It's convenient, that during the Christmas season when millions of shoppers are scrambling to get gifts and breaking out those credit cards to make purchases, Target confirms that over 40 million credit card numbers and their pins were directly stolen through a glitch in their transaction system which exposed the data for hackers to gain access. This means that the Target glitch, its successive break-in by hackers, has become one of the largest intentional breaches in American credit card history. Conveniently, banks and credit industry leaders are coming in for the rescue, wanting to use "new" card designs that have been "popular" in Europe and elsewhere that utilize RFID chips or integrated circuits in the cards to hold the information "more securely" than magnetic strips. Supposedly.
Katherine Albrecht, a leading RFID and privacy security expert, has denounced the use of such technology and has written one of the most concise and breakthrough books on the subject called "SpyChips." "SpyChips" chronicles the best cases and a wide variety of scenarios that RFID in particular can notoriously be used for and abused. RFID has posed one danger that has persisted in an underclass of scientific and civil rights debates for more than two decades. Three things are often attributed as being paramount to using RFID tech:
Convenience: When it comes to RFID, industry leaders would love to take this technology and put it on everything in the world if they could, including under your skin or more easily for the time being, in your pocket. The argument is that it would allow all sorts of things in stores or elsewhere to have its own unique "identity" which would then communicate with scanners placed "everywhere" to read the data and share it, to make purchases easier or overall create a more "interactive world." The tech exists and has even been tested on some towns in Europe.
Marketing: Now companies can utilize this information and tie it to individual identities. In a "Minority Report" fashion, stores could show you personal ads based on your buying habits or even scarier, remind you that you're out of milk and your fridge needs restocked with another gallon of it. What about reminding you that you love a product, and offering you personal discounts which would be sent to your email? Just imagine the magnitude of all the stuff we have and buy and what we do with it, where we take it, or where we use it.
Government tracking and spying: This may be the most simple to describe and yet the most obscure. Take for example all of the things that companies could do through their use of ubiquitous RFID tagging and bridging those things with individual identities. Government can and I favor, will, use such things likewise. Then, add in all the ways that governments and others are using biometrics and the near ubiquitous video and audio recording from a myriad of devices in a myriad of places, and who knows what else, and start to see the massive web of entanglement which we are already subject to on an daily basis.
Target Forensic Services
It should also be an interesting footnote to learn that the Target Corporation has its very own forensic labs which rival the governments own. Called Target Forensic Services, these forensic labs are primarily used internally for Target's own purposes like investigating fraud and organized retail crimes. Target goes even further than that, by using their state of the art facilities in Las Vegas and Minneapolis, to help the U.S. government with some of its toughest cases including felony, homicide, and other special investigations. Is there cause for concern, this close corporate-government relationship? I think the best quote would come from David Knight at Infowars:
"We've just seen one of the most massive thefts of financial data ever - stolen from a company that has been the leader in forensic sophistication for 20 years. A company the government relies upon to investigate crime. If you were a criminal hacker, sophisticated enough to get away with a crime of that magnitude, wouldn't you know about Target's Forensic Services? Wouldn't another company be an easier mark?"
There is a good episode of "The Twilight Zone: The Obsolete Man" when Rod Serling narrates: "You walk into this room at your own risk, because it leads to the future; not a future that will be, but one that might be ..." With that, what future could we have? There are innumerable obstacles in our digital age. We've seen only a small portion with the recent NSA Snowden scandal. There is a panopticon web of secret spying going on, by governments and corporations everywhere, all of the time. From cameras watching us every day, inside our homes and out, the "smart" homes and "smart" technology which is being mandated by EPA and pushed by the corporate structure, to our own subversion of cellular phones and their advanced technologies which allow back-doors to be built-in. We're already living in the future, and through the awesome power of pop culture and a powerful state-run indoctrination system, we believe this is the world in which we must live.
The future is today and the Target credit card problems and the ushering in of widespread use of RFID in sectors like credit and banking, this surely is a brave new world order which offers convenience and so-called safety, at the expense of privacy and the true identity of the individual. This may be a wonder of modern science and engineering, and at the same time the greatest threat to humanity and the coming singularity. This may be the world in which we live, but is this the world in which we must? Stop and think.
Sam Ludtman lives in Reno.