R.F.I.D. Technology – Information Systems Essay
The implementation of Radio Frequency Identification Device (R.F.I.D.) technology around the world is both a blessing and a curse. The benefits of these chips to society is undeniable. Theft will become virtually non-
existent, audits of product inventory will no longer be necessary, and standing in line anywhere becomes a ritual of the past. However, the privacy implications created by the use of this technology also give reason for great concern. Everything you buy will be registered to your name and your bank account. Thieves could read every item that is in your home, without ever actually stepping foot inside. In fact everything you have will be readable from a distance. So the purpose of this paper is to explain R.F.I.D. technology, and weigh the pros against the cons, to see if some middle ground can be met where business gains the most and privacy loses the least.
R.F.I.D. is a new consumer goods tracking system. It mixes radio frequency identification with greatly miniaturized computer chips that enable a product to be tracked from its beginning in the manufacturing line to its end on the shelves of a retailer. This technology can be applied to nearly every physical item, ranging from pill bottles (1) to cows (2); humans included (3). This improves the safety of products in as much as it tracks the history of the product. In theory our drugs can’t be counterfeited, as they wouldn’t be able to be tagged, livestock with diseases, such as mad cow, could be traced back to their source farm and a lot of other securities will be available to make the world a safer place, such as making all guns require a corresponding R.F.I.D. implanted to the owner.
R.F.I.D. employs a numbering system called EPC. This stands for Electronic Product Code and is intended to replace the current UPC system.(4) The UPC system only identifies product categories, with the advanced new EPC system having the ability to assign a number to every individual item. This means that your can of Coke is going to have a different number than my can of Coke. And it also means that your can of Coke is registered in your name. Think about that for a moment, we will have the ability to fine people who litter possibly months later, when the school students go and clean out the ditches along highways! This technology also appears to have the ability to keep our streets cleaner, which saves money that could be used somewhere else.
It is worthy to note here that the implementation of R.F.I.D. tags is not a political issue. From a conservative stand point, this technology is a great business tool within a free market capitalist society. The impacts from this technology, towards a business’s ability to continuously track all their products, from assembly through the shipping process, onto retailer’s shelves and out their doors, will revolutionize the business world. And all this money saved logically leads to lower prices for the consumers. In our nations current economic state, lower prices on goods all around is a blessing to every consumer.
On the Liberal side of this issue, we find altogether different benefits. This technology is a blessing for society. It virtually stops all theft from retailers. It’ll help keep the food supply safe. And we could even use it to chip the homeless so society is better able to keep track and care for them.(12) Counterfeiting will no longer be possible when chips are inserted into the currency supply.(15) But the more important argument of the Liberal side is one of security. Security for the children of today and tomorrow. And these tags have the capabilities to ensure the well-being of the elderly, providing those that need it with a type of security blanket which guarantees that medication is taken when needed and making care more readily available.(5) Overall, the privacy issue takes a back seat to the possible benefits from the liberal standpoint.
Although neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals oppose this technology as a political issue, it remains an issue of privacy and the argument should be made. It is an important issue and will become much more so in the next few years. The authors of this paper feel that neither side really discusses or responds to the privacy issue adequately, nor are they moving to do so fast enough. This technology is being pushed for now, by the U.S. top retailer chains, most recently Albertson’s. (6) And since laws tend to take a considerable amount of time be finally agreed upon and passed something needs to also be done now. Yet, the implementation of the tags will bring almost immediate relief to millions of people and businesses. So the question then becomes, can technology fix societal ills?
The implementations of R.F.I.D.’s will alter the very way we live our daily lives. In the grocery store, R.F.I.D.’s will protect unsafe food from being sold by alarming as it gets close to expiring. In the home, parents will no longer have to worry about their children being lost or stolen.(7) With a microchip surgically implanted into the little one’s hand or forehead constantly sending off a helpful signal, if the child gets lost, the parents can rest assured that they are not, and in fact, are nothing more than a properly placed phone call away. Tags in all crates would help solve the recent fears over terrorism and trains coming in from Canada. It would be much harder than it is now to keep items hidden from inspection by authorities.
Even with all these obvious benefits a person can still wonder if tracking and tagging everything is good. And in the process of researching its easy to come across fears of ‘the Mark of the Beast’. In fact, we believe that it’s an argument worth mention. In Revelation 13:16-17 John writes that no one will be able to buy or sell anything without the mark. And that is after all, the ultimate goal of this technology. But if a person doesn’t buy the aspect of religion being involved, then why else would they oppose it?
