1. Copyright Spring 2008: Journal of Business and Behavior Science
RADIO FREQUENCY IDENTIFICATION (RFID): AN
ORWELLIAN 1984 TECHNOLOGY
Scanlan, David A.
California State University, Sacramento
ABSTRACT: RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology must be
treated as we treat fire. It would not be wise to eliminate fire, but we must
strictly control it. The author has been closely following the development of
RFID technology for several years and is actively involved in exposing both its
positive and extremely negative characteristics. We are all familiar with the
expression, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren’t out to get
you." As for RFID technology, perhaps we should restate the expression this
way: "Just because your paranoid doesn't mean their not out to track you around
the globe and even chip you." When you finish reading this article you may
agree that RFID technology is likely to aid in the creation of an Orwellian society
unless it is strictly controlled. We will never control it, unless we understand
RFID's potential for abuse and accept the fact that many corporations and
governments are actively embracing RFID technology in ways that may lead to
an Orwellian society. This article describes the basic technology of RFID and
cites multiple examples of where and how it is being used. Every attempt is
made to include the very latest information. RFID can be a benefit to society, but
there is a point, a Rubicon, that we dare not cross, if we value our freedoms. It is
possible we have already crossed this Rubicon, a point of no return.
The major purpose of this article is to expose the dangers of RFID
(Radio Frequency Identification) technology. No attempt is made to present its
positive characteristics, of which, there are many. Every effort is made to include
the latest RFID information. This article is important because most individuals
in business and even in information systems are not aware of the dangers inherit
in RFID technology. They are typically only aware of its beneficial aspects for
Major corporations and universities are busy building RFID systems
which will track, around the world, every item ever produced, and each RFID
tagged item will have its own Web page. If the items we are wearing, such as
shoes, shirts, eye glasses, socks, etc., are tracked, the person wearing these items
will also be tracked (Auto-ID, 2007). In addition, the use of RFID chips for
humans is at the top of a slippery slope. Presently, humans are having RFID
chips implanted, both voluntarily and involuntarily (Antichip.com, 2007). The
potential for abuse to create a 1984 society is well beyond what even George
Orwell could have imagined.
2. LITERATURE REVIEW
Albrecht and McIntyre (2006) have written the most comprehensive
source for understanding the dangers of the misuse of RFID. These authors
document how major corporations and governments plan to track every purchase,
every item purchased, and every human's movements.
Bradner (2005) covers many of the security issues involved in RFID
technology; for example, research that shows the RFID tags in our new passports
can be read from 30 feet under certain conditions.
Garfinkel and Rosenberg (2005) have compiled a relevant collection of
articles on RFID technology covering RFID applications and security and
Human Micro Chipping (2007): Using these three words (Human,
Micro, Chipping) do a video search on Google. A video called "Human Micro
Chipping" will expose Verichip Corporation's plans to manufacture and sell chips
for human implants that can be tracked by satellite.
Spychips.com is the single best Web site for the most accurate and up-to-
date information on security and privacy issues with RFID.
HOW RFID WORKS: Figure 1 covers the general RFID concept. The main
elements of the RFID system are the reader and the transponder. The reader is a
transmitter and a receiver. The reader radiates radio frequency (RF) waves to the
transponder. These RF waves supply the energy to power the transponder. After
being energized by the RF energy radiated from the reader, the transponder sends
information, such an ID number, back to the reader. Next, the reader sends the
ID number to a computer for processing.
Figure 1: How an RFID system works.
Figure 2 shows an RFID reader and ten common styles of transponders.
The reader is the dark rectangular device which has a USB interface that can be
easily connected to a computer for processing RFID numbers. This particular
reader sells for 48 dollars in quantities of 100. The ten transponders each contain
a small microprocessor and an antenna. The white, credit-card transponders are
very inexpensive, about 75 cents in quantities of 1,000.
3. Figure 2: Ten common transponders and one RFID reader. (Photo by Author)
The smallest RFID transponder just announced by Hitachi is the size of
the small black dot pointed to by the straight pin in Figure 3. This transponder is
0.05mm x 0.05mm and is expected to be on the market in two or three years.
The cost is estimated to be about 16 cents. These chips can be imbedded in
almost anything: money, paper, postage stamps, eyeglasses, shoelaces, etc.
Figure 3: Shows the size of Hitachi's 0.05mm x 0.05mm RFID chip. Note the
small dot next to the straight pin. (Photo by Author)
Figure 4 is a common RFID transponder found in a quickly increasing
number of products in retail stores. Wal-Mart has told all of its suppliers that
they must begin using RFID technology in order to do business with them in the
future (Reilly, 2004). In fact, most of the major retailers, including Best Buy,
Target and others (Roberti, 2004) are implementing these same requirements.
