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Mary Starrett
March 13, 2003

Fashion designers from New York to Milan have filled the runways in recent weeks with all the latest Spring looks. Hemlines are up, heel heights are down and pink is all the rage. But regardless of what you think of this season's haute couture you should be made aware of a trend that's catching on... it could make you think twice before buying new clothes. Tiny specks capable of tracking virtually every single item are now being imbedded by manufacturers. This Orwellian technology, called RFID (radio frequency ID) will now be used by Italian clothing designer Benetton in the form of trackable chips woven into it's apparel. The chips, which function as itty bitty radio transmitters will be inserted when the clothes are made and will remain intact throughout the life of the garment. According to chip manufacturer Philips Electronics, the devices will be "imperceptible" to the wearer.

Sound like something out of a futuristic sci-fi thriller? Welcome to your brave, new world.

Benetton is not alone in implementing this frighteningly invasive technology. Gillette has already purchased 500 million of these tracking devices and starting in July will imbed them in shaving cream and razors sold at Wal Mart stores. The chipped items will sit atop "smart" shelves that will work in unison with the chipped products to tell Gillette and Wal Mart all kinds of things; and the info-gathering doesn't end there. As an extra added bonus ,when shoppers take their Big Brother -branded purchases home (and wherever RFID "readers" are located,) their purchase will be tracked. RFID Journal touts the technology as a way to eliminate bar codes, cut down on labor costs and theft and says it will be a boon to inventory control.

The founder and director of a group called C.A.S.P.I.A.N. (Consumers Against Privacy Invasion And Numbering) sees it differently. Katherine Albrecht, a Harvard University doctoral candidate says what Benetton, Gillette and over 90 of the world's biggest corporations are doing, in essence, is "registering" those products to you. Albrecht has been warning us about this for years. She says consumers have no idea that these RFID chips actually track the owner .. " then anytime you (go) near an RFID reader device the (product) would beam out your identity to anyone with access to a database - all without your permission".

Think this is waaaay out there? It's not. According to a 2001 INFORMATIONWEEK article on the RFID scheme, proponents are looking ahead to a seamless, network of millions of RFID receivers in airports, stores and even your home. And remember, you can't turn these things off.

Benetton, which had sales of over $2 billion last year apparently thinks spending the 25 cents to 50 cents per chip will be money well -spent. The company has ordered 15 million chips for starters. So along with your mock turtleneck you'll be getting an RFID gizmo which operates at 13.56 MHz, and stores 512 bits of information. RFID Journal says "unless there is a big public outcry, Benetton is not going to be the last retailer to adopt RFID".

Did you get that? IF NOBODY GETS UPSET ABOUT THIS IT'S GOING TO HAPPEN! Don't just SIT there, DO something...Be part of that "big public outcry" they doubt will happen 'cause you're either catatonic from too much TV, or you just plain don't care.

Know that the likes of Kimberly Clarke, Coca- Cola, Philip Morris, Target, the U.S. Department Of Defense and the United States Postal Service (just think of the implications of THAT!) are watching this Benetton thing very carefully. They're poised to begin their own chipping programs in the not-too-distant future.

Where is all this technology coming from? From the brilliant minds at MIT's Auto-ID Center. In just a few years the center has raked in tons of money from some heavy-duty global corporations who are raring to go on this. The effects of this RFID technology are truly chilling. Consumers wouldn't be able to escape the watchful eye of manufacturers, retailers and marketers. Law enforcement would have a field day with this as well. Individual's behavior could be monitored to the nth degree.

So what can YOU do about it?

Spread the word. Boycott Benetton.... (Gillette, too, while you're at it) and make sure they know you've stopped buying their products and WHY.

Get educated. Check out C.A.S.P.I.A.N.'s web site: at It's a good place to start.

Call your local media (radio talk show hosts, newspaper editors, TV stations).

And think about going naked. Katherine Albrecht has. She says "I'd rather go naked than wear clothes with spy chips".

As for me, I have no problem wearing the old stuff I have hanging in my closet. I might not make any new fashion statements but I'll be making a statement that doesn't ever go out of style in a free society. My statement's summed very well in something called the 4th Amendment.

2003 - Mary Starrett  All Rights Reserved

Related Articles:
Benetton Clothing To Carry Tiny Tracking Transmitters   AP

Auto-ID: Tracking Everything, Everywhere  C.A.S.P.I.A.N.
Tiny Transmitters Give Retailers Privacy Advocates Nightmares USA Today
RFID is About Ready to Explode  Info World


Mary Starrett was on television for 21 years as a news anchor, morning talk show host and medical reporter. For the last 5 years she hosted a radio program. Mary is a frequent guest on radio talk shows.  E-Mail