Thursday, June 24, 2004

We Report; You Decide: Walmart the Beast 666? ;-)

What am I talking about? Well as it so appears Walmart is helping advance the usage of scannable chips that can be used to keep track of all consumer goods and buying and selling. Where is it? Coming to a bank or border near you right now!

The technology has been around for a decade -- including use in the E-ZPass system that helps speed drivers through toll booths on many East Coast highways -- but RFID is now robust enough, and getting cheap enough, that it is beginning to transform numerous sectors of the economy by allowing unparalleled tracking of products and people.

Early this month, Reston-based Accenture LLP won a contract worth as much as $10 billion from the Department of Homeland Security that will include using RFID at U.S. border checkpoints.

Delta Air Lines Inc. is testing RFID baggage tags on its service between Jacksonville, Fla., and Atlanta, to help with security and lost luggage. In Great Britain, officials are weighing proposals to embed tags in vehicle license plates. International Business Machines Corp. is seeking to convince banks that their best customers could be issued cards with the tags, allowing them to be immediately recognized when they enter the bank and given red-carpet treatment.

What does this have to do with Walmart?
But Wal-Mart is pressing ahead, announcing last week that it was expanding the program to its top 300 suppliers by 2006. Target Corp. and Albertson's Inc. have announced similar initiatives, as has the Department of Defense, which will affect hundreds of suppliers of everything from bullets to rations.

"RFID will revolutionize . . . the way we do business around the world, and deliver unimaginable benefits," said Simon Langford, Wal-Mart's global director of RFID.

Considering the size and market penetration on a national scale of Walmart, it could be the first step in expanding the electronic tracking of all buying and purchasing. Of course, the industry experts tell us that our fears are overstated. Of course the industry experts on cigarette smoking, asbestos, and PCB's said the exact same thing.
Industry dismisses those kinds of scenarios as paranoia, but Albrecht and other activists have forced companies to pay attention to them. A store in Rheinberg, Germany, took RFID tags out of its loyalty cards after protests. Many large firms working with RFID now have extensive disclosure statements on their Web sites.

"Anonymity is an important issue that must be handled very thoughtfully," said Elliot Maxwell, who heads an international committee that advises EPCGlobal on privacy and other policy issues.

But he also recognizes the RFID paradox: "In order to have the most value to both individuals and society, the infrastructure [to read tags] needs to be widespread," he said, citing medical monitoring and the ability to track toxic products, or stolen guns, as examples. "And yet it is just that widespread infrastructure that raises the most questions."

Well how bad is the technology?
Currently, tags cannot be read at more than about 20 feet, but many say that reading capability will rapidly advance. And given RFID's potential to track stolen goods, privacy activists wonder how long it will be before tags are embedded in money.

But few applications raise more eyebrows than RFID tags implanted in people, a business pursued by Applied Digital Solutions Inc. and its subsidiary, VeriChip Corp., of Palm Beach, Fla.

The company has for years provided rice-grain sized tags for implants into pets and cattle. But it made waves two years ago when a Boca Raton man, his wife and 14-year-old son agreed to let the tags be implanted in them.

The company and the family hoped the tag would speed patients through frequent hospital visits or in the case of an emergency by quickly alerting doctors to a person's identity and medical history. But the FDA quickly stepped in and deemed medical uses of the technology subject to government approval, which is still pending.

Hmmm... what does that remind me of? It's coming to me... coming to me...
The Beast out of the Earth

11Then I saw another beast, coming out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon. 12He exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. 13And he performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men. 14Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth. He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. 16He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, 17so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name.
18This calls for wisdom. If anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is man's number. His number is 666.
[emphasis added]

Well I'm not into apocalyptic fundamental Christianity, but I can't help but be creeped out by this. If nothing else, purely for the reason that I can imagine Ashcroft staying up late nights looking through electronic files to see whether the men's magazine I prefer is Maxim, GQ, or Playboy. That's creepy enough without any of this Beast 666 stuff!


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