Here Comes RFID Spying…

The Washington State Legislature was the site this week of yet another major corporate victory. State Rep. Jeff Morris (D) had introduced HB 1031, which proposed to require businesses wishing to track people’s movements via the RFID (radio frequency identification) chips embedded in places like cell phones and store “loyalty” cards to first obtain “opt-in” permission.

Such RFID “skimming” — which is already being practiced, by the way — allows corporate marketers not only to track and time a person’s precise movements through retail (and other) environments, but also, via the data associated with RFID chips, to connect the knowledge of movements with large amounts of detailed, individually-identifiable demographic and financial information.

This kind of knowledge is immensely valuable in the big business marketing process, which is neither more nor less than the extension of Frederick Winslow Taylor’s “scientific management” principles into the effort to profitably control “consumer behavior.”

Well friends, guess what happened when Rep. Morris’ bill hit the floor in Olympia?

That’s right: The big boys came out to deliver their message. The bill passed, but, as passed, it only pertains to “skimming” by individual identity thieves. The new law “makes it a Class C felony [in Washington state] to intentionally scan another person’s identification remotely without his or her knowledge and consent, for the purpose of fraud, identity theft, or some other illegal purpose” — but leaves business skimming unregulated. The reason? Corporate capitalists got their way and had the bill’s proposed “opt-in” rule stripped out.

As reported by PR Web:

Images are conjured up of scenes from sci-fi movies like Minority Report. For instance, a shopper walking into a store could unknowingly transmit their identity and whereabouts via a membership card, while they pick out items and make their final purchases. That information then goes into a database for further analysis and targeted marketing schemes.

Morris admits it’s been an uphill battle to win even this small yet commonsense protection for consumers. After years of advocating for stronger protections, including an opt-in requirement for retailers to abide by that was included in the original version of Morris’ bill, corporate lobbyists have fought to kill it every step of the way. These business interests have remained steadfastly intent on allowing the spy chips to remain unregulated as they quickly move to embed them in any or all products imaginable.

Morris does not intend to give up the fight, however. “This is just one small step to stake out some boundaries around our individual consumer rights before it’s too late. The battle now that criminal acts are covered is deciding whether or not spying on consumers for marketing purposes without their consent is criminal.”

One bit of good news: Rep. Morris has agreed to do a short interview with me via the internet about all this. I’ll be posting his report here on TCT as soon as I get it.