While serving as volunteer Board member of my local County’s ACLU Chapter, I attended a meeting/presentation with ACLU attorney Nicole Ozer concerning Radio Frequency Identification Chips. Nicole, a soft-spoken and gentle ACLU attorney specializing in technology, managed to convince the U.S. Department of Homeland Security not to use RFID chips in our driver’s licenses. Good lady! Here are the facts based on her presentation and legislation which followed:
RFID chips are tiny radio id chips, the size of a grain of rice. They can be scanned from as far as 60 feet away, with scanners available on-line for under $200, without even knowing that we were scanned, let alone whodunnit. The information contained in the RFID chips shows our name, address, social security number, and (in the case of our credit and ATM cards) whether or not we are a shoplifter, etc.
Needless to say, this information is sensitive and nobody would want a perfect stranger to have access to it. In fact, Nicole Ozer argued with the California Senate, such information being made public would open us wide up to identity theft and stalking. When swiping our credit cards and ATM cards in the store, the clerks would have access to our private information, as would anybody who happened to scan us at just the moment we took our cards out of our wallets.
Originally, Ms Ozer tried to get the government to ban the use of the chips altogether. Alas, that wasn’t going to “fly”. So instead, she argued that our private information should be encrypted, so as not to be legible to the ordinary citizen. (Which does not mean the government cannot still track us, everywhere we go). She referred to the tracking of citizens as “illegal” at which point I raised my hand, saying “This seems unconstitutional to me, not illegal. But I am talking to an attorney: How dare I?” and what was her response? She shrugged. Such is the spirit of most of the ACLU attorneys I have talked with, including national director Anthony Romero. The ACLU is “hot” and their attorneys are very approachable human beings.
Ms Ozer’s argument won bipartisan support in the California Senate. Legislation was passed to approve the encrypting of our private information, also making it legal (in the state of California) to tuck our government documents into a mylar bag, which bounces the radio waves back and renders the RFID chips unreadable to the scanners.
One year later, the Dept. of Homeland Security stated in public that the use of RFID chips in our driver’s licenses was contra-indicated. Thank you, Nicole Ozer!
But the chips do remain in our credit and ATM cards, our passports, and other government documents.
If you don’t particularly love the idea of the government tracking your whereabouts everywhere you go, the solution is fortunately a simple one:
Tuck your documents and credit cards into a mylar bag, as stated above. A physicist I consulted, who used to design satellite and radio wave shields for the government, said that copper works too. He also said a lead line pouch, such as used for our photographic negatives, would bounce back radio waves.
Contrary to popular belief, this physicist also said that tin foil might or might not work. He said that tin foil only bounces back certain types of radio waves, so which kind of wave was emitted by the RFID chips would be critical. Further, even if targeting a compatible radio wave, the tin foil would have to be awfully thick, he said. So tin foil is not the answer. Instead, use the mylar bag (such as those used for your Fastrack tollbooth cards), copper or a lead line pouch.
Any official who asks you why something like your passport is tucked into a radio wave-free zone and who is suspicious of you, based on the thought that you might be hiding from the law (which you of course never would), you can tell them that you are simply protecting yourself from ID theft. (And “play dumb” to the knowledge that the information is, in fact, encrypted---or at least, in the State of California. Nationwide, I don‘t know whether or not that is true. So to protect your information may be all the more indicated. For further and more up-to-date information, see the link to Nicole Ozer‘s privacy and technology blog, below).
To avoid the government tracking your spending, the solution is simple: Use cash instead of credit cards or your ATM card.
Trader Joe’s has advertised that they think it is contra-indicated to let the government know your spending patterns. So obviously they will not cooperate with this government request to turn over your information. Which does not mean, however, that your RFID chips will not scan when swiped. Cash is still the best way to go.
RFID Chips will not only be in our government documents, but in our clothing as well and in cattle. It’s a mania! But it’s worrisome too:
Your $3,000 outfit will be scannable to the ordinary citizen, who will know that you are a target for theft.
Once again the solution is simple . Cut the tags out of your clothing. Done!