RFID stands for Radio
Frequency IDentification, a technology that uses
computer chips smaller than a grain of sand to track items at a
distance. RFID "spy chips" have been hidden in the packaging of
Gillette razor products and in other products you might buy at a local
Wal-Mart, Target, or Tesco - and they are already being used to spy on
(Photo: © Liz McIntyre 2003)
Above: Magnified image of actual tag found in Gillette Mach3 razor
Each tiny chip is hooked up to
antenna that picks up electromagnetic energy beamed at it from a reader
device. When it picks up the energy, the chip sends back its unique
identification number to the reader device, allowing the item to be
remotely indentified. Spy chips can beam back information anywhere from
a couple of inches to up to 20 or 30 feet away.
Some of the world's largest product
have been plotting behind closed doors since 1999
to develop and commercialize this technology. If they are not opposed,
plan is use these remote-readable spy chips to replace
the bar code.
This is NOT an "improved bar code" as
the proponents of the technology would like you to believe. RFID
technology differs from bar codes in three important ways:
1. With bar code technology,
every can of Coke has the same UPC or bar code number (a can of Coke in
Toronto has the same number as a can of Coke in Topeka). With RFID,
each individual can of Coke would have a unique ID number which could
be linked to the person buying it when they scan a credit card or a
card (i.e., a "registration system").
2. The second way it's different from a bar
code is that these chips can be read from a
distance, right through your clothes, wallet, backpack or
purse--without your knowledge or consent--by anybody with the right
reader device. In a way, it gives strangers x-ray vision powers to spy
you, to identify both you and the things you're wearing and carrying.
3. Unlike the bar code, RFID could be bad for your health. RFID
supporters envision a world where RFID reader devices are everywhere -
in stores, in floors, in doorways, on airplanes -- even in the
refrigerators and medicine cabinets of our own homes. In such a world,
we and our children would be continually bombarded with
electromagnetic energy. Researchers do not know the long-term
health effects of chronic exposure to the energy emitted by these
Many huge corporations, including Philip Morris, Procter & Gamble,
and Wal-Mart, have begun experimenting with RFID spy chip technology. Gillette
is leading the pack, and recently placed an order for up to 500
million RFID tags from a company called "Alien Technology" (we kid
you not). These big companies envision a day when every
single product on the face of the planet is tracked with RFID spy chips!
As consumers we have no way of knowing which packages contain these
chips. While some chips are visible inside a package (see our pictures of
Gillette spy chips), RFID chips can be well hidden. For
can be sewn into the seams of clothes, sandwiched between layers of
cardboard, molded into plastic or rubber, and integrated into consumer
This technology is rapidly evolving and becoming more sophisticated.
Now RFID spy chips can even be printed, meaning the dot on a
letter "i" could be used to track you. In addition, the tell-tale
antennas commonly seen attached to RFID chips can now be printed with
ink, making them nearly imperceptible. Companies are even
experimenting with making the product packages themselves serve as
As you can see, it could soon be virtually impossible for a consumer to
know whether a product or package contains an RFID spy chip. For this
reason, CASPIAN (the creator of this web site) is proposing federal
labeling legislation, the RFID Right to
Know Act of 2003, which would require complete disclosures on any
consumer products containing RFID devices.
We believe the public has an absolute right to know when they are
interacting with technology that could affect their health and privacy.
Join us. Let's fight this
battle before big corporations track our every move.
For additional information, see "RFID:
Tracking Everything Everywhere", an excerpt from an article by
CASPIAN founder Katherine Albrecht, Ed.M. that appeared in the Summer
2002 issue of the Denver University Law Review.