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« CRN Gets Podcasted | Main | Sudden Dramatic Progress »

October 13, 2005


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Mike Deering

Unless someone has put a RFID chip reader in your home or on your private land, the only time you are exposed to observation is when you're in public. When you're in public you're exposed to observation already. So what is the big deal? If you don't like spy-chips this just provides a market for someone to provide a way of disabling them. It can't be that hard, strong magnetic field, or electrostatic discharge. Build a spy-chip zapper and make a million bucks.

Janessa Ravenwood

Mike Deering: Actually, there is a privacy risk with these in your own home if anyone feels like doing a "drive by scanning" of your house to see what you have. (If you care). Personally, I'm pretty darn paranoid, concerned about privacy...and RFID fails to really interest me on the privacy front. They're too easy to zap or get rid of if I feel like it. If it ever gets to the point where they really bug me (ha!), I'll go buy my own RFID reader, wander around my house and find all the tags, and zap/yank them. Problem solved. But really, someone knowing that, why yes, apparently she DOES own a blouse from Talbots isn't something I lose a lot of sleep over.

Janessa Ravenwood

Mike Treder: Put me down in the Strong Privacy / libertarian / techno-fixes camp. Your side will try to take my privacy away, my side will try to help me preserve it. Much like file sharing and DRM, it'll just become another ongoing battle that doesn't end. Nothing really new there.

occom's comic

If you truly, want to keep your anonymity, your approach will not work. By removing all the RFID chips you create a very special type of signal. (the absence of a response) Just like people today who send send out encrypted messages are flagged for closer scrutiny (social network analysis, financial transaction analysis etc.) the lack of a RFID signal will be a big red flag. You may be better off selectively destroying, altering, or replacing the RFID chips.


Jamais Cascio of WorldChanging calls this the 'participatory panopticon'. He envisions it as the coming together of wife, mobile communications and always-on camera's. We're all worrying about the cultural and geopolitical effects of strong nano, but maybe that's not the issue.

Cascio sees the participatory panopticon as a tool for democracy: sousveillance. It will of course mean changing civil rights: will you have the right to lie? It's very American to move someplace else and start allover again, without any mention of your past. With the panopticon, you'd have, say, reputation networks and the people in your new neighbourhood would know all about your activities, instantly.

So I'd say RFID chips are reason for concern, but we're not thinking through what might grow out of it. I think we need to discuss much more 'freaky things' (including sf-nano), before a particular freaky thing scares us all (or just lawmakers) into doing something really stupid.

Mike Treder, CRN

Good point, Rik. I was going to mention sousveillance and the participatory panopticon, but the blog entry was just getting too long.

We've discussed this stuff before, though, and here's a link to what Jamais says about it.

Mike Deering

Freedom, privacy, self ownership, any government is fundamentally incompatible with these values. The only way you can be free to to leave this planet, this star system behind and go on your own. maybe that is the reason the galaxy, the universe, is so big. To give us room to be free.

Phillip Huggan

Fail-proof spying might actually be used to safeguard MM prototyping. If the late stages of a research programme and the early stages of MM product prototyping and factory scale-up can reliably be broadcast in real-time, no other entity has any reason to fear nano-weapons are being built for conquest, as it could be reliably verified none are being built. Could broadcasts sent to various locales from the proto-factory utilizing quantum encryptions fulfill this purpose? Anyone know any other methods to reliably demonstrate effective MM activities documentation?

Tom Craver

If it becomes practical to pick up RFIDs from within buildings, here are some interesting lists of RFID tags that some might find it interesting to compile:

Tim's barn:
- 12 bags "HiGro" fertilizer
- 3, 10gal fuel "jerry cans"
- 3 blue plastic drums
- 15 issues "Soldier of Fortune" magazine

Father Joe's manse:
- 7 electronic games from Toy's-R-Us
- 4 shirts, boys
- 4 pairs pants, boys
- 4 pair shoes, boys size 8
- 4 bookbags, 7 textbooks, grades 2nd-5th
- 1 digital camera
- 10 FotoPrint refill cartridges

Jill's double-wide:
- 1 bag "HiGro" fertilizer
- 4 bags "FerTill" potting soil
- 8 flourescent light fixtures
- 16 3'x6" plant trays
- 5 issues "High Times" magazine

Tom's garage:
- 1 Edmund Scientific AFM project kit
- 1 TSA-approved, ROM-limited nanoFac
- 9 issues "NanoHack" magazine

Of course, if you're innocent, you have nothing to worry about...