Drug companies are rapidly implementing RFID for both tracking and for
controlling counterfeiting (O'Connor, 2006).
4. Figure 4: A common RFID tag used on products. The circular object is the an-
tenna and the rectangular object is the microprocessor. (Photo by Author)
WHY WE SHOULD WORRY
AUTO-ID CENTER: The Auto-ID Center (Albrecht & McIntyre, 2006; Auto-
ID, 2007) is a partnership between nearly one-hundred global companies, such as
IBM, Intel, Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Phillip Morris, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Target,
Kodak, UPS, etc. In this partnership, there are also seven of the world's leading
research universities representing seven different countries, such as MIT in the
USA and the University of Cambridge in the UK.
The goal of the Auto-ID Center is to have every item --yes, every item--
ever produced tagged with an RFID transponder. Each item will have its own
Web page, and each item will have its own unique ID number. The Auto-ID
center calls this system the "Internet of Things". The Center plans to place
RFID readers globally so a tagged item can be tracked anywhere in the world.
This means you will also be tracked. For example, when you go to the mall, the
grocery store, the book store, your child's school, the library, Home Depot,
Target, Wal-Mart, or the airport, every item you have in your possession will be
tracked and recorded on the Internet of Things as the items move from location to
location throughout the world.
Helen Duce, an Auto-ID Center associate director stated the following:
"The Auto-ID Center has a clear vision…to create a world where every object,
from jumbo jets to sewing needles, is linked to the Internet." Yes, this group
plans to number and track everything. They are planning to use a unique 96-bit
code on every item produced. Ninety-six bits will allow for 70 thousand, trillion,
trillion unique numbers. Six billion of those unique numbers have been set aside
for humans (Albrecht and Liz McIntyre 2006). Does this group assume we will
all have a chip implanted in us in the future? It certainly looks that way.
It is common knowledge that new passports have RFID transponders,
and this will be true for our future drivers' licenses. The Real ID Act, passed in
2005, Federalizes control over driver's licenses. This is a de facto national ID
5. card. The act gives the Department of Homeland Security the power to set the
technology standards for the license. Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre
(2006), the major advocates for putting the brakes on RFID technology, said that
"the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is looking for beefed up
RFID technology that can read government-issued documents from up to 25 feet
away, pinpoint pedestrians on street corners, and glean the identity of people
whizzing by in cars at 55 miles per hour."
STUDENT TRACKING: Students at the Midwest College of Oriental Medicine
in Chicago, Illinois and Racine, Wisconsin are required to carry an RFID card
which is the size of a credit card. The card can be read at a distance of 30 to 100
feet. Using this RFID tracking system, enrollment can be easily taken to insure
that students are attending class. RFID readers are located throughout the
classroom buildings. This system frees the professor from the need to take
attendance (Collins, 2005).
Enterprise Charter Schools in New York City requires their 460 students to
wear active RFID tags around their necks so that they can be tracked within their
buildings. Also, the Spring Independent School District north of Houston, Texas
is considering using RFID tags to monitor their twenty-eight thousand students
(Albrecht and Liz McIntyre, 2006).
CURRENCY: Hitachi has been working with the European Central Bank on the
idea of putting RFID chips into Euro banknotes (Yoshida, 2001). This will
eliminate the anonymity of cash. If chips are placed in currency, any withdrawal
from an ATM will be tracked to the person making the withdrawal. At this time,
it is not known whether the US is planning to follow the lead of the European
POSTAL STAMPS: The U.S. Postal Service is considering placing RFID
capabilities in postage stamps in order to track and to quickly locate mail
CREDIT CARDS: Most of us know that many credit cards are being shipped
with RFID chips. One TV commercial for VISA shows three customers in a fast-
food restaurant using their RFID VISA cards, followed by a customer who uses
two one-dollar bills. These three customers with VISA cards see the currency
transaction and immediately display facial expressions of amazement. These
facial expressions denote that the customer using cash is out of step with the
modern world (Seen on Fox News by the author). This promotes the concept of a
cashless society. A cashless society is one that makes its members highly
vulnerable to extreme government control.
VERICHIP: Verichip, a company producing and selling RFID chips for
humans, is financed by Applied Digital, Inc., a company own by IBM (Albrecht
and Liz McIntyre, 2006). Verichip's main products are chips (transponder) for
6. humans. The image in Figure 5 is similar to the one displayed on Verichip's
home page. The image clearly shows that Verichip's mission is to sell
microchips for humans. Verichip promotes chipping all infants at birth so that
there is no chance of accidentally switching infants at the hospital.
