Injecting RFID into the Immigration Mess, Literally

 
 
By Evan Schuman  |  Posted 2006-05-19 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Opinion: The CEO of Applied Digital has gone on TV to suggest implanting his RFID chips into the arms of registered aliens to address immigration issues. Some ideas are so awful that words don't do them justice.

Applied Digital CEO Scott Silverman was a guest the week of May 15 on a Fox News show called Fox & Friends First, and he was there to give the immigration debate a shot in the arm. Or to implant his company in the middle of the controversy. No matter which wordplay is used, he was there to argue that the U.S. government should buy tons of his implantable RFID (radio-frequency identification) chips and literally inject them into the arms of immigrants who are guest workers in the United States. The chips would come from Applied Digital subsidiary VeriChip and are the same ones that a handful of people have already had injected into their arms, including the CIO of the Harvard Medical School.
On the show—Applied Digital offered a copy of the transcript—Silverman said the injection would be entirely voluntary. "Its an election on the part of the immigrant or an election on the part of the government, when we ultimately define what that technology is that no one has defined yet," he said. (The second half of that quote says nothing, but I kept it in for any philosophy and logic majors who want to try and puzzle it out.)
Click here to read about one airports interest in using RFID to track luggage—and passengers. Lets take a closer look. First, the "election on the part of the government" would certainly impact how optional it was. More to the point, though, how optional would it be as a practical matter? Youre a Mexican worker and youre trying to get a job, surrounded by others who will gladly take any gig you decline. Would you dare to refuse, knowing that your rivals may instead comply? Also knowing that American security agents are on the lookout for terrorists, would you really want to attract the kind of attention that comes from refusing an identification technique?
Lest we forget how volatile it is out there, U.S. border patrol agents shot and killed a man on May 18 as he was trying to drive his sports utility vehicle from San Diego to Tijuana, Mexico. The reality is that this is not at all going to be seen as truly voluntary. OK, but is there a legitimate reason for workers to resist? Absolutely. This technology has been implanted in relatively small numbers of people for a relatively short period of time. No long-term, large-scale testing has done, and there is no way to know what kind of health risks are posed by inserting this little glass tube into a persons upper arm. What about privacy? Silverman was asked to respond to the statement, "A lot of people would say that its dangerous, that its invasive, it could be used to infringe on our civil liberties by tracking us." His reply avoided the first two-thirds of the question—Id do the same if I were trying to hawk what hes hawking—and narrowly addressed the tracking issue. Should the federal government support RFID tagging of human remains? Click here to read more. "This is not a locating device. This has no GPS capabilities in it whatsoever," he said. "It is purely an identification device that reads a unique 16-digit identifier with a proprietary scanner within a very short range. Its a passive device with no power source under the skin that ties to a database where the relevant information is stored." As far as I can tell, this is absolutely true, but its also misleading. Yes, its true in the sense that satellites wont—at this time—be able to track legal aliens as they move around town. But if a government or business decided to place enough of those readers in strategic locations—outside bars, gun shops, libraries, political offices and even tollbooths—people theoretically could be tracked. Silverman also said that the U.S. government was considering this. "We have talked to many people in Washington about using it as an application for a guest worker program. But we cannot say today that they have actually bought it for immigration purposes," he said. But lets get away from these trivial life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness issues. What does this mean for the RFID and EPC (Electronic Product Code) industries? This effort—even if it fails—is a gift-wrapped, bow-topped special keepsake for every RFID opponent in the world. It combines overreaching and intrusiveness with a healthy dose of racism (Quick show of hands: How many people think this was designed with Canadians in mind?) Thats just what the industry needs now. Ironically, the RFID movement is starting to get some serious traction, with Proctor & Gamble and others starting to truly prove return on investment beyond the supply chain. Now is not the time to give ammunition to those who want to derail RFID. But if someone indeed wants to do that, they have found an ideal spokesperson in Scott Silverman. Evan Schuman is retail editor for Ziff Davis Internets Enterprise Edit group. He has tracked high-tech issues since 1987, has been opinionated long before that and doesnt plan to stop anytime soon. He can be reached at Evan_Schuman@ziffdavis.com. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on technologys impact on retail.
 
 
 
 
Evan Schuman is the editor of CIOInsight.com's Retail industry center. He has covered retail technology issues since 1988 for Ziff-Davis, CMP Media, IDG, Penton, Lebhar-Friedman, VNU, BusinessWeek, Business 2.0 and United Press International, among others. He can be reached by e-mail at Evan.Schuman@ziffdavisenterprise.com.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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