On Wednesday, the Guardian (UK) reported on "what is believed to be the largest radio frequency tagging program in history has triggered protests from U.S. privacy campaigners":  an effort by the USDA to "keep track of all livestock production and movements in what it claims is an attempt to improve the traceability of disease outbreaks."[1]  --  Privacy advocates are concerned that this is the first step toward applying RFIC technology to humans.  --  A "Liberty Ark Coalition" has been formed to oppose the plan.  --  For background on RFID technology, as well as on the controversy surround it, see here....


Special report

By James Sturcke

Guardian (UK)
April 26, 2006


A decision by the Bush administration to proceed with what is believed to be the largest radio frequency tagging program in history has triggered protests from U.S. privacy campaigners.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) wants to keep track of all livestock production and movements in what it claims is an attempt to improve the traceability of disease outbreaks.

By 2009, 40m cattle will have been tagged, and the scheme is to be extended to include the billions of chickens and other animals farmed every year in the U.S.

But campaigners are outraged that all agricultural producers, including smallholder farmers, are being pressured into registering their details when the national animal identification system (NAIS) becomes fully operational in 2009. They also fear that the technology earmarked for the scheme could be used on people.

"This is the biggest scheme of its kind," said Katherine Albrecht, a consumer privacy expert. "They say it is aimed at tracking animal disease outbreaks, but I have had conversations with public health officials where they have been looking forward to a time when the spread of human diseases could also be monitored in this way."

Although the USDA insists the program is "technology neutral," and various schemes, such as retina scans and DNA testing, could be used in it, campaigners believe radio frequency identification (RFID) will predominate. RFID involves a chip that is scanned by a reader in a way similar to the operation of the Oyster card ticket system on the London underground. Firms tracking components and stock as they move around the world are increasingly using the technology, but it has caused alarm among civil liberty campaigners, who believe it will also enable organizations to monitor the movement of people.

"It raises issues not just about the movement of products but about watching people's lives," Ms. Albrecht said. "We are not a long way off from people beginning to demand publicly that systems be used on humans."

"I know that many people believe this is the best way to trace animal diseases. However, there are other people with alternative agendas. They are not talking or thinking enough about the long-term impact or the bigger picture: if you do it to animal diseases, the next step is humans. I believe we are on the verge of the next step." She cited as evidence the decision last year by a former U.S. health secretary, Tommy Thompson, to join the board of Verichip, a Florida-based firm that makes human RFID tags.

Soon after taking the job, Mr. Thompson announced he would have a rice-sized VeriChip RFID tag implanted under his skin. The firm's website states that the technology could have medical applications, with paramedics instantly able to call up the records of unconscious, but tagged patients. Earlier this month, the U.S. agriculture secretary, Mike Johanns, announced the NAIS implementation plan.

"Developing an effective animal identification system has been a high priority for USDA, and we've made significant strides towards achieving a comprehensive U.S. system," he said.. He announced that the plan "set an aggressive timeline for ensuring full implementation of the NAIS by 2009."

The animal-tracking databases will record and store animal movements, providing animal health officials with data they will use in fighting outbreaks of livestock disease. Their aim is to identify the origins of an outbreak within 48 hours.

The plan involves registering properties where farm animals are kept, initially on a voluntary basis. However, the USDA says it "may move toward a requirement for mandatory premises and animal identification for all species included in the system." Plans are currently being developed for cattle, swine, sheep, goats, horses, poultry, bison, llamas, and alpacas, among other animals, to be tagged.

Around 35m cattle and 8bn poultry are slaughtered in the U.S. every year. Under the scheme, some animals would need individual tags while others would be tagged as a group. The plans have triggered protests from small farmers across the U.S., who have used a website to voice their fears of invasions of privacy, increased food prices, and concentration of power in the hands of large producers.