said a spokesman for Tesco. He went on to insist that the aim of the trial was to provide stock information and not security, but the manager of the Cambridge store, Alan Robinson, has already described how he presented photos of a shoplifter to police.

The trial uses radio frequency identification (RFID) in which tiny chips can communicate with detectors up to 20ft away. The chip can then return information - anything from a unique serial number to more complex product details. Or, as in Tesco's case, it could trigger a camera.

Retailers have hailed the technology as the "holy grail" of supply chain management but civil liberties groups argue that the so-called "spy chips" are an invasion of consumers' privacy and could be used as a covert surveillance device.

The technology is mostly used to track batches of products through the supply chain. But manufacturers want to go a step further and tag each individual product: everything from yoghurt pots to clothes.

One potential problem with RFID tags is that they can still work long after the product has been bought. If the tags become as ubiquitous as the manufacturers would like, people could be bristling with the chips in clothes and possessions. Anyone from police to potential thieves could work out exactly what they carry. Manufacturers, however, insist that the chips can be disabled at the point of sale.

"You can disable the tag by erasing the data on it and this can be done at the checkout," said Jon Parsell of Bedford-based RFID Components, which supplies RFID systems to retailers.

Transport for London is also using RFID-style chips in its new Oyster smart cards to allow users to travel around the tube network. The intention is that registered users will have information such as their names and addresses stored on the cards, which would eventually replace season tickets.

A spokesperson for TfL said that the entry and exit points of each journey made by Oyster users were recorded and that, technically, it would be possible to track people through the tube network. Nicole Carroll, marketing director for TranSys, the consortium responsible for implementing the system, told the Guardian that all the journeys made by a user would remain stored in a central computer for the lifetime of the card.

Barry Hugill of Liberty expressed concern about "function creep" - information recorded for one purpose and used for another. "We want quite clear legal guidelines as to what information companies, government agencies, local authorities are allowed to glean [and] what they can do with it," he said.,3604,1001211,00.html

About the author:

Katherine Albrecht is a consumer privacy expert and the Founder and Director of CASPIAN (Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering), a national consumer organization created in 1999 to educate consumer-citizens about shopper surveillance. Ms. Albrecht is widely recognized as one of the world's leading experts on consumer privacy. She regularly speaks on the consumer privacy and civil liberties impacts of new technologies, with an emphasis on RFID and retail issues.

She has testified on RFID technology before the Federal Trade Commission, the California state legislature, the European Commission, and the Federal Reserve Bank, and she has given over a thousand television, radio and print interviews to news outlets all over the world. Katherine graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration with a concentration in International Marketing, and holds a master's degree in Instructional Technology from Harvard University. She is currently completing her Doctorate in Education at Harvard where her research focus is consumer education, privacy and psychology.

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