Figure 5: This image is very similar to the one on Verichip's home page and it
clearly states its purpose: RFID for people. (Image by Author)
Verichip is the only company that has been approved by the FDA for
human implants. Could this approval be connected to the fact that Tommy
Thompson, previous Secretary for Health and Human Services, is on the board of
directors? Until recently, he was also running for the 2008 Republican
nomination for president of the USA. Thompson has stock options of 150,000
shares of Verichip. If he can make 100 dollars on each share, he will pocket 15
million dollars. He has not had the chip implanted himself, nor have any of his
family members. He has suggested that all Americans be chipped for medical
purposes. He also suggested that all military personnel get chipped as a
replacement for "dog tags" (SpyChips.com, 2007). The cylindrical, glass chip in
Figure 6 is the type that can be implanted in humans. Other human implantable
chips are slightly smaller.
Figure 6: This chip can be implanted in humans. Slightly smaller chips than this
are available. (Photo by Author)
Verichip's stated goal is to have all infants, at-risk elderly, at-risk
medical patients chipped, and workers in access controlled facilities chipped.
Verichip is presently developing a chip which can be tracked by satellite. It is
called the Personal Locater Device (PLD).
CHIPPING EMPOYEES: A Verichip RFID glass chip was recently (May 23,
2007) implanted into the arm of sergeant Mike Tranchant who is with the Palm
Beach Country Sheriff's Office. This chip will give emergency doctors access to
7. his medical information should he be unconscious and in need of medical
treatment (Tallahassee.com, 2007).
City Watcher, a security company in Cincinnati, Ohio, has some of its
employees chipped (WorldNetDaily, 2006). Figure 7 shows a newspaper article
about City Watcher's implantation of some of its employees.
Figure 7: This newspaper article is referencing City Watch where employees are
required to be chipped. (Frame clip, CNBC, 2006)
CHIPPING ALZHEIMER PATIENTS: Verichip is partnering with
Alzheimer’s Community Care, Inc. that is headquartered in West Palm Beach,
FL. The plan is to chip 200 Alzheimer patients and their caregivers in the near
future (VeriChip, 2007). These patients live in nursing homes and may not be
legally able to give their consent.
CHIPPING CLUB MEMBERS: The Baja Beach Club in Barcelona, Spain is
making itself unique among exclusive nightclubs; that is, it is encouraging its
VIP members to become chipped (Morgan, 2004). With the chip, the VIP
members are scanned when ordering drinks or food and have immediate and free
access to the VIP areas in the club. According to the Director of the club, they
are not having any trouble getting club members to volunteer for the implant.
The author has seen videos of the members getting chipped within the club.
Getting the chip appears to be a status symbol among these youth. The club
members watching the chipping process, clap and give a "thumbs up" after the
chip is implanted. VIP chipping has spread to the Baja Beach Club in Rotterdam,
Holland, the Bar Soba in Edinburgh, Scotland, and the Amika nightclub in
Miami Beach, Florida (Lewan, 2007).
CHIPPING GUN OWNERS: The smart gun is a gun which has an RFID
reader that is programmed to match the gun-owner's implanted RFID chip (Fox
News, 2002). With this technology, the only person who can fire the gun is the
person with the matching chip ID. Thus, a police officer would not need to
worry that someone could grab their gun and use it against them. This
technology, of course, requires that the officer be chipped. There is even talk
about using this technology on the battlefield. Also, when a private citizen
8. purchases a gun, this technology could be used to insure that only the gun owner
could fire the weapon. Development of the smart gun technology is now in an
advanced stage at Metal Storm, a Brisbane, Australia-based electronic ballistics
firm that operates a subsidiary in Washington D C in the United States.
RFID PATENT APPLICATIONS: Persephone patent application No.
2004174258, August 2003. The Persephone company lays out areas in the body
where chips can be implanted so that the chips can't be removed without
surgery, such as the uterus, gastrointestinal tract, head, and deep muscles. In
addition this chip can also deliver an electrical shock triggered remotely
(Albrecht and Liz McIntyre 2006).
BellSouth patent-pending No. 20040133484, July 2003. This
company's patent proposes a way to sort recyclables and also to examine peoples'
discarded trash to determine where products or junk mail ended up (Albrecht and
Liz McIntyre 2006).
IBM patent-pending No. 20020165758, May 2001. Purchasing records
of shoppers would be stored on a database, and the tags carried on the shopper
would identify the shopper by name, demographic or other characteristics. The
person's movements could be tracked anywhere there are readers, such as in
stores, airports, restrooms, libraries, bookstores, etc. This information could then
be used to target the person for specific advertising. (Albrecht and Liz McIntyre
Bank of America patent No. 6708176, March 2005. This patent
describes a system like in the movie Minority Report, in which people who come
near a kiosk or other advertising venue are recognized via RFID and then shown
ads targeted to their interests, preferences or demographic (Albrecht and Liz
RFID technology can benefit society: for example, recording and
tracking inventory from production to the consumer. This tracking, however,
must stop once the item is in the hands of the consumer. Transponders must be
turned off or destroyed once the item is purchased.
