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By Jack Ganssle

I know What You Did Last Summer

Published 2/21/2002

Pessimists predicted that the Internet would spell the doom of privacy. They figured our lives would be on-line. Banking, driving records, judgments, divorces and the paper trail we leave in our wake will be visible for all to see.

They were optimistic. The net itself is but a small part of the problem, and may indeed enable other, more frightening invasions into our personal lives. We embedded folks are building the next generation of big brother tools.

According to the EE Times (http://www.eetimes.com/story/OEG20020215S0046) four people have lined up to have RFID devices (radio frequency identification) implanted in their bodies. One, a Brazilian federal minister, feels it will be a deterrent against kidnapping, a crime rampant in his home city of Sao Paulo. The others are members of a family fearful of medical emergencies. If the paramedics come running to their rescue this technology will immediately show their histories, including drug allergies.

Of course, at this time no EMT has an RFID scanner.

The device is the VeriChip by Applied Digital Solutions (http://www.adsx.com/). It's injected subcutaneously via a syringe. A scanner within a few meters can detect the device's signature, uniquely identifying a person.

Today identity theft is a growing problem, made easier by the wide availability of personal information. What happens when implanted RFID tags become widespread? Unscrupulous hackers could sit on a park bench, scanning people as they stroll by, acquiring the unique signatures for later criminal activities. Do it in Beverly Hills and suck in the IDs of the rich and famous, the most attractive targets of all.

No doubt we'll be told that personal RFID tags deter crime. Sure, the government could place scanners at all major intersections, acquiring data about who was at the scene of a crime. But it won't be hard to spoof the scanners. Where were you on the night of April 25? At the mall? Ha! The computer said you were in the liquor store at the time of the holdup! And the Supreme Court ruling of 2017 says computer evidence always overrides personal testimony.

A BBC article (http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_1789000/1789157.stm) discusses the proliferation of closed circuit TV cameras. Some 2.5 million CCTV cameras are deployed in the UK today. Many are security devices, planted in car parks (that's Britt for parking garages), banks, and other locations. None were installed with the intent of digging into people's private lives; most are for noble purposes, to help deter crime and protect citizens. But now the average person there is caught on camera 300 times per day!

Surely, these devices will get plugged into the growing world-wide network. Just as surely face identification software will evolve, get more accurate, faster, and as ubiquitous as email. And even more surely, crooks, bored teenaged hackers, terrorists and rogue intelligence agencies will monitor our every move.

Just this week Acme Rental Cars (http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/national/AP-Rental-Car-Tracking.html) was ordered to stop fining customers who speed. They used satellites to track rental scofflaws, automatically debiting customer accounts $150 per violation. Big brother is watching from the inky depths of space. and we're talking a commercial company, not the oft-maligned CIA.

EDN magazine recently reported (- http://www.e-insite.net/ednmag/index.asp?layout=article&articleId=CA185948) about technology being added to cars that reports everything but your fast food choices to auto mechanics and perhaps others. Speeding? The machine knows. Missed a Jiffy Lube appointment? There goes your warranty.

What do you think? Are we embedded folks building a world where people will be shackled by the technology?