Brave new world of trash, students and RFID monitoring

The nightmare world in which Winston Smith lived in George Orwell’s dystopia, 1984, was furnished with technology based on World War II-era know-how.  Yet even with such primitive technology as envisioned when Orwell wrote his prescient novel in 1949, the government of Oceania was able to track almost every move its citizens made; similar to the transparent world imagined a century and a half earlier earlier by Jeremy Bentham in his Panopticon.  If only Orwell, Bentham, Aldous Huxley, and the other writers whose foresight enabled them to discern the horrors of constant government surveillance, had been aware of the tiny transmitters of information now becoming common-place — radio frequency identification chips, known as “RFID” chips – they could have added entire new chapters to their books. 

RFID technology is advancing rapidly; arm-in-arm with the imagination of businesses and governments to develop new ways to use these tiny electronic snoops to monitor and control behavior of their customers and subjects.   Business web pages proudly tout the many uses to which the chips can be put in order to “streamline” municipal activities; and to then direct the behavior of the citizens paying for such services.  Texas Instruments, for example, has a page on its web site devoted entirely to the wonders of using RFID chips to monitor municipal trash collection in order to determine whether people are properly recycling.  Careful lest its exuberant endorsement of RFID tags imbedded in trash cans might be perceived as government snooping, the company’s webpage refers to this eerie activity as “forward-thinking” and consistent with “growing consumer interest in recycling.”  

Instead of urging governments to purchase its technology as a way to penalize citizens for not being good citizens by recycling, Texas Instruments lauds an ”incentive-based recycling program” the company describes as “fun,” that is used in cities such as Philadelphia, Houston, Dallas-Ft. Worth, and elsewhere in the United States and, of course, in the United Kingdom, the surveillance capital of the world.  In this program, citizens are treated essentially as laboratory rats, in which they are rewarded each time they perform the task desired of them — in this case, recycling — with ”Recycle Bank Reward Dollars.”  The collection trucks, decked out with state-of-the-art computer monitoring equipment, is able to then oh-so-efficiently transmit the “customer information .  .  .  directly to a host computer” for data-mining and billing. 

The city council in Cleveland, Ohio, on the other hand, is far less concerned with even the appearance of benevolence in its RFID-based trash monitoring program, than is Texas Instruments.  The council recently voted to expand its RFID trash program by mandating the installation of the devices in order to determine and hand out fines for failure to participate.  In yet another example of the unholy alliance between business and government in expanding the reach of Big Brother, Cleveland has retained a  private company to handle its high-tech recycling program.  It’s a win-win — the company makes money by collecting the recycled trash, and the city reaps at least a short-term windfall by receiving payments from the company for a task it formerly had to carry out.  The loser, of course, is the consumer who is paying the taxes and fees for such activities; and surrendering to the company and the city council any privacy in their accumulation or disposal of garbage.

In California, schools are finding that students – like municipal citizens — constitute another captive audience on which to experiment with RFID chips.  One school district in Contra Costa County, for example, now requires all its students to wear jerseys embedded with RFID tags, so their whereabouts can be monitored all the while they are at the schools, and then data-based.   The tags also reportedly will alert school officials if a student has not eaten; though what punishment will befall dieting students is unclear. 

Where is the Contra Costa County school system getting the money to implement such a school-based Big Brother program?  They get the money from same place most of these and other privacy-invasive programs come from — you, the American taxpayer; genereously given away as federal “grants.”

32 comments Add your comment

Karl Marx

September 1st, 2010
6:42 am

Careful now, Libertarians and Democrats said the Georgia micro chip law was a waste of time. So I guess worrying about RFID tags and DNA database abuse is also a waste of time. Welcome to George Orwell’s 1984.

Mr. Ed

September 1st, 2010
7:15 am


September 1st, 2010
7:41 am

Very disturbing! There needs to be a citizens review board or opt-out option at the very least. I’m so tired of these people that have time to dream-up something else for us to do or spend our money!

