CASPIAN NEWSLETTER, 11/19/04: Consumer Power, Privacy, and RFID
Consumer privacy and RFID newsletter
Edited by Sunni Maravillosa
(Yay! She's back! -KA)
1- Houston kids tagged and tracked like inventory
2- FDA supports RFID tags on pharmaceuticals
3- Wal-Mart's data outstrips entire Internet
4- Airlines must turn over passenger data to TSA next week
5- U.S. passports to get RFID chips
6- Wal-Mart expands RFID use to Sam's Club
7- Albertsons moving forward with RFID tagging plans
8- Should you get a chip in your shoulder?
9- Will your cell phone become your wallet?
10- Lessons from Lexmark
11- FDA gives RFID big push in pharmaceutical labeling
12- What RFID rights?
CASPIAN ACTIVISTS UPDATE
1- Katherine Albrecht is all over the media!
2- Australian CASPIAN member publishes novel
3- CASPIAN members sound off
TOOLS YOU CAN USE:
1- CASPIAN member's novel a great educational tool
2- Arguments against national sales tax
3- PBS show "The Persuaders" available online
HOUSTON SCHOOLKIDS TAGGED AND TRACKED LIKE INVENTORY
by Katherine Albrecht, CASPIAN Director
Why do creepy RFID initiatives seem to gravitate to Texas, even though
Texans are among the most privacy and freedom-loving people in the
nation? The latest assault involves the children of the Spring
Independent School District, just north of Houston, where 28,000
students will soon be issued RFID badges that will track them as they
get on and off school buses.
Apparently, RFID reader devices in the buses scan the kids and send
their data across town to police and school officials. (Excuse me, did I
read that right? Police?!?) Of course, since the kids could lose or
trade their cards, some bright bulbs are already considering RFID
implants as a more secure alternative.
Despite the fact that no child has ever been lost or abducted in the
Spring district, students are being RFID tagged "just in case" (and at a
considerable cost, too).
This program, if allowed to continue, would mark a disastrous turn for
privacy and civil liberties in this country and set a terrible
precedent. The tracking of school children is especially loathsome,
since not only are kids a captive audience (in this regard, public
school students are second only to prisoners and the military), but they
are not old enough to vote out the perpetrators -- or even to take their
grievances against them to a court of law.
The program's impact on kids is summed up in the words of a 15-year-old,
quoted as saying the program "makes me feel kind of like an animal." Is
this how we, as a society, actually plan to treat the next generation of
Americans? Are we really so intent on numbering, watching, and
dehumanizing kids that we will ignore the impact of our technology on
their independence and psychological wellbeing?
Kids must rely on adults to let them know what is and isn't appropriate
in a free society. We adults, who are older and wiser and know the
historical dangers of unchecked government power, have an obligation to
look out for their interests. We must take a stand to protect our kids
-- and indeed, ourselves -- from the busybodies who would have us all
under lock and key (for our own safety, of course) the moment we let our
CASPIAN has many committed, freedom-loving members in the Houston area.
If you wonderful folks want to plan a time and a date to rally to these
kids' defense, CASPIAN will get the word out to the media and spread the
message around the world not to mess with Texas. (And especially not its
Write us at "Houston @/at nocards.org" if you want to take a stand.
Source: New York Times via CNET, November 17, 2004
MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD
Are you as disgusted as I am with plans to monitor kids like cattle?
If so, write an email to the people behind this program:
Dr. Michael Hinojosa
Spring Independent School District Superintendent
Spring ISD Transportation Director
Spring Police Chief
Director of Community Relations
To write to all of these people at once, copy the email addresses below
and paste into the "TO:" line in your email:
If you'd like us to publish your comments in an upcoming newsletter,
send a carbon copy to CASPIAN by pasting "sunni @/at nocards.org" in the
"CC:" line of your email. Note that unless you state otherwise, we will
print your first name and city with your message, but we'll keep your
last name and email address confidential.
FDA CALLS FOR RFID TAGS ON PHARMACEUTICALS
The FDA gave its blessing to using RFID chips in pharmaceutical labels,
using the justification of drug counterfeiting. However, by the FDA's
own admission in this article, fewer than 1% of American drugs are
counterfeit. Pfizer and Purdue are among the drug makers who have
announced they'll start using RFID. Scary quote:
"Right away, for the first time ever, a cop can say 'that bottle came
from a crime scene and this suspect is in possession of stolen
Katherine attended a meeting recently where an industry executive
outlined his vision for RFID tagged drugs. His plan involved RFID reader
devices in patients' homes to allow officials to monitor people's use of
prescription drugs. The reason? Increased "compliance" means more money
for the industry.
