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Michi’s blog » This came faster than expected…

 This came faster than expected…

  • February 13th, 2006
  • 10:09 am

Breaking news! Just in from /.

According to this article, there is a Cincinnati-based company that just had two of its employees implant glass-encapsulated RFIDtags in their biceps as a part of the access control system to their datacenter.

And we’re one step closer to the artificial linking of identity verification to body parts.

I see two aspects to discuss here. One is of the inherent security problems with the solution, and the other is about the sci-fi feel and possible problems and antagonists.

So let’s start with the second aspect. I can remember a lesson in eight grade, discussing in our social sciences class, where I suggested use of passive radio transmitters to implant small chips in people that would work as a central for identification and verification. The implanted chip would be used as ID card, as credit card et.c. et.c. and you wouldn’t have to juggle cards at all any longer. I was quite taken by the vision I had – until my baptist pastor of a teacher started quoting relevations on me, claiming that such an implant would be a perfect example of how the Mark of the Beast would manifest.

And even if you don’t take the christian whacko-angle on it, there is a teeensy problem with a big brother society inherent in the construction. All of a sudden, all you’d need are RFID readers with loggers placed all over town, and everybody with a tag could be tracked. Why not tag everyone convicted for a crime, so that we can check if they had been present at new crime scenes. Better yet, why not tag everyone accused of a crime so that even if we don’t get them the first time we could get them the second time! Or .. I know! Let’s tag EVERYBODY! I mean, it’s not like you’d get into trouble unless you did something wrong, citizen.

Hrm. No, that leads down the slippery slope. Far too quickly.

How about inherent security? If you carry the chip in your biceps, you should be home free? Right? Right?

Wrong. As seen in the article above, there are already methods out there in the wild to copy RFID chips, including the model used here. So you get an implant, with all that means of infection risks and what not. And you go shopping a few weeks later. In the scuffle at the mall, someone is carrying a RFID scanner/copier – and then promptly produces a non-body internal tag that is (to a scanner) indistinguishable from yours. And look at that pretty security barrier go. Going … going … gone!

In end-effect, I find it somewhat cool that my childhood dreams and visions are coming into the world, but I don’t think I’d take on a bodily carried RFID any time soon.

3 People had this to say...

  • Pehr
  • February 21st, 2006
  • 16:31

What? RFID tags for tracking people? You can’t be serious. It’s far too expensive infrastructure, and far too invasive. Nobody in their sane mind would roll out such as a system… Or would they?

The RFID tags have a very limited reach, which means we would need readers everywhere. That’s their main weakness in such an application. But imagine if we had an active sender instead. One that most people would pay for carrying along every day?

I do not believe in a great monitoring system based on implanted tags. Today we can track some 90% of the population using mobile phones, and the data is stored for quite a long time. We don’t really need a better system. It’s less and less socially acceptable not to carry a mobile phone today and the precision of the tracking system is only getting better.

RFID tags is a gimmick, not a grave security threat. What your operator does with the tracking data from your mobile phone is a grave security threat.

Oh, yes, if you plan on doing something criminal, leave the mobile phone at him. Or, if you even wish to visit a place where a crime might happen. The Swedish police is right now trying to get lists of all mobile phones in areas where crimes have been committed as anybody who’s mobile phone has been nearby is a suspect. Guilt by association. I wonder how long it will take until the location of your mobile phone is enough to end you up in jail. “Your mobile phone travelled at 143 km/h along the E4 highway”

  • sy
  • February 25th, 2006
  • 20:20

RFID is cheap technology, tagging people and placing readers all over society is not that expensive at all, as volume increases economy of scale will kick in (the more we tag the cheaper each unit will be) thus an incentive to tag everything since there is also a profit to be made.

  • JoeB
  • April 27th, 2006
  • 21:09

Ahem… Mikael, I think this is old news. The implanted
chips interacting with entrance control were a telly tale a
number of years ago; on Discovery, I think; and together
with some other cyborg discussion, like experimenting with
electric wiring substituting for lach of neural connection
to the legs muscles (after an accident), and giving a person
with paralysed body but full consciousness the possibility to
communicate by direct brain to e-device interaction,
Especially the latter example was
somewhat thrilling. (The ‘walking by means of electric
impulses’ was done by means of impulses given by hand
signals, and didn’t seem to be principally much advanced
beyond the original ‘galvanic frogs’. We do remember that
experiment, for the first time establishing the electric
nature of nerve signals, don’t we?)

As for Pehr’s other question; I wonder how long it will
take until the location of your mobile phone is enough to
end you up in jail
: There was a criminal court session in
Sweden, just a few days ago, concerning a large robbery in a
suburb of Stockholm. According to the summaries in the
newspapers, prosecution had very little direct evidence.
(E.g.,the accused seemingly were not identified by witnesses;
and none of the stolen money was found.) However, the robbers
hampered persecuting cars by means of some kind of nailed
tools, which they throw out on the way; and the persecution
proved to the satisfactiob of the court that these had been
manufactured at a place owned by some of the accused.
Moreover, according to the records of a mobile phone company,
indeed a cell phone owned by one of the accused had been in
the vicinity of this place the night before the robbery.
Thus, so had the owner of the mobile. Since he hardly could
have been ignorant of the activity going on around him, he at
least must be an accessory, according to the court; and he
was indeed sentenced to prison.

I cannot guarantee that the papers didn’t neglect to report
the presentation of other and more binding evidence. However,
if they didn’t, then this is a clear case of ‘the location of
your mobile phone ending you up in gaol’. (Well, at least
tentatively; I believe that this defendant will appeal.)
Thus, sending people up for owning a cell phone moving in
the wrong places also is old news, Pehr.

Of course, if the guy really was guilty to (at least)
planning and preparing for the robbery, then it is not so bad
that he’s sent to prison. Another question is what other
kinds of activities the authorities might want to trace,
to-day and in the future. Recall, that when the nazis got to
power in Germany (by quite legal means, after winning
Reichstag elections), they immediately had access to all
those means of ‘exceptional measures in exceptional times’,
that the previous more ‘democratic minded’ Weimar republic
governements had instigated.

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