Rfid tags, smart card and rfid surveillance - soon, computer systems could know your every move.

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This page is often the entry point into the seered.co.uk website because it appears on so many search engines. Written by a scientist, and with some useful links, it provides an overview of some of the technologies (smart cards, SIM cards, GPS, RFID etc) now being deployed for widespread surveillance and monitoring of citizens. However, it is only a small part of the whole site - for more details please visit the index page.

If you are interested in how governments may soon be able to deploy covert surveillance systems on a massive scale it is important you learn about rfid technology, especially microchipped number plates. In mid 2003, the dvla in the UK issued a consultation paper. Needless to say, the relevant text was buried within their large website! The implications for civil liberties and privacy are enormous. Please take time to read the relevant section below and respond to the dvla questionnaire. The closing date for comments to dvla was 17 October 2003 but the page may still be available.

Here are some of the things you may soon be unable to do without a government computer being able to know about it.

Use the Internet (in a library, at home, in your car)

Drive your car more than a few hundred metres

Buy anything with a credit or debit card

Go into any major shopping complex

Use any public transport system

Walk down the street in town

Borrow a library book

Vote in an election

Make a phone call

Spend money

Government and corporate surveillance of individuals is already extensive. Electronic gathering and collation of information about most adults often without their knowledge has become almost a goal in itself. Whilst CCTV is the most obvious example, smart cards and application of radio frequency identification (rfid) technology offer a future of almost limitless surveillance. This webpage offers a regularly updated and convenient overview of surveillance technologies. If you find it useful, please email details to your friends and contacts.

Details of iris recognition systems will be added shortly. In use, they are similar to those that recognise fingerprints because the target subject is usually made aware that he or she is being scanned. In contrast, rfid systems are generally covert - you will usually not be aware that you are being 'scanned'. One of the key concerns about the widespread sale and deployment of these systems is their use by repressive governments.

Even a decade ago, citizens of 'free' countries (and many in countries that were not so fortunate) could walk or drive in the countryside, visit a library, park their car, buy goods, visit a friend, and yet return home knowing (or reasonably suspecting) that their movements had not been logged by government computers and with the data being available to a range of national and local bodies upon demand. In the future, there will be no such respect for privacy. 'Smart card' and other systems are already being tested as 'friendly' ways of obtaining goods and services more conveniently, in order to allay suspicions about their possible other future uses.

Of course, no government has either the staff or the processing capacity to keep a watchful eye on all its citizens all the time. However, for decades many have harboured the desire to be able to track selected individuals without them knowing about it. These may not be criminals (a good supply of these will always be essential to keep the Police in business) but citizens concerned to protest at or expose government incompetence, protect the environment, protest about new house building or airport runways, or indeed anyone whose views do not align with those of the State or the Local Council. Even knowing or suspecting that comprehensive surveillance systems have been deployed may be enough to deter most people from engaging in any type of protest: they will either know or suspect that all their details and those of anyone with whom they have been in contact could be tagged as 'suspect' and with uncertain consequences for job security, etc. 

Soon, many countries will have developed and deployed technology to enable any chosen target to be tracked almost anywhere. Few people seem yet aware of an impending loss of privacy that will be presented as a social necessity (or at least, as a necessary evil in the fight against terrorism). The ongoing development of electronics has enabled not only information collection and storage but its collation to extract almost any pattern or series of connections. The TIA system in the USA is one example. Here are a few of the better known developments - and you may ask yourself if the 'Brave New World' of the computer chip is as benign as we are led to believe it will be. A side issue is that it might be preferable and more effective to address the problems that lead to terrorist groups gaining support, rather than to concentrate resources on counter measures.

Mobile phones.

The most recent mobile phones incorporate GPS (Global Positioning System) chips that monitor signals from orbiting satellites. These enable the phone to know where it is anywhere on the earth to within an accuracy of a few metres. Every phone can report this information not only every time it is used but every time it checks for the best signal strength from different transmitters. Phones need to do this about every ten minutes and there are several criminals in jail because they were unaware that their records (which phone companies are obliged to keep for seven(?) years) did not tally with where they said they were when questioned. Some believed that in order for 'tracking' to operate the phone had to be used to make a call. Not so - phones talk silently to their central computers every few minutes and the only way of preventing this is to switch them off completely.

The benefits of this technology are presented as 'greater safety for users and benefits for the emergency services'. If you phone for help, your exact position will be known to the Police even before you start to speak, and if they have a surveillance camera within 100 metres it will be possible for it to be trained upon your exact location at the press of a button. Some phones sold as 'packages' with car breakdown services relay this information directly to their HQ, so it is unnecessary to know where you are on an unfamiliar country road in the dark. Your phone will know. Indeed, it might even save your life one day. Already, phone companies are being swamped with Police and other requests for details of mobile phone calls - it was reported recently that there had been over half a million such requests in the UK last year. Seamless integration of phone company databases with those used by the State to enable direct access to the records will be presented as a move to greater efficiency and cost savings.

