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09/27/2005 Archived Entry: "Spychips by Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntire"
AN IMPORTANT NEW BOOK HITS THE MARKET: Spychips: How major corporations and government plan to track your every move with RFID by Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntire.
Earlier this year, I had the creepy pleasure of reading Katherine and Liz's manuscript. I've been dying to tell the world about it but had to keep silent. Now I can urge everyone who cares about freedom and privacy to get a copy of the book. Then get another to wake up a friend or relative.
Before reading Spychips, I felt fairly knowledgeable about radio-frequency ID tags (RFID). RFID chips, as readers of this blog know, are tiny tracking devices that can be attached to or embedded in nearly anything, including human bodies -- and ultimately will be if industry and governments have their way. RFID chips broadcast information about an item and its possessor to any device capable of "pinging" the tag.
I thought I'd been watching closely. But I didn't know the half of what Katherine and Liz reveal in Spychips.
The authors have dug deep into the files of the U.S. patent office. They've attended RFID industry conferences as "moles." They've traveled to Europe and throughout the U.S., uncovering RFID chips -- and disingenuous spin about RFID chips -- in unexpected places.
From this voluminous research and years of activism (Katherine is the founder and head of the privacy group CASPIAN and Liz is its communications director) they've produced a slender, info-packed, and yet highly readable -- and reasonably priced -- hardbound book.
I really must stress, and stress again, that word "readable." Spychips is about a truly frightening topic and a highly technical one, as well. But the book is lucid, concise, witty and at times reads like a novel. Call it a technological thriller. Here, for instance is the opening passage of one chapter:
New York's Metropolitan Opera house buzzed with anticipation as Leon Theremin took the stage for his sold-out American debut. The distinguished young Russian acknowledged the thunderous applause, then positioned himself behind what appeared to be a wooden podium with four legs, a radio antenna, and a metal loop that jutted from the side. After some tuning adjustments, the physicist-turned-musician gently waved his hands in midair near the antenna ... conjuring up haunting wails and moans from an unseen orchestra of radio waves.
(Yes, Leon Theremin, he of the famous horror-movie "whoooooo-eee-oooo" musical instrument, is the ultimate father of the RFID tag. And the very first chips were used, not surprisingly, for spying.)
Another chapter opens hilariously with Katherine and Liz attempting to "kill" chips by microwaving them. Their conclusion: Don't try this at home.
In another chapter, the authors answer an industry document about 50 ways to "improve" a store with RFID with parody lyrics of Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover."
In its combination of scary info and light delivery Spychips reminds me very much of the works of my favorite political writer Jim Bovard. And as with Jim's work, the research is impeccable.
The patent research, in particular, is dynamite. We hear RFID industry spokespeople making soothing noises about how their products are intended only for use in the supply chain, or how they can help make children safer. But the patent applications tell the real story of what RFID advocates intend to do to us. I won't give any more away. But I will say that the information on a particular patent that Katherine and Liz deliver on page 186-188 may well be the most terrifying information I've ever read in my life.
But the book isn't all doomsaying. It also has ample information on what we can do to arm ourselves against the coming onslaught of spying and control. One chapter details the common (patronizing and highly deceptive) industry spin arguments, followed by brief counter-arguments that blow them away. Another chapter describes how angry consumers and citizens can "Pull the Plug!" on spychips. There's also simple, clear descriptions of the various types of RFID tags and their capabilities.
When I visited Spychips' page at Amazon.com I was rather distressed to discover that "customers who bought this book also bought" a collection of dubious books about alien abductions, UFOs, and technological rumors. Spychips deserves more credible company than this. It's factual, well-researched, brilliantly written, and a book that should be taken seriously by anyone who cares about the future. Although it warns of horrors ahead, it does its job without a shred of hysteria or exaggeration. The facts alone -- as written by two such articulate and honest women -- are enough to damn those who want to use RFID technology to achieve global control.
Posted by Claire @ 07:11 AM CST