Monday, October 03, 2005

Singapore Blogging: RFID Nation

One field where Singapore keeps up with its reputation for barely concealed dictatorship is the use of mass surveillance technology. You can't use the new tube system, nor the older light rail system, without being issued a reuseable plastic card as a ticket that triggers the barriers at a distance. (You are strongly encouraged to get a refillable, Oyster-style card that would carry your address.) There is road pricing on the motorways, managed through a gateway system that probably permits island-wide tracking of cars.

But I wasn't expecting my press accreditation to be fitted with The Mark Of The Beast. It just looked like a laminate badge to go around the neck, with my name and employer on the front and the all-important word PRESS in big white letters on a red background. Then I visited the stand of a Really Huge Tech Company - no, in fact, this blog always names names. It was Hewlett-Packard - and the local PRs pointed iPaqs at my chest like some kind of futuristic weapons. There's a throwaway in Douglas Coupland's Microserfs about so-and-so who's working on "reality-backward development", where you start with something in the real world and try to design its cyberspace equivalent, and how they're worried because at the moment she's working on "gun". This looked similar.

And, in a sense, that was exactly what it was. Without even a bleep - I mean, there should have really been a blinding flash of green light - it sucked my identity out. Peering, I could just see part of the screen - being an LCD, not all of it was legible if you weren't looking directly at it. I saw my name, my employer, my job title, my home, office and mobile telephone numbers, my office address, nationality, my work email address - perhaps the URL of this blog too, my hotel room number or my bank account details, but I didn't see it. They pressed a button and probably sent it to some devilish server farm back in California or in the depths of the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (yes, they really call it that).

It was pretty sci-fi, but not in a good way. Now, I seem to remember blogging that HP had begun marketing a complete National Identity System as an off-the-shelf product. Did they just test it on me? Am I on file? Holy Jesus, how many have they killed already?

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