Lesser of two evils?

More than 250.000 people have watched "ethical hacker" Chris Paget cruising the streets of San Francisco gathering RFID data from the new U.S. PASS cards and "enhanced" chipped drivers licenses. All it took him about $250 for a scanner and an antenna, as well as a piece of software he downloaded from the Internet. The new "e-passports" are now mandatory for U.S. citizens entering the United States from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean, though conventional passports will be accepted as long as they are valid. Paget was able to read and clone the information of the chips within minutes. While only tag numbers were intercepted, not the personal data on the chip, this is enough to identify and track individuals, which brings us a step closer to my favorite nightmare scenario: As I leave the airport in, say, Tunis or Cairo on my way to a nice sunny vacation I am picked up and followed by jihadists bent on killing any American capitalist swine they can find.

This may not be news to most of us, but what struck me was a comment by Gigi Zenk, a spokeswoman for the Washington state Department of Licensing, quoted in today’s edition of the "International Herald Tribune", who believes that "Americans aren't that concerned about RFID" in a time when "tracking an individual is much easier through a cellphone."

Is this simply a brainless bureaucrat talking twaddle, or is she being cynical? Then again, maybe she has a point: If people did care a lot about "little brother", as the global surveillance web is now being referred to, wouldn't they do something about it? Like switch off their mobiles?There have been rpeorts of German tax dodgers being caught because they said they were at home when in fact their phones were in the offices of a bank in Zurich.

In Germany, supposedly a country obsessed with privacy concerns and boasting the strictest data protection laws on the planet, a law calling for issuing RFID-enabled passports passed with hardly a murmur, and they are now gearing up to issue each and every one of their 80-some million citizens a mandatory personal ID card that will also carry a chip.

Maybe cynicism does help. How about this: If everybody is naked, nobody will be bothered by nakedness. Just blend in with the crowd. Implant an RFID chip in every forehead. There's safety in numbers, after all. Or then again, maybe not...



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