Arstechnica is reporting that RFID chips for humans have received FDA approval. The question for me is, what benefit do we get from this?RFID, for the uninitiated, is a computer chip used for tracking. Wal-Mart wants to use them to track merchandise, because they’ll know exactly where all of the merchandise is in the store. This makes good sense. No more scanning barcodes to keep track of the merchandise. And, in theory, when a telephone ends up in the socks section of the store–things like this happen–the store’s computer system is going to know about it, so lost merchandise can get put back where it belongs.
Presumably, it’ll also make it possible to track the movement of the product in the store. If something makes its way out of the store without passing through a checker’s hands, then, well, it’s stolen, right? So it could eliminate shoplifting.
If implemented properly, it could also stop people from buying a piece of merchandise, taking it home, replacing it with another piece of similar merchandise, and returning it.
It also ties in with Wal-Mart’s philosophy of knowing what items sell better in what stores, so it can adjust its warehousing.
It makes a lot of business sense. Any retailer that can implement this is going to have a huge advantage over any retailers who don’t. Kmart would stand a chance of making a huge comeback if it could manage to implement this first.
So now you know what RFID is. So now let’s think about RFID in humans.
The selling point of it is that medical records are instantly accessible. But I don’t want my medical records to be instantly accessible. I want my doctor to have them. I do not want my employer or insurance company to have them. What if some insurance adjuster sees the phrase “could benefit from ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery” in my records? I can’t count on that flunky knowing what ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction is. Might I get denied coverage or employment because of that really serious-sounding condition?
A phone call to my doctor will tell you that phrase means you really don’t want me playing right field for the company softball team if you can avoid it, because I have a weak elbow in my throwing arm. But aside from that, I lead a pretty normal life.
Insurance companies and employers do enough practicing medicine without a license as it is. We don’t need to be giving them access to this kind of information.
Imagine the other possibilities. My employer can know exactly how many times I go to the bathroom. Or how much time I spend in my cubicle versus the server room or test lab. Do I really want vast herds of management dolts knowing that I spent 43 minutes longer in the server room this week than last week and then asking me why?
But that’s a minor annoyance. Imagine this scenario.
Any idiot driving around in a car can stop at a house and quickly know how many people are inside. This person might even know the identities of the people inside.
Parents, do you really want anyone who wants to know to be able to find out when your children are home alone?
It’ll also be possible to keep track of what kinds of seedy places politicians visit when they’re supposed to be in session, representing us. We might not want to know that information. There’s little chance of that, though. Once they read that, they’ll exclude themselves from this, of course.
Proponents of RFID for humans argue that you have to be within a few centimeters to read the chip. This has already been demonstrated not to be true, and as time goes on, the maximum distance of today will only increase. Early adopters of wireless networking quickly figured out that they could extend its usable distance to a mile or more by using Pringles cans.
Some people are speculating the Department of Homeland Security wants this so they can know where terrorists and suspected terrorists are.
But if knowing where the terrorists are all the time means anyone who wants to know can know where anyone else is, as well as their entire medical history and other details, the downside more than eliminates any possible upside.