Tom Craver

Just to clarify, in case you got the wrong idea from the above RFID lists:

- Tim's a veteran - earned the bronze star. He's starting up a small truck farm. Homeland security is now keeping a close eye on this suspected domestic terrorist.

- Father Joe visits a school for orphaned boys every weekend, taking gifts from members of his church. But he won't make it this weekend, as the police will be searching his manse and digging up the basement floor.

- Everyone raves about Jill's African Violets. She's hoping to sell enough to start her own greenhouse. Unfortunately she's about to lose most of her equipment in a DEA raid, followed by a visit from the zoning commission, who will shut her down for operating a business from her home without a permit.

- Tom? Well, yeah, he really is a criminal - he's trying to gain un-restricted molecular nanotech so he can make his own designs or designs from the underground MNT hobbyist movement. Fiend!

Janessa Ravenwood

Tom: If we were neighbors, they'd be raiding us both. :-)

Michael Anissimov

Incidentally, it seems likely that nanofactories will actually arrive prior to RFID achieving the level of ubiquity folks are suggesting above. In a sense this is worrisome, because as Mike suggests, running a post-nanofactory society without danger requires transparency and accountability. By the time nanofactories arrive, people may not be used to this idea yet. Yet it seems like a natural precaution to ensure that RFID chips be embedded in every single nanofactory and nanomanufactured product. (In fact, I would propose that including such identification chips in every product as a default feature be mandated by law. The common-use NanoCAD program would automatically insert the chips, and prohibit any means of turning this function off.) This would allow fast auditing of any potential troublemakers.

Mike Treder, CRN


- However, thanks to the participatory panopticon, these obvious wrongs (of police, DEA, Homeland Security) became immediately and widely known and amends were made in short order.

Janessa Ravenwood

Michael: Not necessarily. With your restricted nanofac, you build the tools to build the tools to build the tools (etc.) to build an unrestricted nanofac (to prevent this, your proposed security has to perfect worldwide 100% of the time forever – the hackers only have to be clever/lucky ONCE). And if the absence of RFID chips is a problem, forge your own that say your illegal stuff is a cheap alarm clock or whatnot. Also, keeping your cool unrestricted illegal nanofac in a basement Faraday Cage would be a good idea; the crappy restricted-to-death legal one can be in the kitchen to make groceries (if it’s even allowed to do that). So I don’t see that stopping us in the “rebel underground” for very long. Viva the nano-underground! :-)

Tom Craver

Mike: Sorry - but you're taking a hypothetical example of technological determinism far too seriously and optimistically.

1. The government will force exceptions to the "panopticon" exactly where you think it would do the most good.

2. Exposure of government abuses of power doesn't usually result in amends being made or even their behavior changing, as long as discrimination is not involved and there is some over-riding "national interest" involved (e.g. security, drug war).

For point 1 - expect the government to require digital camera makers (all kinds) to build in a "remote cut-off" feature, so that cameras can be disabled in "sensitive" areas.

Who will get to decide what is sensitive? Just about anyone who has any claim to a "security" role - and that will INCLUDE the police when making an arrest. The police will be making their own recording of the arrest, so there's no need for YOU to interfere - in fact it'll be illegal interference if you do.

This technology will also be used to limit imaging of politicians to photo-ops. You'll know a politician is around when the red LED lights up on your camera to indicate that a "sensitive zone" has just moved in on you.

Just as we no longer have truly free speech and freedom of association when it might embarrass government officials (unless you consider "free speech zones" anything other than Orwellian double-speak), we will find "imaging" is not a right, when it comes to anything the government doesn't want imaged.

Point 2 - Consider how stringently the well documented FBI and Air Force failures around 911 have been dealt with. Oops, no one was fired or demoted? Except those whose warnings were ignored, and foolishly made a stink about it afterward - does that count?

Or consider the commonly observed and well publicized abuses, incompetence and corruption of the TSA. Why isn't the Panopticon already forcing changes in their methods? Is there something magical about massive imaging that will suddenly make it more effective? If so, how effective will the Panopticon be when that red LED goes on as you step into the airport? (See point 1.)

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