And don't make the mistake of thinking that just because you delete phone numbers or text messages from your SIM card these are wiped forever from the memory. Apparently most data can be recovered - hence criminals have tried to destroy any evidence by eating their SIM cards. The cards would probably survive the digestive process! Are there any programs on the market to recover deleted data in this way? Jealous or suspicious wives could then interrogate cards belonging to their husbands, opening a whole new chapter in divorce proceedings. Several criminals are behind bars because they thought that 'delete' on machines like the Psion Organiser meant just that. Drug dealers needing to keep a list of their contacts would do better to use rice paper and a pencil.

There are many 'illicit' uses for GPS technology. For example, systems can be purchased that will track a vehicle and report its position to a mobile phone. These have been used by 'stalkers' in the USA.  A CBS news reference to use of GPS for stalking is at http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/02/06/national/main539596.shtml

A recent article published in 'legal affairs' summarises the use of GPS or "E911-capable" mobile phones (called cellphones in the USA). The article is also available on the post911timeline website.

Smart cards and rfid systems.

These take many forms from the (nowadays) ubiquitous phone cards and credit cards with gold contacts (and SIM cards in phones) to the more advanced radio frequency tracking types, some of the first uses for which have been in tracking goods as they move around warehouses. The UK public will use them widely for the first time on the London Underground as they bring about 'cashless travel'. A card kept in a wallet or handbag need not be produced, it will be 'read' as you move effortlessly in and out of the tube stations and buses. And it will record your every journey not only for billing purposes but for the benefit of the many government agencies who might, one day in 2008, wish to know where you were at 2.45 am on 25 December 2003. The transport company will have no option but to hand over the data and will have no obligation to tell you they have done so. Data from credit card transactions is routinely requested by the Police, Tax and Security services, and has been for years. Data from credit and debit card transactions is of course widely used for marketing purposes.

Transport is not the only area where smart cards (the technology of which may be incorporated into Identity Cards) are being tried out. Under the People's Network (PN) Excellence Fund scheme, Herefordshire library service in the UK is undertaking trials of a smartcard system for accessing PN computers outside of usual working hours. The idea is to make Internet computers available in non-library buildings which have longer opening hours, an admirable aim in itself . However, use of smart cards for these and other 'benign' purposes will be used to lull the public into accepting them more widely. Already, every webpage you access from a PN machine can be logged against your conventional library ticket and it will only be a matter of time before smart cards are used more widely, removing most of currently available avenues to help retain privacy (see data_outtake.htm for details of how easily present day library systems can be defeated). It is important to note that whilst there are superficial benefits to the use of smart cards (in that local library staff need have less access to work being undertaken or printed out) the potential for covert electronic snooping is enhanced.

One central issue here is data on local people being made available to other local people. It is simply not acceptable for library usage and similar data to be available to local councils and other local bodies. If snooping has to be implemented (and this is debatable in libraries) it would be preferable for data to be made available only to vetted personnel who work at least 300 miles away, and preferably in another country. This would minimise the potential for misuse of information, whereas the present arrangements maximise the likelihood of misuse. There should also be clear guidelines for deletion of stored data after a short time period, and strict third party verification that the procedures are followed.

Systems already in use in other libraries will require not only use of a smartcard to access the Internet but your thumb print as well - scanned by laser just to confirm you are who you claim to be. Details of one commercial system that has been at the centre of publicity because of its use in school libraries can be obtained from the manufacturers at  http://www.microlib.co.uk. Children apparently think the system is great fun and there is no suggestion that fingerprints can be 'removed' from the scanners for use elsewhere (indeed the software is claimed to make this impossible) but it adds yet another strand to the overall picture of electronic authentication as a prerequisite to accessing information. Another system, this time using iris recognition technology is apparently being used to enable schoolchildren to 'buy' canteen meals without using cash. (Article in the Daily Telegraph (UK) 12 July 2003)

However, it is miniaturised rfid tags that may pose the greatest threat to privacy. One possible future application was discussed in an article in the Daily Telegraph (UK) of 18 April 2003. It was reported that the clothing company Benetton had plans for embedding rfid chips into clothing so that whoever wore the item after purchase could be 'tracked' as they passed within range of a network of detectors at various locations 'about town'. The commercial benefit would be to collate data on who bought what and subsequently wore it to which social functions! This is not the stuff of science fiction but of future fact. The article in the Daily Telegraph is reproduced at  benetton.htm  and a summary of the technology is at the websites of EPC global and Auto-ID Labs.

