RFID Technology: Where ‘sci-fi’ meets ‘I spy’

Imagine, if you will, a crowded downtown club on a Saturday night.

Dizzy from the lights and the wall of moist, thick air surrounding the room, you stumble across the dance floor and make your way to an open seat at the bar on the other side.

You order a drink, which the bartender kindly delivers, before raising your hand to reveal a tiny metal flake the size of a splinter imbedded under your skin.

The bartender scans the microchip.

Your debit account is charged the cost of the drink, no wallet needed.

What might sound like an outlandish invention of some cyberpunk fiction novel is well at play at the Baja Beach Club in Barcelona, Spain according to Wired Magazine, where VIP club members may pay to be injected with painless removable microchips to indicate their VIP status and allow for a more enjoyable, hands-free clubbing experience.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags may be applied to a product, animal or person for the purpose of tracking and identification using radio waves.

RFID tags are FDA-approved for human insertion and cost roughly eleven cents each to manufacture, said ASU Computer Integrated Studies professor Matt McCarthy, but have yet to snag a foothold the U.S.

“It will happen in the U.S. when it is economically advantageous,” McCarthy said.

“The RFID will have to catch on in a big, broad sense for it to work, but it eventually will.”

Some organizations such as Mindfully.org think the chips could save lives by allowing medical access to information such as allergies and blood type.

Other proponents have proposed planting RFIDs into dangerous prisoners or, as McCarthy noted, registered sex offenders.

“I know that’s probably a very un-‘P.C.’ thing to say,” he said. “But at the same time in this economy, it would cost a heck of a lot less money to just inject a chip into a sex offender’s arm.”

Others remain understandably more skeptical towards the data-tracking technology and choose to don the tin-foil hat of their predecessors with fearful images of government omniscience ripe within their skulls.

However, ASU English professor and science fiction author Paul Cook believes that personal privacy is likely already a concept of the past.

“As long as your cell phone is on, you can be tracked,” he said in an e-mail. “Here’s where a science fiction conceit meets the law, but my guess is that sometime in the future it won’t matter. They’ll be able to track us by installing nano-chips in us at birth. It’s possible!”

Matt McCarthy mirrored Cook’s opinion.

“I believe privacy is going to go away in a hurry,” he said. “And people give it away too, just look at Facebook.”

We live in the Information Age.

Still, the question remains: Would you agree to be low-jacked?

Track Hal down at hscohen@asu.edu

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