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.”