Source: Yahoo News, November 15, 2004
WAL-MART'S DATA OUTSTRIPS ENTIRE INTERNET
Straight from the New York Times article:
"Plenty of retailers collect data about their stores and their shoppers,
and many use the information to try to improve sales, but Wal-Mart
amasses more data about the products it sells and its shoppers' buying
habits than any other company, so much so that some privacy advocates
worry about potential for abuse."
Since, as the next paragraph in the article states, the data include
Social Security numbers, drivers' license numbers and more, what
reasonable person wouldn't be concerned? The article continues, stating
that the amount of information Wal-Mart "houses indefinitely" (yes, you
read that right; the information is apparently never discarded) is more
than double the entire content on the Internet!
Again, from the article:
"By next October, the company will require its biggest suppliers to tag
shipments to some of its distribution centers with tiny transmitters
that would eventually let Wal-Mart track every item that it sells."
The article includes a quote from CASPIAN founder Katherine Albrecht who
points to the huge variety of personal information Wal-Mart could amass
on customers once they have their SSNs and driver's license numbers.
Even though the piece focuses on the powerful use of consumer data by
Wal-Mart, it's a good way to introduce individuals to the realities of
consumer privacy and data-mining.
Source: New York Times/Denver Post, November 15, 2004
AIRLINES MUST TURN OVER PASSENGER DATA TO TSA NEXT WEEK
November 23 is the deadline for all U.S. airlines to turn over passenger
data so that the Transportation Security Administration can test the
Secure Flight passenger pre-screening system. Here are the details of
the information to be shared:
"Once each of the 72 domestic airlines submits data, including passenger
name, reservation date, travel itinerary, and form of payment for
domestic flights between June 1 and June 30 of this year, testing is
expected to last through the end of January."
The data they get will also be compared to existing "no-fly" lists.
Source: InformationWeek, November 15, 2004
U.S. PASSPORTS TO GET RFID CHIPS
The U.S. government appears to have taken the worst possible route to
"provide security" by putting RFID chips into passports. They've chosen
to use a remote-reading chip that beams unencrypted information to a
reader. That means that unless you've taken pains to protect your
chipped passport from being read without your knowledge and consent, it
will beam "the passport holder's name, address, date and place of birth,
and send along a digital photograph."
The new chipped passports will go first to diplomats and State
Department employees; citizen passports will start to be chipped in
spring 2005. Sounds like a good reason not to procrastinate on getting a
Source: Wired, October 21, 2004
WAL-MART EXPANDS RFID USE TO SAM'S CLUB STORE
Wal-Mart continues its RFID push, announcing that RFID-tagged cases and
pallets will be shipped to a Sam's Club store in Plano, TX. Since Sam's
Club is a bulk-discount store, there's a good possibility that those
RFID chips will go home with many consumers. According to the article:
"Wal-Mart will alert customers of cases that contain RFID tags via signs
and literature that explains RFID, and they can remove the tags after
purchase, a spokesman says."
The Plano store where the chipped packaging will be for sale is located
at Highway 121 and Ohio Drive. This looks like a good target for an
educational campaign or protest. Anyone in Plano game?
Source: InformationWeek, November 1, 2004
ALBERTSONS MOVING FORWARD WITH RFID TAGGING PLANS
I guess their loyalty card woes weren't enough to convince Albertsons to
listen to consumers; the company has recently released its plan for RFID
tagging of shipments of merchandise to their warehouse. The pilot
project will begin in early 2005 and will focus on Dallas/Fort Worth
Albertsons stores. They hope to have all suppliers tagging crates and
pallets by October of 2005.
Source: RFID Journal, November 12, 2004
SHOULD YOU GET A CHIP IN YOUR SHOULDER?
Presumably, if you're a subscriber to this newsletter you know the
answer to that question ... but this MSN article does a good job of
presenting a balanced view of chipping individuals. Author Josh McHugh
saves the best for last: his final two paragraphs provide good
information on how readers can be used, and links to various models. MSN
often changes their links, so check this one before it goes 404.
Source: Slate/MSN, November 10, 2004
Incidentally, Josh featured our work in a great piece he wrote for Wired
this summer. See it here:
WILL YOUR CELL PHONE BECOME YOUR WALLET?
