05 October 2006

Gentag Puts Big Brother to Shame

There are many valid concerns about the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags and devices. Wal-Mart, Albertsons, Target, and the US Department of Defense has said that it will encourage all their vendors to use the RFID tags. This makes sense in an inventory-driven business.

What about your cell phone chip or credit card strip being read when you walk in Wal-Mart and have advertising displayed according to your interests and past buying history? This could save you time, right? It would also violate your privacy and open your entire personal and credit history to prying eyes. Do you trust Wal-Mart, Albertsons, Target, and the US Department of Defense to keep your information secure?

Another security concern is the cloning of RFID tags that are used allow access to secure sites and rooms. If the technology is cheap enough for inventory tracking, could it be duplicated to allow access to secure facilities? Do you really want a chip implanted in your hand by your employer? How do you know that is all the chip is tracking?

RFID technology is used in passports
RFID-laced passports may be just the start of an Orwellian airport experience, warn privacy advocates and authors Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre as the nation braces for a rollout of the controversial technology in passports this week.
Gentag, Inc. has patents on some application for new ways to use RFID technology. These uses, on the surface, look like things that could be extremely useful.
  • Nicknamed the Homeland Security cell phone, Gentag holds the patent for the concept of modifying a cell phone to serve as sensor for radiation, hazardous chemicals and explosives.
  • Gentag has a non-GPS geolocation technology that could be used by parents and emergency personnel to locate persons in a disaster.
  • Gentag smart skin-patch technology combines the RFID sensor tag with an adhesive skin patch for monitoring glucose, cardiac function, UV rays, and genetic biomarkers.
The Homeland Security call phone could be a great help to first responders to natural and man-made disasters. Coupled with the geolocation technology, it would enable emergency personnel to locate and rescue people that are incapacitated or trapped in a building, subway or debris stack. It would also enable them to protect themselves from asbestos, radiation, natural gas or biotoxins.

As a parent, I think the geolocation is a great tool for keeping a child safe and locating your teenager. If the child or teen is carrying a cell phone, you would have their location immediately if you felt something was amiss. However, would you want a cell phone with this capability if you were an battered spouse or sexually abused child?

The skin patch technology is scary for several reasons. Genetic biomarkers are present from birth. What if a child is tagged as having a certain gene or disease? What if you think you are being monitored for blood sugar levels or heart function, but are really being scanned for other conditions? Insurance companies could use this information, which would be part of the medical record, to exclude prior existing conditions, that you did not even know you had. In the world of HMOs, the information could be used to withhold treatment or to stop treatment that would be costly.

Am I overreacting? Perhaps. Take a look at SpyChips website. Then think of the Nazis in WWII and what they could have done with this technology. Then think of our present political climate and how our civil right to privacy has being chiseled away in the post-911 world. Do you think RFID technology abuse is a valid concern? Let me know your thoughts.

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