Friday, May 19, 2006

We're not there yet but . . .

We have the means to reduce illegal immigration using technology. Already some folks are talking about bio-metric identification cards. There are even more sophisticated ways to track things, including people.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is here. Most of us don't know much about it. As we learn more about it we will be astonished and, perhaps, frightened by the many ways it will be used.

RFID tags consist of a flat antenna and an embedded chip that can be as small as a grain of sand. The tags work in conjunction with a reader that emits radio waves as it searches for tags. Once the tag is within reading distance (it varies but can be as far away as 40 feet or more), it picks up the unique information on the tag.

The technology is, in a sense, this generation’s version of a bar code, but more sophisticated and intrusive. And with the ability to deliver a lot more unique information.

To date, RFID is tracking pallets of goods as they’re shipped around the world, and even individual items within retail stores. But the technology is not confined to hard goods. Club goers in some European cities are embracing subcutaneous chips, which allow them to party to their hearts’ content without the need of carrying a wallet or purse. Apparently their identification, which is matched to the club record of their credit card informaiton, can be pulled from the chip. Pets are getting the chip too. If Fido wanders off, all a dog warden has to do is pass a reader over him to find out where he belongs.

Is implanting humans with RFID— guest workers, tourists, felons, sex offenders, whatever — a good idea? The idea scares me to death. But the technology to track people is here . . . and you can bet somebody somewhere is considering implementing it in some form. — Ron Hall

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