>From the article:
"Some big players in telecommunications and finance, including Motorola,
Nokia, Sony, and MasterCard, think ... that people will rush to make
their phones into a kind of magic wand that effortlessly makes purchases
or retrieves information for them."
Putting all of your sensitive information into one unit -- especially
one that can be easily identified (and therefore targeted) is a
phenomenally bad idea. Doesn't using the Social Security number as a
nearly-universal ID demonstrate that well enough? Security and privacy
concerns are being downplayed here in favor of the gee-whiz factor of
yet another use for RFID (which the reporter refers to as "an RF chip")
Source: Christian Science Monitor, November 15, 2004
LESSONS FROM LEXMARK
Printer company Lexmark is getting another black eye, courtesy of
consumers, for its questionable practices. The company was accused of
"planting spyware" on customers' computers. At issue is "undocumented
software that monitors the use of its printers and silently reports back
to a Lexmark-owned company Web site," according to the first article
linked below. However, Lexmark says that users are informed of the
software, named Lexmark Connect, in the driver installation process. (Of
course, we all read these things carefully, right?)
The second article, by Mr. Goodwins, is an excellent overview of the
issues involved. He ends it by stating, "In the end, it's up to the
users." But what if they are unaware of what is happening?
Source: ZD Net, November 11 and 16, 2004
WHAT RFID RIGHTS?
Simson Garfinkel offers a thoughtful analysis of the current state of
voluntary RFID notification in situations where consumers may
unknowingly purchase RFID-tagged products. In doing so, he makes an
important distinction between proprietary RFID devices, and the EPC
chips that are intended to replace the UPC bar codes. He also recounts
some adventures Katherine Albrecht has had in uncovering questionable
business practices with RFID chips.
Source: Technology Review, November 3, 2004
CASPIAN ACTIVISTS UPDATE
1. KATHERINE ALBRECHT has been busy speaking out on consumer privacy
issues. It's hard to find an article on consumer privacy that doesn't
include a quote from her. In recent weeks she has discussed the VeriChip
and pharmaceutical tagging on the NBC Nightly News, NPR, CNN, and NBC's
Squawkbox; she has been quoted in the New York Times, Investor's
Business Daily and a host of other domestic publications, and she has
been cited in publications as far away as France, Australia and India.
In addition, Katherine recently participated in an eye-opening yet
entertaining segment on shopper cards by the Canadian Broadcasting
The written version of the CBC piece is online here:
The streaming video (RealPlayer) version of the CBC piece is online
2. AUSTRALIAN CASPIAN MEMBER publishes a novel. It's a terrific
examination of a boy coming of age in a consumerism-centric society.
Psychologist Shaun Saunders drew on his doctoral dissertation data in
creating the novel, so there's a real feel of imminence to the book,
titled "Mallcity 14". Dr. Saunders was kind enough to send me a copy of
the book, which I have reviewed:
3. CASPIAN MEMBERS SOUND OFF
Here is just one of the hundreds of email messages of support we receive
"I will buy a sheep, shear it, card it, spin it, and learn how to knit
before I knowingly buy any clothing with an RFID tag in it."
-Lynn, in Wisconsin
ACTIVISM TOOLS YOU CAN USE
1: CASPIAN member's novel a great educational tool
As mentioned above, Dr. Saunders' book "Mallcity 14" is a novel that
touches on many of the privacy issues we're facing today. A novel based
on research may sound intimidating, but Saunders did an excellent job of
creating an interesting story and characters. If you're having trouble
convincing people of the state of consumer privacy today, consider
giving them "Mallcity 14". It's available online from Trafford
2: Arguments against a national sales tax
Claire Wolfe & Aaron Zelman have written a great article detailing many
reasons to oppose national sales tax. Their article, titled "The
FairTax: A Trojan Horse for America?" echoes CASPIAN founder Katherine
Albrecht's concern that a national sales tax could lead to unprecedented
government surveillance of our purchases and personal belongings, among
other problems. Read it online here:
3: PBS show "The Persuaders" available online
"The Persuaders" is an interesting examination of the worlds of
marketing and advertising in the U.S. The claim is made that Americans
increasingly rely on advertising for more than purchase information, but
for broader uses, including what to think and whom to trust. If you
missed it last week, it's available from the PBS web site, in either
Windows Media or RealPlayer format, and via high or low-bandwidth
CASPIAN: Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering
Opposing supermarket "loyalty" cards and other retail surveillance
schemes since 1999
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may find it of interest.