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What If We Say No To RFID?

John Longenecker | November 25 2005

I’ve been monitoring the RFID progress for more than a year now. As a Paramedic, I heard the concept of implanted chips as early as 1977. As a liberty enthusiast, I’ve become interested in just how intrusive these chips can be utilized in various applications, a little intrusive today, more intrusive tomorrow.

The danger of intrusive surveillance is in our making detrimental adjustments in our way of life, and in the abuses of mistake with no provision for penalty. The first reason is good enough.

As I’ve said about politics, the policies of preceding officials live on, and aren’t evaluated by the next generation of electorate, but are accepted as baseline truths or values without regard for examining any current need for them. Policies tend to become immortal this way.

Now we have a blend of the two on the horizon: technology with the potential of becoming exquisitely intrusive with incredible assurances that it will not become so, and the assistance of politicians who see the RFID chip’s potential yield of information, their surveillance range potential and ease of operation. And that’s only for today: what about tomorrow if today’s breakthroughs become tomorrow’s baselines?

This is not a good combination. It is not even rational to assure critics that abuses will never happen. It is not acceptable to allow any abuses as a cost of the benefits of the product. We’re not talking about the horseless carriage replacing the horse and buggy – Amish in Pennsylvania seem to do fine without electricity – we’re talking about intrusion becoming an accepted part of our way of life as today’s breakthroughs become tomorrow’s nightmares -- and then accepted as way of life.

As part of my monitoring the progress of the RFID movement, I read a recent article of November 21st, 2005 from RFID Journal, linked with permission here.

Mark Roberti writes in a cogent and polite tone, dignifying his industry’s position well. There are a few holes in his argument. I'll take only one of them, as a liberty enthusiast.

Mr. Roberti speaks about the power of the people, and how we – consumers with our power of protest (my words) – are in control of the future deployment of such chips.

Alright, Mr. Roberti: what if we simply said No? Will the industry continue to lobby Washington and others and continue to sell the public on the idea?

What if we say No? Today. Across the board. Prove that the industry respects the people and our power of protest.

What if we insist that No means No?

With such intrusive industries throughout America, No doesn’t mean a damned thing. Internet spyware is no longer a nuisance, it’s a costly crime, just an early foretaste of what lies ahead. Hijacking home pages is no longer a competitive edge, it’s now offensive. Pop-ups can be blocked, but no one within the industry exercised self-restraint – we had to fight back, and they still don’t take No for an answer. Maybe if they starve, they might quit, but that’s not in the immediate future, so the market doesn’t come to our aid – no help there.

No means No.

But I fear that the RFID industry will justify it as convenience and wonder aloud why we don’t elect convenience and the consumer benefits to come.

But what if we say No, Thanks?

In the end, looking back, we’ll know that they never stopped and that No meant nothing. We know that they want to convince us that resistance is futile and that RFID is in our future, like it or not.

Probably so. This is most probable because other industries depend so heavily on just ramming things down our throats that futility become a foregone conclusion for nearly every objection to this kind of thing. [Here is a link to a story this week where some have crossed the line after assuring us all that snooping would not occur. How do they promise it won't occur: ethics?]

This is where the country’s going to hell: where no doesn’t mean no anymore.

But it can be stopped on one ground: make the concept of sneaky household-stalking and eavesdropping so repugnant that it is made illegal nationwide as breaking and entering is – as unwelcome, as intrusive, uncontrollable by anyone, abused by potentially anyone, and a threat to the national security more than the return on investment in terms of safety. Going through thousands of intrusions to maybe get the one you’re looking for isn’t good for the safety of the country. No skin off their nose, right?

No responsible person can say that mistake, abuse and acceleration of the industry will not transpire, and that includes promises of industry representatives. And no responsible citizen can believe that worker bees won’t can’t retaliate or abuse the data and somehow keep it all at some acceptable level when industry promises are broken, as they will be.

Still, the industry smirks: what are you going to do about it? Then, they’re home free.

It’s not a matter of putting the toothpaste back in the tube – it’s a matter of cleaning up the mess and not squirting toothpaste anymore. As a matter of fact, get out of my medicine cabinet and get out of my house! [One application of RFID chips is monitoring whether you’re taking your prescription on time or not. Like that? ]

Life in America is not so complex that we need remote viewing electronics embedded in everything we own to divulge everywhere we go and everything we like or dislike. It’s all too subject to hostile interpretation, and that means loss of liberty. Privacy makes a household freer from abuse and mistake. Let’s keep it that way.

In this country, when we say No, we don’t have to say why.

The gaping defect in the promise of the industry is that the people will decide by acceptance or protest. Yeah, right. The RFID Industry doesn’t believe it for a second. I doubt very much that the industry will move out of the RFID biz just because we decline their magic lamp. You can’t opt-out of RFID.

I know it’s already here. The idea that RFID comes at all against our wishes another hour is proof positive enough that the industry’s respect for the people is – and has been, it seems – a lie.

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