Kretzahl Slagfish

September 1st, 2010
8:10 am

Hey, if you’re innocent then you should have nothing to worry about. Right?

Kretzahl Slagfish

September 1st, 2010
8:18 am

Everybody panicked after 9/11, so no one squawked when the powers of the President, security agencies, and law enforcement were radically expanded. You reap what you sow. If this country can’t take a bloody nose every once in a while without crapping its pants and wiping with the Constitution, then we don’t deserve civil liberties.

Barring The Truth

September 1st, 2010
8:24 am

So Barr, did you initially support the republican led charge in GA for tracking or not? Are you flip-flopping now as you usually do to ride a wave of popularity?

How about tracking illegals? What do YOU think about tracking them? Let your hypocritical colors show!


September 1st, 2010
8:26 am

I’m all for privacy. But fear of the loss of privacy….. strikes deepest in the hearts of those who are up to no good. Like current or former members of Congress.


September 1st, 2010
8:43 am

Bob, here is the solution: we all ought to go back to communicating via tin cans a string.

Big Brother

September 1st, 2010
9:11 am

I am everywhere and growing stronger. Get used to it.


September 1st, 2010
10:20 am

Pathetic, what some people do to put their selves in the position.


September 1st, 2010
10:59 am

The real break through with RFIC is that it needs no battery, it derives its energy from the radio frequency. Consequently, it can be placed anywhere and never needs replacing. The RFIC could be placed in the brain to monitor thoughts. If “big brother” did not like your thoughts he could redirect your thinking. The final right of the Constitution, “the right to think” would effectively been taken away.

Political Mongrel

September 1st, 2010
11:55 am

There have been many tests that have shown that RFID tags are easily cloned and duplicated in public settings. One famous test was conducted by British security researchers at Heathrow airport. Hackers were tipped off to the project. They were able to surreptitiously clone the supposedly uncrackable id tags within about 30 seconds. The hackers passed on the information to the researchers. What use is RFID information if someone can steal your info just being near you?

left wing

September 1st, 2010
12:38 pm

It really irks me that I get put in the position of having to defend corporations, but . . . .

I think the intial uses of this technology was so that businesses could track shipments. Companies put RFID’s on pallets so that they can be tracked in warehouses. Retail stores use RFID’s to detect theft. Unfortunately, once the genie leaves the bottle . . . . .

I’m more concerned about the data mining that goes on. Mastercard, American Express, et al, ‘mine’ your purchasing to build profiles of you; what you may like. This data can be resold to P&G, to Target, to marketing companies. When people shop online, we get cookies placed on our PC’s which shopping sites use to determine how often we go to Amazon.

We’ve lost our right to privacy 20 years ago.

mmm, mmm, mmm, Barack the LIAR Obama, BEND OVER, here comes the CHANGE!

September 1st, 2010
12:41 pm

Will the REAL Bob Barr PLEASE come back.


September 1st, 2010
1:03 pm

Barring the Truth

Are you capable of an original thought or is attacking Bob all you are able to do. You know all this is Bush’s fault.

Matthew Cole

September 1st, 2010
1:22 pm

I wonder if this school can be sued on 4th Amendment grounds. I know monitoring is not the same as an illegal property search, but the student has still presumably not given consent to have his/her body tagged with a device designed to collect and report data.

Logical Dude

September 1st, 2010
1:52 pm

quit mixing fiction.
RFID can be used by sending a signal out, and the RFID chip sends a signal back. It can only hold about 128 bits of information, about the length of an account number. Only good for identifying itself, like a bar code. (hahaha, like the column name here). Instead of needing a laser to read the code (which is line of site), an RFID chip can be read no matter where it is on a package. Plus the range is quite small, only about 10 feet.
It can NOT read thoughts, or do any other magic.

Logical Dude

September 1st, 2010
1:53 pm

Here’s an easy way to defeat an RFID chip that you carry (such as the one in the new passports). Carry it in one of those static-free bags similar to the ones that delicate electronics come in. (such as disk drives).