It is easy to see how invasive and dangerous an "Internet of Things" can
be. How is it possible that nearly one-hundred corporations and seven major
universities could be developing such an invasive technology? If all the items
you are wearing or carrying are globally tracked, then you too are going to be
tracked at the same time. After all, the person with the tagged items most likely
purchased these items.
Having chips implanted is likely to be repulsive to most mature adults,
but to the younger generation it may become the latest fad, much like the current
tattoo fad. It is easier to remove an RFID chip than it is to remove a tattoo. As
RFID technology improves it will be possible to track humans implanted with an
active RFID tag anywhere in the world by satellite. In 2008 the Galileo satellite
system will be operational and will be able to track a target within six feet.
9. Our government is now tracking our telephone conversations, our emails,
the books we read in bookstores and in libraries. They are even tracking our
internet searches. With advanced RFID technology the government will be able
to track us from location to location anywhere in the world. Even Orwell could
not have envisioned such a perfect surveillance system. This is especially true
when you factor in facial recognition systems and the 14.2 million surveillance
systems in the UK (Hall, 2007).
At an RFID conference, a speaker announced the following: "There is
good news and bad news. The bad news is the public does not want this
technology. The good news is that the public does not think there is anything
they can do to stop it." The plan is to send a tsunami of RFID technology at the
consumer so that the technology cannot be stopped.
RFID technology must be strictly controlled. Perhaps it's too late.
Perhaps the Rubicon has already been crossed. Is a tsunami of RFID coming at
us? I believe it is.
Note: In the author's opinion the best book on RFID is Spychips by
Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre, and the best Web site for RFID is
Albrecht, K. and McIntyre, L. (2006). Spychips, Penguin Group, 2006, 23-35,
175, 179, 186.
Albrecht, K. and McIntyre, L. (2006). DHS Wants to Track Spychips in Moving
Cars Going 55 MPH. Retrieved September 30, 2007, from
Albrecht, K. and McIntyre, L. (2006). Tommy Thompson: The Chipper Presi-
dent. Retrieved September 30, 2007, from
AntiChip.com (2007). Alzheimer's Patients Targeted for Medical Implant
Experimentation. Retrieved September 30, 2007, from
Auto-ID (2007). Retrieved September 30, 2007, from
Bradner (2005). Security Issues Swamp RFID. TechWorld, February 7, 2005.
Retrieved September 30, 2007, from
CNBC (2006). Big Brother, Big Business. November 1, 2006. Retrieved
September 30, 2007, from
10. Collins, Stephanie (2005). Active RFID Technology Automates Student
Attendance to Facilitate Financial Aid Funding at Private U.S.
College. Retrieved September 30, 2007, from
Hall (2007). Majority of UK CCTV Cameras are Illegal. February 6, 2007.
Retrieved September 30, 2007, from
Fox News (2002). New Jersey Smart Gun Legislation Enacted. December 23,
2002. Retrieved September 30, 2007, from
Garfinkel S. and Rosenberg B. (2005). Applications, Security, and Privacy.
Jacobson, Anders (2004). RFID in US Postage Stamps. RFID Buzz. February
Lewan, Todd (2007). Chips: High Tech Aids or Tracking Tools? July 22,
2007, Retrieved September 30, 2007, from
Morgan, Simon (2004). Barcelona Clubbers Get Chipped. BBC News.
September 29, 2004. Retrieved September 30, 2007, from
Neawedde, D.J. (2007). Hitachi Develops New RFID Power, World's Smallest
RFID Chip. February 14, 2007. Retrieved September 30, 2007,
O'Connor, Mary C. (2006). Pfizer Using RFID to Fight Fake Viagra. RFID
Journal. January 6, 2006.
Reilly, Kevin (2004). AMR Research Finds Wal-Mart Suppliers Spent only
Minimum to Comply with RFID Mandate. AMR Research press
release, December, 2004.
Roberti, Mark (2004). Best Buy to Deploy RFID. RFID Journal. August
Spychips.com (2007). Retrieved September 30, 2007, from
Tallahassee.com (2007). Deputy Gets Chip with Medical Information
Implanted. Retrieved September 30, 2007, from
WorldNetDaily (2006). Employees Get Microchip Implants. February 10,
2006. Retrieved September 30, 2007, from
Verichip (2007). Retrieved September 30, 2007, from
Verichip (2007). VeriChip Corporation Partners with Alzheimer's Community
Care to Conduct Study of VeriMed Patients Identification
System. Retrieved September 30, 2007, from
Yoshida, Junko (2001). Euro Bank Notes to Embed RFID Chips by 2005.
EETimes, December 19, 2001.