Each time I read about our “loss of privacy,” such as in Daniel J. Solove’s examination of effects of social-networking sites [“The End of Privacy?”], it makes me laugh. People seem often to confuse privacy with anonymity, which we invented only a few generations ago. Earlier, most Americans lived in small towns or villages, which provide limited privacy and no anonymity.
The rise of big cities gave us anonymity, which lets some of us do things we would probably not have done in the villages, where there wasn’t much crime because no one was unknown. That social control was just waiting to be replaced, so now our villagers are electronic.
Sheri S. Tepper
Santa Fe, N.M.
SOLOVE REPLIES: There is a key difference between the small towns of yesteryear, where everybody knew your name, and the sprawling “global village” of today. In small towns, people knew one another well; they could judge one another in context. Today, in our more anonymous life, we often judge people based on information fragments without context. This is a much more impoverished way to understand and judge others, and the information we have about them is far more dubious. The idyllic image of the small village cannot be re-created through modern electronic technology. Moreover, a brief dip into 19th-century history and literature shows a world rife with oppressive norms, nosy neighbors and communities ready to condemn, often unfairly. Although social control can be good, not all of it is, and sometimes it can be downright unfair, stifling, misguided and cruel.
“Primate Motions,” by Lizzie Buchen [News Scan], reports on a Swiss ruling denying two neuroscientists’ applications to experiment on macaques on the basis that their proposals did not have sufficient expected benefits to society. In criticizing strict regulation on primate research, these scientists and others interviewed seem only interested in research, with no sense of moral duty. As people of science, we must be absolutely certain that the animals we use are treated as compassionately as possible, and we must be thankful to them for the knowledge they afford us.
The article “RFID Tag—You’re It,” by Katherine Albrecht, continued an important discussion around privacy and radio-frequency identification (RFID) that EPCglobal has been addressing for some time. But it is important to remind readers that the majority of RFID tags do not store or collect personal information. Just like ubiquitous barcodes, the electronic product code (EPC) carried by a tag is a string of numbers that identifies only a thing—typically the tag itself—not a person. The author’s claim that anyone with an RFID reader can skim tags is therefore pointless—skimming would provide neither personal information nor access to it.
This emerging technology is a powerful tool with the potential to improve the safety, security, and availability of food, medicine and other products, providing tremendous societal benefits. To learn more about RFID and EPC and to see our full privacy guidelines, readers can visit http://aboutepc.org
EPCglobal Public Policy Steering Committee
Albrecht paints a broad picture of RF technologies and their privacy risks. RFID tags based on the EPCglobal standard EPC Gen 2 are different from chips that comply with international ID card standards ISO/IEC 7816 and ISO/IEC 14443. The Smart Card Alliance has long stated that EPC Gen 2 RFID tags can pose significant risks to privacy and are not appropriate for identity applications.