Junior Samples

September 1st, 2010
2:04 pm

Aluminum foil -when fashioned appropriately into a handsome chapeau- can easily thwart RFID chips. And look stylish.


September 1st, 2010
2:48 pm

I wish I knew about these things. I could have implanted one on Tiger.

Mr Chips

September 1st, 2010
3:49 pm

Elin, let the chips fall where they may.

Kretzahl Slagfish

September 1st, 2010
4:10 pm

Mayberry RFID

Aunt Bea: Andy, Andy, Opie never came home from school!

Andy: Not to worry, Aunt Bea, I ’spect he’s just wrastlin’ and carry on with the other young’uns in the neighborhood. He’ll be home directly.

Aunt Bea: Oh no, Andy, I tracked him with that new fangled device you had implanted under his scalp. He’s down at the filling station in the men’s room again.

Andy (dashing out the door): Gooooooo-merrrrr!


September 1st, 2010
7:48 pm

For those students who have to wear a school jersey with an RFID chip imbedded in it, they pop if you put them in your microwave for a few seconds.


September 1st, 2010
10:25 pm

This is doubleplusungood


September 2nd, 2010
4:51 am

Kretzahl Slagfish

September 2nd, 2010
10:56 am

This topic really hasn’t inspired the sort of spirited, foamy mouthed rhetoric that I’d expect from the local community of Cold War Bullwinkle paranoids and tin foil hatters. What’s wrong?!!! Barack O’Bolshevik is trying chip us all so he can track our purchases, movements, and bowel movements, thus allowing the pinko party to better market their agenda to our less vigilant citizens. Pretty soon, the products we buy will beam transmissions directly into our brains. Talking rolls of toilet paper will relentlessly lobby for gun control and abortion rights while we sit there captive to our own bodily functions. Orwell’s dystopian vision was of a paradise compared to what we’ll experience in a few short years.

Barring The Truth

September 2nd, 2010
12:14 pm

@Barack –

First of all, real original name there. LOL.

Second, it is Barr that attacks. I simply put him in his place when he is out of line.

This is a blog and I am fairly certain that I am allowed to post my opinion. If you don’t like it, feel free to skip my posts.


September 2nd, 2010
2:54 pm

“Land of the free” lol

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September 3rd, 2010
9:04 am

Actually now i want to read the page on Texas instruments website. This is really a mouth full. A number of different stances can be taken on this but really the argument, as it is, is flawed. Flawed in using something sensible argument and attempting to polarize it as something to be afraid of

I mean, would you rather be the stupid hick down south who doesn’t recycle anything or the uptown citizen who does recycle?

The correct answer is neither. It’s a trick question and nothing but fear mongering here. How special can the person writing this to be so pompous in ignoring the facts. It’s simple watch this video at the bottom and ask your self is recycling is a good model for the writers argument, for a proper citizen. It isn’t but it’s a great way to polarizes false awareness.

Recycling is a start because if don’t start recycling now we will all pay for it. When we recycle everything we buy, that’s nice and all, but think about all the material it took to make that stuff up stream. Think about the plant, the production of the stuff, how much garbage is create to make x.

Wow jackets with children locators. What parent would think this is matter of oncoming dystopian control? Jesus i know if i had kids i’d want the school to be able to be at least somewhat aware at all time of where my children were. This articles makes me bonkers.

So what’s the harm in penalizing you for being a buffoon, we already do it in every other part of daily live without RFID chips. Examples such as the police tickets, when your kids don’t go to school, when you don’t pay your taxes. Ugh rant off it just seems so far fetched. being a computer techy this is all nice and all but the reality of implementation is easily decades if not century’s off. On a lasting note, anyone really head deep in the computer industry will tell you this is just a pipe dream.

Give up your carrier as a journalist your an idiot.


September 6th, 2010
1:39 pm

you will see within 10 years they will be on every id or even on every human being.without rfid will not able buy a thing. they will be monitor your life and find you anytime they want you. welcome to prison planet. richard

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