Tracking Cattle

On heavy rotation on CNN (US version) earlier this week, there were two RFID related stories. The first dealt with implanting RFID microchips in cattle for tracking purposes. The setting? New Delhi. I couldn't find a link on CNN but the San Francisco Chronicle has the scoop:

With the Indian economy's expansion in the last 15 years, driving Delhi's modern makeover, the presence of snorting livestock has become intolerable, many here say. "Everyone should be in their own natural habitat," said Meera Bhatia, a lawyer who filed a suit to compel the government to fix the cow problem. "It's not that complicated."

The Delhi cattle roundup is part of a nationwide trend. India's cities have in recent years sought to shed what some see as a medieval image that is inconsistent with the country's superpower ambitions...

Delhi's High Court ordered the city to address the cattle menace in 2002. "The capital city of Delhi should be a show window for the world," wrote judges R.S. Sodhi and Anil Dev Singh in their ruling. "The stray cattle on the roads gives a wrong signal."

Authorities tried a series of failed schemes: small fines, a threat to cut off cattle owners' electricity, a $50 bounty offered to the public for captured cows. The new plan -- involving a beefed-up staff of cattle catchers, microchip tracking devices and a massive new dairy farm -- is foolproof, say several people involved in its planning...

The linchpin of the strategy is the use of microchips implanted in the bellies of the city's cattle...

As many as 7,000 of Delhi's cattle have so far been micro-chipped, and officials plan to have them all tagged within 18 months.

This brings us to story #2 on CNN. Being an advanced economy, the USA, naturally, has to stay one step ahead:

CHICAGO: Say you have a high-security workplace and worry about the wrong people getting in.

Forget badges that can be lost or stolen. Why not tag employees with a radio-transmitting chip.

From about a foot away a special device will read the implanted chip's 16-digit number _ and zap, doors open and close.

That Orweillian-sounding idea is exactly what an Ohio security firm's boss has done with two of his workers and himself.

"We wanted a way to say, `Hey, we are a little different in the way we take our security,'" explained Sean Darks, chief executive of CityWatcher.Com in Cincinnati, who also is wearing a chip. "I wouldn't have my employees do something, if I didn't do it myself," he added.

His glee is not shared by workplace and privacy experts, who shudder at the idea that Corporate America might decide to brand employees with the latest technology, known as Radio Frequency Identification Device.

"This may be appropriate for cattle, pets or packages, but for humans it is a very different issue," said Lee Tien, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a technology and civil liberties group in San Francisco, Calif.

The temporal juxtaposition of the two news stories raises certain connotations. In addition to the workers as cattle meme, it brings up issues of tracking. Imagine if there was a nationwide sensor network: no more calling in sick, you better have a really good excuse for your boss that maps precisely to your movements! Imagine the resulting efficiency gains! The US would maintain its lead as the country with the most productive workers. And unwanted employees? Why, just put them out on the streets to be rounded up later by the city cattle pound!

Anyway, if you read the second story further, it turns out the US is actually behind other countries in human chip implantation:

Workers at the organized crime division of Mexico's Attorney General in Mexico City, for example, wear the chips to try to maintain top security.

So do about 2,000 patrons of nightclubs in Barcelona, Spain, and Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The chips allow them to avoid long waits in lines and to even run tabs at the clubs, which are owned by the same firm. Waiters scan the chips and a computer automatically draws the amount due from their checking accounts.

Scary.

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- February 17, 2006 7:27 PM // Technology