[Politech] HHS announces program to implant RFID tags in homeless [priv]

From: Declan McCullagh (declan@private)
Date: Thu Apr 01 2004 - 08:15:52 PST

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    Date: Thu, 1 Apr 2004 09:26:25 -0500
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    WASHINGTON (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 
    said Thursday that it was about to begin testing a new technology 
    designed to help more closely monitor and assist the nation's homeless 
    population.
    
    Under the pilot program, which grew out of a series of policy academies 
    held in the last two years, homeless people in participating cities will 
    be implanted with mandatory Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags 
    that social workers and police can use track their movements.
    
    The RFID technology was developed by HHS' Health Resources and Services 
    Administration (HRSA) in partnership with five states, including 
    California and New York. "This is a rare opportunity to use advanced 
    technology to meet society's dual objectives of better serving our 
    homeless population while making our cities safer," HRSA Administrator 
    Betty James Duke said.
    
    The miniscule RFID tags are no larger than a matchstick and will be 
    implanted subdermally, meaning under the skin. Data from RFID tracking 
    stations mounted on telephone poles will be transmitted to police and 
    social service workers, who will use custom Windows NT software to track 
    movements of the homeless in real time.
    
    In what has become a chronic social problem, people living in shelters 
    and on the streets do not seek adequate medical care and frequently 
    contribute to the rising crime rate in major cities. Supporters of 
    subdermal RFID tracking say the technology will discourage implanted 
    homeless men and women from committing crimes, while making it easier 
    for government workers to provide social services such as delivering 
    food and medicine.
    
    Duke called the RFID tagging pilot program "a high-tech, 
    minimally-intrusive way for the government to lift our citizens away 
    from the twin perils of poverty and crime." Participating cities include 
    New York City, San Francisco, Washington, and Bethlehem, Penn.
    
    Participating states will receive grants of $14 million to $58 million 
    from the federal Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness 
    (PATH) program, which was created under the McKinney Act to fund support 
    services for the homeless. A second phase of the project, scheduled to 
    be completed in early 2005, will wirelessly transmit live information on 
    the locations of homeless people to handheld computers running the 
    Windows CE operating system.
    
    A spokesman for the National Coalition for the Homeless, which estimates 
    that there are between 2.3 million and 3.5 million people experiencing 
    homelessness nationwide, said the pilot program could be easily abused. 
    "We have expressed our tentative support for the idea to HRSA, but only 
    if it includes privacy safeguards," the spokesman said. "So far it's 
    unclear whether those safeguards will actually be in place by roll-out."
    
    Chris Hoofnagle, deputy director of the Electronic Privacy Information 
    Center, said the mandatory RFID program would be vulnerable to a legal 
    challenge. "It is a glaring violation of the Tenth Amendment, which says 
    that powers not awarded to the government are reserved to the people, 
    and homeless people have just as many Tenth Amendment rights as everyone 
    else," said Hoofnagle, who is speaking about homeless privacy at this 
    month's Computers Freedom and Privacy conference in Berkeley, Calif.
    
    While HRSA's program appears to be the first to forcibly implant humans 
    with RFID tags, the technology is becoming more widely adopted as 
    retailers use it to track goods. Wal-Mart Stores said last year that it 
    will require its top 100 suppliers to place RFID tags on shipping crates 
    and pallets by January 2005.
    
    
    Copyright  2001-2004 United Press International
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