Links to documents on this story are available via the Google search engine using benetton +tagging as search words - you get about 590 references. But if you are more precise and use benetton +rfid you get 4000.

Another use for rfid being investigated seems almost too far-fetched to be true. It is being proposed that these chips be embedded into bank notes so that even cash transactions can be 'tracked'.

Microchipped car number plates.

Camera and related surveillance technologies have come a long way in the last ten years. Tall dark blue poles alongside many major roads in the UK have passed unnoticed by many drivers. They support the digital cameras that relay encrypted number plate information to Trafficmaster control computers. Individual cars can be tracked and the data used to calculate average journey times between fixed points and (thereby) warn of hold-ups. These systems cannot (so we are told) relay actual number plate details. The latest police speed cameras use digital technology capable of reading car number plates with almost unfailing accuracy even in fog - and sending them directly to DVLA for checking, to identify vehicles without a valid tax disc. Speeding vehicles can also be detected, knowing the distances between sensors, the relevant speed limits in force and the times of travel.

One way of defeating early systems was to use false or duplicated number plates - but not for much longer. 'Microchipped' plates may have to be fitted to new cars in 2004 and to existing vehicles shortly thereafter. The new plates will contain electronics secreted within the plastic and programmed with details of the vehicle including its type and colour. These will be readable by roadside detectors that will be mounted on existing poles and lighting gantries. Unlike speed cameras they will be disguised to help prevent vandalism. Amongst the aims are to eliminate vehicle theft, detect unlicenced and uninsured vehicles, and (of course) to allow the Police or Security Services to trace and 'follow' any vehicle without the need for a police car to be within miles. The DVLA website has a large section on number plates answering every possible question about transfers, fonts and dimpled backgrounds but (until mid 2003) not a word about new surveillance technologies. To learn everything there is to know about licensing your car, changing index numbers, go to http://www.dvla.gov.uk.

To see what could become the norm in an almost totally 'tagged' society go to  http://www.dvla.gov.uk/public/consult/vrm_security/vrm_security.htm  and scroll down to section 4.3 (just below Q23) near the end of a long and otherwise largely technical 'industry' document.

The system is being developed by Hills Number Plates of Birmingham, England (previously Hills High Speed Plates). Little is available on their website apart from an outline of what might be offered by an 'intelligent' plate. Curiously, in January 2003 a Company spokesperson told me that Hills is 'developing' the product but not at the behest of a government department. Really? Press reports have indicated a close liaison with DVLA. One article concerning developments in the UK is available at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/motoring/main.jhtml?xml=/motoring/2002/11/29/emnplat30.xml.

In India, a similar system seems ready for implementation. Details were available from http://www.delhitrafficpolice.nic.in/article_1.htm. but have recently disappeared, despite the link still appearing on google......... Number plates in New York State (USA) have been alleged to have been fitted with this type of technology for some time but without public consultation. Of course, rfid (radio frequency identification) systems are not new - they have been used to 'tag' dogs, cats and horses for years. Recent applications include reducing caravan theft http://www.rfidnews.com/stoptheft.html. However, the use to 'tag' all vehicles and to have data on all movements potentially available is a further and significant development. A European standard for tracking systems fitted to vehicles is being developed but (for the moment) its use is seen as harmonising the many different rfid systems on the market. Sketchy details are on a UK police website  http://www.securedbydesign.com/developers/tracking.html. One of several companies marketing these products in the UK is at http://www.stoptheft.co.uk.

One of the best 'readable' summaries of the huge potential of rfid systems is at  http://www.autoidcenter.org/aboutthetech_identifying.asp. The Hills website is http://www.hhsp.co.uk and we await further announcements on numberplates for vehicles in the UK. In the meantime, let us take a trip into the future.

England - Land of the Free?

Initially, vehicle number plate detectors will be located only along main roads. In time they will be around every corner. Amongst the benefits are that known 'environmentalists' or other persons not entirely in tune with the decreed consumer society could be spotted almost the minute they leave home to attend a meeting or protest march. Watch out too for new Internet sites giving the locations of all the detectors, and programs designed to navigate you from A to B without meeting Big Brother.

Even before the system had been launched, the criminal fraternity thought they had found a flaw in the logic. If one of them wanted to 'do a job' and not be detected using his own car he could remove his own plates and leave them at home, steal a set from a conveniently parked car of similar colour and type (rather easier than stealing the whole car), and use them for the day. The first people who tried this were all arrested even before they had committed their intended crime. Within weeks it become known that e-plates had the capability of recognising when they had been removed from the bumper of a vehicle. Using old fashioned false plates remained an option in the early days (2004 -2006) but later became too risky. As the system was extended to all cars and all roads, any vehicle passing a detector and not registering a valid code triggered an alert.

