Wal-Mart Spychip Protests

[wikilike_img src=http://static.flickr.com/26/61898381_04006dcc70_m_d.jpg|url=http://www.spychips.com/protest/nh-protest/slideshow/index.html|caption=Spychip Protesters take it up with Wal-Mart: “In New Hampshire we live free, no RFID!”|width=250|align=thumb tleft]

Boy, now I’ll really have to get to the
“Spychips” book Bruce recommended in his seminar presentation.

Here we see protesters rallying against Wal-Mart and its use of RFID, mustered together around the common cause of privacy and civil liberties concern, evidently articulated in the book
“Spychips”, which is on my short list now, if only because books, like other kinds of media, have the capacity to create fascinating kinds of social formations.

Why do I blog this? RFID is one of those contentious instruments that is difficult to parse. The opportunities RFID offers to create increased efficiencies in supply-chain management are compelling when you don’t go much further into the problem than a PowerPoint presentation. I haven’t read Spychips, so I can only say in vague terms what those opposed to RFID are concerned about — tracking leads to questions about privacy and that leads to concerns about eroding civil liberties. Okay, that seems fairly straightforward, but not entirely nuanced. There has to be a tension in that equation somewhere that makes it more fraught than that.

But, frankly, at this stage I’m more drawn to the debate because of a general fascination with how an instrument comes to life as a social artefact, the way RFID has in this case. It’s even become a religious item through the book “The Spychips Threat : Why Christians Should Resist RFID and Computer Tracking” (Katherine Albrecht, Liz McIntyre). And the Spychips VHS and DVD is sold through the Endtime.com web site whose tagline is “Revealing the Future through Bible Prophecy.”

I don’t find this unusual or cause for discrediting the Spychips authors or their approach to entering the social-political debate around “Arfids”. I’m honestly fascinated with the way that this little artifact of coiled metal, sticky glue and laminated plastic is transformed into, and transforms, events, actions, activities, passions, and emotions, and how religious doctrine, scripture — what have you, become woven into that little bit of plastic and metal, metonymically sitting next to inventory control systems.

Who would’ve thought? You can’t help but admire how culture circulates!

This is a great case as to how artifacts have politics, and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

Or are we already convinced that they do?

There’s a press release issued from the Spychips camp, quote:

November 9, 2005

Beleagered Retailer Faces Criticism for Item-level Tracking Agenda

“In New Hampshire we live free. We don’t want R-F-I-D!” was the chant Saturday as 26 New Hampshire residents protested at a Bedford, New Hampshire, Wal-Mart store. The beleagered retailer has been drawing criticism from privacy groups because of its RFID tagging of products like Hewlett-Packard printers in violation of a moratorium called for by over 40 of the world’s leading privacy and civil liberties

“It’s time they face the music,” said Joel Rauch, founder of the newly formed New Hamphire branch of the consumer privacy group CASPIAN. “Consumers will not tolerate being spied on through the things they buy, wear, and carry. We’re making that clear here today, and we’re taking that sentiment all the way to the State House.”

CASPIAN members have taken their concerns about RFID technology to the New Hampshire state legislature where a bill requiring labeling of RFID-tagged items is progressing through committee. Passage of this legislation would be a victory for privacy advocates, but it could spell trouble for Wal-Mart and other retailers who worry that consumers will boycott stores that carry items tagged with RFID. The industry’s own studies show the vast majority of consumers object to RFID technology on privacy grounds.

Wal-Mart is expected to be especially hard hit by consumer-driven
anti-RFID efforts since it has invested millions of dollars in the
technology and taken a very public stance in favor of it. “This
controversy comes at a time when Wal-Mart can least afford it,” said Katherine Albrecht, Founder and Director of CASPIAN. “They are coming under fire from all sides, for many aspects of their operations. This will hurt their attempts to position themselves as a more upscale
shopping experience and put their publicized bad behavior behind them.”

Saturday’s event followed close on the heels of a similar protest in Dallas, Texas, in mid-October that drew over 70 protesters. Albrecht promises that more events are being planned.

Photos of the New Hampshire protest are available online at:



NH CASPIAN the New Hampshire chapter of CASPIAN (Consumers Against
Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering), a grass roots consumer
group fighting retail surveillance schemes since 1999. With thousands of members in all 50 U.S. states and over 30 countries worldwide, CASPIAN seeks to educate consumers about marketing strategies that invade their privacy and to encourage privacy-conscious shopping habits across the retail spectrum.

Katherine Albrecht (kma@spychips.com) 877-287-5854
Liz McIntyre (liz@spychips.com) 877-287-5854
Joel Rauch (joel@nhcaspian.org)

CASPIAN Consumer Privacy
www.spychips.com // www.nocards.org // www.nhcaspian.org

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