They Know Where You Are


By Jay Warrior, Eric McHenry & Kenneth McGee

New technologies can pinpoint your location at any time and place. They promise safety and convenience?but threaten privacy and security

They Know Where You Are

New technologies can pinpoint your location at any time and place. They promise safety and convenience?but threaten privacy and security

By Jay Warrior, Eric McHenry & Kenneth McGee

The terrorist blast had destroyed the office building. Piles of glass and concrete littered most of a city block, the air was thick with dust, debris still smoldered. The police had no suspects but had already sent out an all-points alert. Then, when troopers pulled a van over for making a couple of risky lane changes, they found a pile of fertilizer sacks and an empty fuel-oil drum in the back. A duffel bag held a change of clothes, a small kit with a new razor and other toiletries, and a .45-caliber pistol. The truck had been stolen, and the driver wasn’t talking.

Within an hour, some 1000 km away, an FBI team walked into a Wal-Mart with pictures of the arrested man. One of the cashiers recognized the face. “There were four of them,” she said. “One of our regular customers said they were friends visiting from out of town?but that guy’s a loner. He lives out on County 15.”

This may sound like the start of a mediocre TV drama. But given recent events?and coming technical advances?it just might be a scenario pulled from tomorrow’s news. Here’s the rest of the story: a bit of microcircuitry called a radio frequency identification (RF-ID) tag was embedded within the package of razor blade cartridges in the suspect’s toiletry kit. The manufacturer inserted it into that package, and all others of its kind, to let retailers track inventory cheaply and conveniently. But because the tag carried a unique identifying code, the FBI could scan it, check it against a database, and then track down the store where the razor was purchased.

http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/WEBONLY/publicfeature/jul03/e911.html