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July 26, 2004

Big Brother

My friend Andrew Currie dropped by the other day - he noticed a book at my desk-side shelf, Web Security, Privacy, and Commerce - by Simson Garfinkel. First, let me say that I like Simson alot - I've read this book as well as his monthly column in MIT's Technology Review. Additionally, you have to like a guy who's name is 1 degree from Art Garfunkel - Simson actually looks kinda like Art too! Seriously, check out Simson's blog if you are interested in technology and security.

I'm a privacy advocate, and it is a superbly comprehensive view of the existing landscape of privacy and security on the Internet. Looking at it now on Amazon, I'd say the second edition is out and I need to get it.

This book is a great read for fundamentals on biometrics, authorization, authentication, exploits in secured systems, applied technologies for security and privacy and more. As I find with many O'Reilly books, save for the programmatic reference books, reading the first chapter or two tends to provide an encompassing overview into a topic area.

Privacy and "Big Brother" has been on the mind lately - two things I've heard recently that can imaginatively be combined. First this quick hit from Frank Barnako's Internet Daily for Schwab on July 20th:

Internet addresses for all - The organization that oversees the allocation of Web site addresses says new technology has made it possible for every person, printer, computer and other Net-connected device to have its own Internet address. Vinton Cerf, at a meeting of the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers, said, "This is a big, big step," Reuters reported. Before the development of the new technology, known as Internet Protocol V. 6, almost two-thirds of the available Internet addresses had been used. With IP Version 6, the available number is multiplied "25,000 trillion times," Cerf said.

25,000 trillion is a big number. It strikes me that more than every person on the planet having an IP available for their printer, computer, and IP connected devices - by today's standards - but that the future might hold that all a persons belongings become an IP connected device.

Consider the implementations of RFID technology. RFID, for those who don't know what it is or how fast it's coming to a shopping center near you:

Radio frequency identification, or RFID, is a generic term for technologies that use radio waves to automatically identify people or objects. There are several methods of identification, but the most common is to store a serial number that identifies a person or object, and perhaps other information, on a microchip that is attached to an antenna (the chip and the antenna together are called an RFID transponder or an RFID tag). The antenna enables the chip to transmit the identification information to a reader. The reader converts the radio waves reflected back from the RFID tag into digital information that can then be passed on to computers that can make use of it.

The above comes from the "RFID Journal" FAQ page. RFID is seen as "the next bar code" - a supply chain advancement for the new millennium, allowing retailers and others to track inventories with small radio frequency embedded labels. Wal-Mart has consistently been in the news regarding RFID for a few years, having delayed trials initially due to the privacy uproar that ensued following indications that they would be tested. Most people now get the fact that this is a useful technology for consumers as well as retailers. I guess if there are savings in supply chain management, Wal-Marts prices for one thing should come down further, right?

From the site:

A number for every item on the planet - RFID employs a numbering scheme called EPC (for "electronic product code") which can provide a unique ID for any physical object in the world. 6 The EPC is intended to replace the UPC bar code used on products today.

Unlike the bar code, however, the EPC goes beyond identifying product categories--it actually assigns a unique number to every single item that rolls off a manufacturing line. 8 For example, each pack of cigarettes, individual can of soda, light bulb or package of razor blades produced would be uniquely identifiable through its own EPC number.

Once assigned, this number is transmitted by a radio frequency ID tag (RFID) in or on the product. 10 These tiny tags, predicted by some to cost less than 1 cent each by 2004, 11 are "somewhere between the size of a grain of sand and a speck of dust." 12 They are to be built directly into food, clothes, drugs, or auto-parts during the manufacturing process.

Receiver or reader devices are used to pick up the signal transmitted by the RFID tag. Proponents envision a pervasive global network of millions of receivers along the entire supply chain -- in airports, seaports, highways, distribution centers, warehouses, retail stores, and in the home. 14 This would allow for seamless, continuous identification and tracking of physical items as they move from one place to another, 15 enabling companies to determine the whereabouts of all their products at all times.

The "Big Brother" concerns are when these types of technologies meet each other. IPv6 provides IP addresses for me and everything I own, even each piece of currency in my wallet. Now there is a minute chip that could be IP enabled in every product I own. If I live in Portugal, the government is already RFIDing my dog.

So, does it mean that the government will monitor every action of every person, or use such knowledge as leverage to control its people? I dunno - not likely, but once someone has any kind of power, it can be used any way they like - regardless of the intent.

And, the masses themselves have their own police power via technology over the government. E.g. these types of technologies, once common place can be used by the people themselves, possibly to monitor corporations or the government. George Orwell's 1984, which sadly I admit to having not read, at least since the 5th grade - so I'm putting it on my reading list - pushes forth the idea of government monitoring and control. A monitor in every citizens home, spewing control propaganda and monitoring what citizens do. This hasn't happened in 1984 or in 2004 - instead, technology has enabled citizens to poke government with technology.

Recently, the US military has been investigating dozens of allegations of prisoner abuse - Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq being one of the cases. This was not a case of the US coming clean with a Press Release on their own. This was a case of ubiquitous technology - digital cameras - being used by the soldiers accused of abuse themselves, enabling photos that were taken to be quickly distributed via the Internet to the world. Seriously, in all of 5 minutes, one solder/person could snap a picture, email it to a friend or news agency and bang - the US has a major issue on it's hands.

Food for thought.

Posted by gcrgcr at July 26, 2004 8:51 AM

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