The negative side to this Alpha-Omega tracking is that it leaves a record of your purchase with whatever business you made a purchase from. And we all know that businesses and the selling of personal data is not a new issue. So the question is, can we trust the major corporations with our personal data? And what about the centralized grand databases that this information is supposed to go in, who is looking in on that data? It is relatively certain that businesses cannot be trusted with our personal information and this point is easily proven by looking at how fast the government do-not-call list overflowed with overjoyed citizens telephone numbers. Too many calls from too much sharing leads the people to say ‘leave us alone’. And too much sharing also led congress to the same conclusion about a different information sharing entity.
Soon after September 11th, DARPA announced its Total Information Awareness program.(13) This program was in essence the final database where everything everyone in America did would finally be stored. Then the program would compare all transactions against everyone else’s to look for any red flags, like dynamite purchases or something that would stick out and be noticed as terrorist activities. As William Safire from the New York Times wrote, “Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend – all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as ‘a virtual, centralized grand database’.”(8)
It must now also be said that the funding was cut for this program, but that is besides our point. The fact is, DARPA was researching this project way before September 11th and only brought it into the public eye as a supposed reaction to terrorism. This program seems to be a case of Hegalian dialectic or problem-reaction-solution. This program however, is not the solution to terrorism and congress thought the same. And even though the funding was cut, all it takes is another big attack on our homeland to bring back this program. Even Dave Obey said that an attack is not preventable at this time.
The government did not fully end Total Information Awareness. In essence, all they really did was move the research and it’s data-mining computer programs to other branches of the government, such as the CIA, NSA, and FBI etc. and gave new names to the various parts of the program.. (9) For example, in a February 24, 2004 Homeland Security Press Release (10), the government states speaking about the launch of their Joint Regional Information Exchange System (JRIES) is, “…An integrated component of the wider DHS Information sharing and collaboration architecture (author’s emphasis) that will help provide situational awareness, information and collaboration across the 50 states, U.S. territories, and major urban areas.” And it is these various ‘components’ that are coming from the supposedly closed TIA program. It is possible to see this as a kind of Orwellian doublespeak because the funding was cut, but then the components and programs start to actually be used. (Our chocolate rations must have been increased.)
I would like to say that this is one of the big reasons why this isn’t a political issue. As you know, the Liberal side of the issue wants to give the government control over this technology. They feel that the American government is reliable and innocent enough to be trusted with control over the data and the data-mining, while at the same time exclaiming how it could never turn out as a privacy issue if we let the feds have jurisdiction over how and how much R.F.I.D.’s can be used and what can be done with the data. Why would you give the power to control the technology, to the same entity that wants to use the data from it to spy on you and have been caught doing it? (14) And to the argument that says ‘if you ain’t got nothing to hide what, do you have to worry for?’… Ben Franklin responds, “Protect even your enemy from oppression, lest you establish a precedent that reaches to yourself.” It just doesn’t make logical sense when looking at the big picture.
And it’s also the same from the lassie faire Conservative side. Let the corporations be, it’s a free market. But this leaves another entity in power of the data, who is just as irresponsible and deceitful as some branches of our government. So again, do you want to give control of this technology to corporations, who we know cannot be trusted with our personal data? Obviously not.
It is also hard to come to some middle ground on this aspect of R.F.I.D. technology. Of the 103 major funders for the Auto-Id center’s project, 5 of them are from the government (USPS, DoD, and others). Eight of the top ten U.S. retailers including Wal-Mar , Target, and Home Depot are also major contributors. Many of Britain’s major chains such as Tesco are on the list. (11) So is a mix of both corporate and government control any better when they are both funding the research and potential usage of it? We have to say no and use the analogy that they are both arms on the same beast. And some kind of compromise is needed immediately.
If some compromise cannot be met, then this technology should be restricted or at least regulated. When this is done a chance will be given for the law to catch up with the technology, which progresses at a faster rate than the law. If the technology must be implemented now, then all products with tags in them should be labeled so the consumers can know what they’re buying. All tags should be turned off when a consumer leaves the store. Instant registration of products should not be put into effect without the proper laws and procedures in place. Tags should be placed on the products packaging instead of on the product at all times if possible. Remember, technology alone does not solve society’s problems.