The Social Implications of Radio-Frequency IDentification

Good afternoon everyone. My name is William Herbert, and for identification purposes only I am the Deputy Chair of the New York State Public Employment Relations Board. You may be wondering why am I here.  In fact, my scholarship has been involved with issues involving RFID, GPS and other forms of technology, as a legal perspective.  I was asked to moderate, I think partially, this panel because of my background in labour relations, in which we have conflicting views frequently in labour, and my agency’s role is frequently brought in to try to bring some kind of bridges between varying positions on issues, at least in the workplace.  We have over the past two days been very fortunate to hear very diverse viewpoints on the issue of RFID.  And I thought it was appropriate that we try to bring those diverging voices together in seeking to bring some degree of bridging of these different ideas to try to aim towards bringing some degree of harmony about a perspective, or at least the first steps towards that perspective.  As Roger Clarke mentioned earlier in his talk, there is a need for this kind of dialogue and I think this panel will be a very good first step or second step in that process.

So the question I'm going to be asking for the panellists today is: can societies develop a balanced response to radio-frequency identification (RFID)?  And when I use the word RFID, I'm discussing both the technology, not limited to implants, but just the technology itself.  So with that question, I'm going to first ask Roger to discuss whether societies can develop a balanced response to RFID technology.

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DangerousThings - Amal Graafstra Presents at ISTAS10

Public reaction – angry. I get a lot of angry emails, calls, and things like that. There are some people that wish I’d just go away, and there are others claiming that I am somehow helping “the conspiracy”. This is just kind of a little thing that I thought up, about the cycle of fear that I’ve noticed when talking to people. So when people come to me and they’re angry about things, I try to engage them in conversation but usually they’re afraid of misconceptions about the technology. They think that somehow the GPS satellites are communicating with this tag – which really only has a three-inch read range – and somehow reporting my location, “Can’t they track you?” … the elusive “they”.

So you know, they’re afraid of something they’re not sure of and they take action because they’re afraid. Then people that know about it respond, usually poorly. This interaction reveals to the angry people that they really don’t know what it is they’re talking about. And what’s interesting is that they have a new fear then, and that fear causes them not to want to learn about the technology. They don’t want to engage, because they somehow feel that if they learn about it, maybe their fears are unfounded or whatever. But it’s a cycle that repeats quite often. So the concept is that, you know, somehow now your body is up for sale, and companies and governments are vying for it.

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