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Radio Frequency Identification

September 29, 2010

The idea of Radio Frequency Identification, or RFID, has been around for years. It is an automatic system of identification, often called a “label” or “tag.” The “tag” is cylindrical and can be attached to or implanted inside of a human, animal or an inanimate object and is read by the radio waves that it emits. Promoters of the RFID propose that it will transmit data that can allow the user to identify, locate, track and update information as it pertains to merchandise, pets and people. In some hospitals, the RFID is already in use, experimentally, to identify its effectiveness in providing an unconscious person’s medical history and physical status in the event of an emergency. With that in mind, imagine that you are outfitted with this promising implant.

Let’s imagine that you’ve decided that you want to give up all of your worldly possessions and go live in a cave. Once settled, you feel as if you’re free to do whatever you want! Moments later, your new life is shattered as you find that you’re swarmed by masked men that come and whisk you away from the desert dwelling that you call home. From there you are plopped in front of a judge where you will be expected to answer for your outstanding indebtedness and irresponsibility as a result thereof. You’ve been found! Just like they can find your pet, they can also find you by reading the radio waves transmitting from your implanted RFID chip.

The comics I chose for this analysis illustrate three scenarios that similarly depict “what if” situations as they pertain to the ethics of RFID chips. First there is a doctor who would like to implant an RFID chip into a young man, then, an elderly patron that is scanned as he enters a grocery store and finally a young man who realizes that he may have gotten more than he signed up for and wants only to escape.

The first comic, “Doctor Fun,” deals with a doctor who is trying to convince a young man to have the chip implanted. The young man is clearly suspicious but is ultimately and easily persuaded by the “coolness” of the technology that inhibits the chip. In “Toles,” the second comic, the cartoonist portrays an older man who goes through a scanner at a store. In this store he is faced with the embarrassment of the kind of information that the attendant was able to obtain and share with stunned customer. The third and unnamed comic tells the story of a man who senses that negative things will come while the RFID chip inhabits his body. Nothing has happened but he states that “…the space between “Not yet” and “too late” is shrinking every day.”

leaf graphicDoctor Fun

In “Doctor Fun,” the cartoonist uses ethos in that the authority figure is a doctor. A doctor is often entrusted with out confidences as well as our physical and mental wellbeing. In “Doctor Fun,” the doctor appeals to the youth as a person of trusted authority. He uses the young man’s youth and interest in material possessions to persuade him to have the implantation. There are two conversations shown. One shows the doctor trying to convince the young man to get the RFID implant as the young man insists that it is a violation of his rights. The other conversation shows the doctor using another, more effective approach, where he attempts, successfully, to ply the young man with modern electronic gadgetry.

Logos can be found in the second comic. It appears as if the older man is looking down as he enters into the store. It’s as if he knows the effect the chip will have on his surroundings. Nevertheless, he must continue on with his day. The cartoonist uses reasoning as a way to impart that, although the chip can be an embarrassment, it is practical and can be useful to the individual. In the cartoon, it is used like a grocery list. The man is reminded to purchase his hemorrhoid cream as customers look on, mockingly. One individual commented, “Don’t forget mouthwash. I figured that out on myself,” insinuating how one can come to rely on the RFID chip so much that they can’t function without it.

leaf graphicHooray!

In the third comic, we are confronted by a situation in which a man is freeing himself from the would-be bonds of this electronic captivity. A friend looks on as the man rips the RFID chip out of his hand and goes on to join other rebels who have done the same. In the end, he appears glad and without regret. This comic portrays pathos in that it appeals to the reader’s emotional response to the man’s apparent anxieties over having the RFID implant.

leaf graphicFreedom

In each comic, we are presented with serious implications regarding the effects of the RFID chip. In many ways it can have a significant impact on our society, our safety and our security – positively or negatively. Each cartoonist presents the issue to a different audience; however, they each seem to have to same warning and informative nature, as if to say “Head’s up! This could be you. What would you do if it were?”

i. “Epic – Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Systems.” Epic – Electronic Privacy Information Center. Web. 29 Sept. 2010.
ii. “Asian Hospital & Healthcare Management – Publication – Current Issue – Medical Errors – RFID To The Rescue.” Magazine for the Hospitals & Healthcare Industry Leaders – Asian Hospital & Healthcare Management. Web. 29 Sept. 2010.

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