RFID – Orwellian Overtones

BarCode TattooEvery year I read a new article in which someone says that George Orwell just got the date wrong. That the novel 1984 was the right concept, it just came a couple, ten, twenty years too late.

Every year I wonder if those people ever read the book.

Eric Arthur Blair’s (George Orwell’s) famous novel, 1984, was about a world locked in perpetual struggle. Three massive countries locked in an eternal “Cold War” controlling the planet. Each country had instituted provisions to control its massive populous. Totalitarian doctrines were put in place to control their people so as their distinct ways of life would not be effected by the belief systems of the other two countries. Thinking against the state had been deemed a crime. Love had been deemed as evil as murder.

It is war that forces an Orwellian society on people, or more specifically the fear of losing a war. People tend to forget that part of the book and focus on how the citizens were treated. In real life, each new law and new technology is wrongly blamed for moving society towards Orwell’s totalitarian regime. Conspiracy theorists seem to always look for the worst possible incarnations of technology. I have to admit, most of the time I’m one of those people. I always seem to be able to see how “Big Brother” is removing, or limiting my rights. What we forget is that our country, Canada, is not in a position to detrimentally limit our rights and freedoms as long as we are still open to the idea of a global community. The Americans on the other hand …

Radio frequency identification tags or RFID tags have the potential to be just such an Orwellian technology. Ten years ago none of us would have considered tracking people via radio frequency. Ten years ago the Barcode was the technology we feared. Movies like 12 Monkeys showed us how the tracking and identification of individuals would be controlled by branding them with Barcodes. Many people who felt the pressure of “Big Brother” went out and had themselves tattooed with Barcodes in mock parody of society’s move towards a completely totalitarian regime.

Ten years ago, they had already succeeded and we didn’t see it. Ten years ago they introduced the affordable cell phone. People tend to forget that their cell phone is continually talking with the towers asking if there is a new call yet. Each person that owns one is allowing themselves to be tracked with a radio signal far stronger than a RFID tag. Move us 10 years ahead to 2004 and we have governments, and police forces and kid finder services using this technology to triangulate your position in a matter of minutes.

RFID tagRFID tags are scaring people left and right. which is ironic becasue we’ve been living with their threat for the last ten years. The fear may have to do with news that Wal-Mart has just started using them to track inventory. I’ve added Wal-Mart to my boycott list until I can figure the implications of these things out, because sometimes, like the cell phone, the device causes more good than “evil”. The conspiracy theorists will rant about how our freedom is being removed by “Big Brother”. But what happens when we start using the technology for improvement of society instead of just focusing on the Orwellian implications.


Right now in Japan you can purchase a RFID tag for your phone (small amount of irony there). Once in place, your phone becomes your credit card. Wave it over the point of sale device and your purchase is automatically debited from your account. No waiting in line, no delay over entering your PIN number, no need to carry a card.


In Canada RFID tags have been in use as easy pay devices for gas stations for a couple years now. Ask anyone on the streets and I bet fewer than 10% know they are carrying RFID tags.

Shell- Easy Pay [Link removed due to Link Rot]

I’ve also got one in my new parking pass for work. Just hold it up to the reader at the garage and “bing” it lets you in. I’ve got no proof on this next one, but I believe my cat is walking around with one imbedded under her skin. That’s got to make that tag almost 7 years old. It’s incase she runs away. The serial number coincides with information on file at my veterinarian’s.


There is right now a huge underground movement of young people that participate in Raves. In Barcelona this phenomenon is pushing the envelope in the use of RFID tags. To understand the solution you must first be aware of the problem.

“Beautiful club-goers have a problem: If you’re going to wear a halter top and micro-skirt, there’s not much of anywhere to put a wallet. And who wants to carry a purse when you’re there to dance? Luckily, a company called VeriChip this year unveiled a solution based on radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology.”

Rave Girls
USA Today [Link removed due to Link Rot]

It seems the young people and club owners have taken it upon themselves to solve their problem. “Nurses” are implanting RFID tags under the skin of Rave goers to enable them to purchase drinks, etc, at the Rave without having to carry any money. Now these people are doing this freely, of their own volition, to stop them, wouldn’t that truly be Orwellian?

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