Wherever data is generated and collected, covetousness is aroused

Interview with cyberrights activist padeluun about RFID radio chips in commerce

Technology studies predict that by 2010 at the latest, RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chips will have replaced today’s barcodes. Such a chip contains an electronic product code that is long enough to uniquely identify any item worldwide. When an RFID reader emits a radio signal, nearby chips respond by transmitting their data over several meters.

International consumer and civil rights organizations recently ied a joint position paper highlighting the privacy and civil liberties risks posed by RFID tags. For Telepolis, Christiane Schulzki-Haddouti spoke with padeluun of the Bielefeld-based association Foebud e.V., the signatory of the position paper and organizer of the German Big Brother Award. Only recently, the Foebud Association received a grant from the Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms "Citizens’ rights in the digital society" 15.000 euro for the realization of a RFID reader for Burger awarded.

RFID chips make it possible to shop in a supermarket without cash registers. What is worrying about preventing theft in this way??

padeluun: This is what makes theft possible in the first place: data theft is. The company saves on personnel. I am deprived of my privacy in return. Companies use the stolen data to take my money out of my pocket even more effectively, with less and less compensation and variety. This goes as far as price discrimination. Give an example of such price discrimination.

padeluun: The single working mother with three children pays a higher price in the local supermarket than the single man with a car and a high income. The reason is clear: if I know my customers, I also know that their mother simply does not have enough time to go to the store on the other side of town and shop there. So I can take more money from her for the same item. How could supermarkets make the flow of information more transparent?

padeluun: They have to put their cards on the table. If RFID tags are destroyed on the way from the warehouse to the shelf, for example, there is no problem with data protection. If I still want to use them in the checkout system to determine prices or to protect against theft, then I have to make sure that my customers know that they can’t get in and out of the store "tracked" become. This would be best regulated by laws, not by shallow "Declarations of consent" can be undermined right away. How could customers control the flow of information themselves?

padeluun: I could imagine the obligation for companies to open their databases so that each RFID tag can be checked to see which item it belongs to. We ourselves are currently working on a small device that will give people the ability to track hidden tags and reading rates. A company that uses such technologies must feel obliged or be obliged to provide such devices to its customers free of charge. In what cases should the state regulate the use of RFID chips??

padeluun: Wherever a company that respects ethical principles is put at a disadvantage by other companies ignoring these principles. I think it is important to have mandatory and punitive regulations in place. How do you imagine shopping in 2010??

padeluun: The 2003 Big Brother Award, which we present annually, went this year to Metro AG for its "Big Brother" program "future store project". We have written a laudation on the topic for the award ceremony, which describes these visions exactly. Example: "Marion Z. gets a Bubgeldbescheid of the city of Duisburg. The paper of a Mars bar she bought was found in the duck pond of the city park. Marion Z. digs and comes up with the fact that she gave the bar to a child at a St. Martin’s carol sing. Grudgingly she pays 10 Euro Bubgeld." This would require extensive cooperation between private and public institutions and mass data storage. Can you explain?

padeluun: Wherever data is generated and collected, desires are aroused. In the course of the "Fight against International Terrorism" not only will laws be made that enforce the preventive storage of all communications data, but then there will be the "RFID transmission, storage and evaluation law" Give. This may seem absurd. At the Big Brother Awards, however, we had to award the states of Bavaria, Lower Saxony, Rhineland-Palatinate and Thuringia, among others, because they have decided and adopted data retention (Thuringia), or, as far as can be foreseen, will adopt it inexorably. These are armies of nightingales that trapsen there. How could the RFID technology be mastered in the sense of the burghers?

padeluun: What may make readers laugh here now is only a small part of the impending international consumer terror. Together with our American sister organizations, we have been thinking intensively about how we can counter the ill-considered actionism of the consulting companies and the roughnecks dependent on them with a positive vision. RFIDs – I would like to emphasize – like many achievements of computing and networking, can be a blessing. But we should avoid creating another Holle on earth because of it.

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