RFID tags go to school
If you think John Ashcroft and David Blunkett are bad, just wait until Radio Frequency Identification tags go mainstream. RFIDs are the next-generation bar code. A tag is a low-cost microchip outfitted with a tiny antenna that broadcasts an ID number to a reader unit. The reader searches a database for the number and finds the related file, which contains the tagged item’s description. Unlike bar codes, which must be manually scanned, RFID-tagged items can be read when they are in proximity to a reader unit, essentially scanning themselves.
Wired is running an interesting story about a school in Buffalo which has already deployed the technology as a pupil-monitoring system. “Principal Stillman”, it reports, “has gone whole-hog for radio-frequency technology, which his year-old Enterprise Charter School started using last month to record the time of day students arrive in the morning. In the next months, he plans to use RFID to track library loans, disciplinary records, cafeteria purchases and visits to the nurse’s office. Eventually he’d like to expand the system to track students’ punctuality (or lack thereof) for every class and to verify the time they get on and off school buses. ‘That way, we could confirm that Johnny Jones got off at Oak and Hurtle at 3:22,’ Stillman said. ‘All this relates to safety and keeping track of kids…. Eventually it will become a monitoring tool for us.'”
And of course we can put RFID tags on banknotes just to make sure that nobody’s laundering money. And..well, the sky’s the limit.
This stuff is going to happen — and MUCH sooner than people think. Industry, commerce and government think it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread and are already tooling up for it. In the UK, Tesco put RFID tags on Gillette Mach3 razor blades (apparently because they are a regularly shoplifted item.) RFID technology will enable a nightmarish world of fine-grain, total surveillance. George Orwell, where are you when we need you?