Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Relief For Idealist Dilemmas

Have you heard of RFIDs?

RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) tags are cheap little computer chips that can be embedded in virtually everything, from clothing to cows' ears, from TV dinners to EZ-Passes. They can be scanned more easily, and from farther away, than bar codes. They can also hold more data.

Big retailers love them, as do livestock managers, way too many government officials, and not a few over-protective pet owners.

Sane people, of course, are in despair about RFIDs, seeing them as yet another invasion of privacy. Worse, RFIDs will soon provide a new means for identity theft, assuming that the gummint's plan to place them in passports is implemented -- it's pretty easy to build a scanner and hang out at the airport.

Not to worry, though. Your FDA (now a wholly-owned subsidiary of James Dobson Enterprises) has only approved one such device for injection into humans.

So far.

Hang in there. It gets even worse.

It turns out that RFIDs can be infected with computer viruses, and that these viruses can propogate through databases that are connected to the scanners. And since many databases are connected to still other databases . . . well, you get the picture.

After reading a story in today's NY Times, I Googled Andrew S. Tannenbaum, one of the researchers who exposed this flaw. His web site gives the link to the group's published work on this susceptibility. It is a fascinating and frightening read. (There is also a companion web site that deals with the privacy issues related to RFIDs.)

What to do, with the certain end of civilization looming? Flee these sober sites and start randomly surfing, of course!

Here are a couple of mood-lighteners that I came across:

First, remember that former Bush Administration domestic policy adviser and nominee for the United States Court of Appeals, Claude Allen? The guy who was recently busted for stealing stuff from Target and other stores, and then trying to return it for refunds?

Today's NY Times's editorial page had this to say about the matter:

If the current Congress had been called on to intervene in the case of Mr. Allen, it would probably have tried to legalize shoplifting.

And second, a bumper sticker for the chemist in all of us:

If you're not part of the solution,
you're part of the precipitate.

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