Say Goodbye To Bar Codes
And Hello To RFID
Big Brother Technology Getting A Little Too Real

By Jeremy Rogalski
11 News - Houston

HOUSTON -- Could a wave of the future wash away your personal privacy? New technology is raising old fears and you need to know how you might be, in essence, tracked for years.
Wouldn't it be nice if the next time you went grocery shopping you didn't have to wait in the checkout line?
"So I take it off the shelf, I put it in the cart," explains University of Houston professor, Dennis Adams. "And I walk out."
How? Everything would just be scanned all at once and totaled.
Say goodbye to the bar code and hello to Radio Frequency Identification, RFID for short.
RFID consists of tiny chips that in a way can talk. It's a means of information exchange between two devices by using radio waves. You may have already used it yourself to get into the office or to get through the E-Z tag lanes on the toll road.
Businesses see it as a major money saver. "In a typical medium-size refinery they would find savings of about $1.5 million to $2 million per year," says Don Frieden with SAT Corporation.
Houston-based SAT Corporation uses it to streamline inspections of petro-chemical equipment. RFID tags are read by a handheld computer, which sends inspection data to a central network all in real time.
It's much different than in the past. "They would use just a clipboard and piece of paper," says Frieden.
The Port of Houston tracks containers with RFID to spot contraband and curb terrorism. And airlines are outfitting luggage tags to minimize lost baggage.
From the Michelin Man putting chips in his tires to marathon runners wearing RFID-labeled shoelaces, the possibilities are endless.
Right now Frito Lay is working on embedding an RF chip into the paint of a bag of chips with the metallic packing serving as a huge antenna. And that can store your personal information long after the bag is thrown away.
With all the wizardry comes a warning. "The scary part of the use of that tag is it exists after we buy the product," says Adams.
So the sweater you buy at the store to the shoes you walk out with to the car you drive away could all be traced specifically to you just with that tiny chip inside.
"I think potentially," says Adams. "This could be a Big Brother problem."
Orwellian concerns over privacy may no longer be just Hollywood hype. The future may soon be staring us in the face.
Dennis Adams covers the social impact issues with graduate students at the University of Houston's Bauer College of Business.
"The more information they find out about me, the more Spam, the more e-mail, the more direct marketing I'm going to get," says one UH student. "It's just going to be a big irritant."
"Anything can be tapped into," adds another student. "Anyone can be listening in."
"You know, I won't have any privacy," says a third.
It's not a question of if, but when the technology will pervade our everyday lives. "If we abandon our rights and don't voice our concerns someone is going to use this information either for us or against us," says Adams.
When you consider companies, such as VeriChip, are already implanting chips into people, for example to track a person's medical history, the ethical concerns, many say, can't afford to be ignored.
Privacy concerns have prompted some companies to slow down development. Wal-Mart for example chose not to tryout RFID on store shelves for now -- only in its warehouses to manage inventory.




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