Successful as they were for a few years, microchipped number plates soon gave way to an even more advanced system, ULIN, the Unique Life Identifying Number. This was a joint US/UK government initiative but developed mainly in the US by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that earlier had developed TIAS. DARPA already had a long history of data management having decades earlier invented Arpanet, the forerunner of NSFNET, MILNET and the Internet. Thousands of websites chart this early history, including www.cybergeography.org/atlas/historical.html . Another DARPA success was development of stealth technology for aircraft. One of their later military programmes was Continued Assisted Performance  - aimed primarily at developing techniques to enable soldiers to remain awake and alert for up to a week without sleep. However, it was ULIN that became DARPA's number one 'world best seller'. Introduced early in April 2004 as an anti-terrorist measure, ULIN replaced Identity cards, rail cards, library cards, number plate chips and credit and debit cards. For the first time governments had what they had always wanted - a system to keep track of every individual, 24/7 and in real time.

ULIN codes are programmed into a chip no larger than a pinhead and inserted into the heart muscle of every child. Removal of a ULIN chip was widely cited as being impossible without risking death for the patient and life imprisonment for the surgeon. In any case, since only ULIN-enabled people could buy food, work or claim State Entitlements, a good degree of citizen compliance was achieved. People fortunate to have been born in the ULIN age benefited from having all their shopping, banking, welfare, travel and library internet usage facilitated merely by standing near to a detector. By 2007, librarians in the UK had vanished as a species, their tedious beige lives having been first enriched by primitive PN computers and then supplanted by APES (All Purpose Electronic Servants) as books were finally declared SAD (Superfluous And Demeaning) in 2006.


A forerunner of ULIN was developed in 2001/2 in the USA by Applied Digital Solutions of Florida. Called VeriChip, it consists of a chip encapsulated in medical grade glass that could be inserted under the skin of the upper arm using a hypodermic needle. It attracted the attention of the US Food and Drug Administration who, according to material on the GILC website at the time, sent a warning letter to the Company in Nov 2002. (see total_info_aware_system.htm for more details). Verichip was ruled by the FDA as being a regulated device for healthcare applications but not for "security, financial or personal safety/identification purposes".

References to VeriChip and more recent rfid stories are available from many sites including http://www.cybertime.net/~ajgood/chiparticles.html   - an 'apocalyptic' Christian site based in the USA from which you can download audio. Verichip headlines are available from http://biz.yahoo.com/n/a/adsx.html . The chips were demonstrated at a recent IDTechEx conference in London (UK) in late April 2003. Amongst the new products were an implantable temperature sensing chip for hospital use and chips for medical ID purposes. These products were 'world firsts' for rfid technology.

Claimed advantages are that these and similar systems could help reduce the numbers of deaths and injuries caused by medical errors. Industry estimates (which might just be on the high side?) put the cost of preventable medical errors at $27 billion annually, and with a preventable death toll of up to 98,000 people annually! The official company website explains the claimed advantages of the technology. Other industry sites are www.rfid.co.uk and www.rfid.org.

Other interesting links (from around 10,000 that are available...)

An informative article on 'Big Brother'   http://www.guardian.co.uk/bigbrother/privacy/statesurveillance/story/0,12382,790117,00.html

An early (1996) article in which privacy is discussed by the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates,  http://www.microsoft.com/billgates/columns/1996Essay/essay961105.asp

An advertisement in the New York Times warning about the encroachment of Big Brother on the right to privacy appeared on 17 Jan 2002.  http://www.citizenworks.org/issues/latest_news/bigbrother.pdf

According to a story on the website of the US based journal 'Privacy Times', a spoof website was set up asking people to have a chip implanted in their hand so that their use of a computer mouse could be tracked. They were offered $250 - and within a few days hundreds had applied and the site (www.idchip.com but now withdrawn from the web) had been visited by dozens of computer and security related companies. The story is (or maybe was) on the 'old stories' link at  http://www.privacytimes.com.

A website campaigning against the use of supermarket 'loyalty cards' on the grounds that these are used covertly to gather data about customers has been operating in the USA for some years. The organisation behind it is CASPIAN - Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering.

In the UK, the razor company Gillette experimented with chips as a theft prevention measure on one of its more popular (and arguably overpriced) products. A website devoted to boycotting the company was one outcome!

Also in the UK, a website devoted to alerting consumers about rfid technology has appeared recently and the topic has featured on BBC news.

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