Sunday, August 07, 2005

Forget RFID. Fear DNAID.

Slashdot recently posted an article about Tommy Thompson lobbying for the implanting of RFID chips into, well, just about everyone. This raises obvious privacy concerns as we descend down a slippery slope: first, people with medical conditions get voluntarily chipped. Next, all felons and sex offenders are chipped. Kidnapping fears lead to all children being chipped, and pretty soon the government is tracking everyone, all the time. But I stopped worrying about implanted RFID chips a while ago.

Why? Because the real threat will be the development of rapid DNA identification technology along with ubiquitous DNA sniffers everywhere. Remember, we discovered that DNA is the basis for genetics less than 50 years ago; look how far we've come. And the technology just gets better every year.

In the movie Gattaca, companies took blood samples to do rapid DNA identification of employees, but I don't think there's any reason DNAID machines would need to be so invasive. You're shedding skin cells, hairs, and random bits of genetic material all the time; that's why a bloodhound can track your trail even after several days. (The bloodhound is smelling protein, not your DNA, but the important thing is all the bits you're leaving behind.)

I predict that within 20 years, we will have machines that will be able to "sniff" genetic material out of the air and databases that are able to instantly turn that into an identity. There's no need for anything as crude as a chip implanted under the skin when everyone is already leaving identity tag molecules everywhere they go. I have no answers as to what this will do to society, but I'm not optimistic.

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