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Caspian newsletter
December 6, 2006

A member of the Senate Banking Committee denounced RFID "no-swipe" credit cards at a press conference Sunday. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) said contracts for the cards should have warning boxes disclosing "the known weaknesses of the technology." He cautioned cardholders about their vulnerability to identity thieves, commenting you "may as well put your credit card information on a big sign on your back."

"No-swipe" or "contactless" credit cards contain RFID microchips that communicate account information silently and invisibly by radio waves. These microchips have earned the nickname "spychips" because the information they contain can be read without an individual's knowledge or consent.

While Congress is just waking up to the dangers of RFID technology, privacy and civil liberties organizations like CASPIAN have been sounding the alarm for years.

"It's about time for Capitol Hill to recognize the dangers of RFID," said Dr. Katherine Albrecht, Founder and Director of CASPIAN (Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering). "Perhaps now members of Congress will listen to their concerned constituents and work to pass long overdue bipartisan RFID labeling legislation not only for credit cards, but other RFID-tagged consumer items as well."

CASPIAN has had model RFID labeling legislation titled "The RFID Right to Know Act" available to federal lawmakers since 2003. (See The legislation was authored by by Zoe Davidson of the Boston University Legislative Clinic.

While CASPIAN supports free-market solutions to the problems of privacy invading technologies like RFID, the group believes consumer notice is needed so the free market can work. "We believe consumers have a right to know when the things they wear, carry, and interact with contain tracking devices--especially credit cards that can leak sensitive personal information," said Liz McIntyre, CASPIAN's communications director.

McIntyre, a former federal bank examiner, points out that vulnerable "swipeless" technology not only poses a threat to customers, but to the financial institutions that have issued millions of contactless cards, as well. "What excuse will organizations like JP Morgan Chase make if consumers are harmed financially because they have their personal information siphoned by identity thieves? These issuers stand to lose millions of dollars."

CASPIAN demanded a recall of RFID credit cards last month after the New York Times reported that a team of security researchers found that virtually every one of the "no-swipe" credit cards it tested was vulnerable to unauthorized charges and put consumers at risk for identity theft.

Researchers demonstrated how thieves could secretly skim information from the cards, right through purses, backpacks and wallets. The data included the cardholder's name, credit card number, expiration date and other information that could be used to make unauthorized purchases.

Albrecht and McIntyre are offering to testify before Congress about their extensive research into the dangers posed by RFID, and to send a copy of their book "Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Purchase and Watch Your Every Move" (Penguin/Plume Oct. 2006) to interested federal legislators.


"NY Sen. Schumer warns of no-swipe cards"

New York Times article about "no-swipe" credit card vulnerabilities:

Security researcher's detailed report on "no-swipe" cards:


CASPIAN (Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering) is 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 encourage privacy-conscious shopping habits across the retail spectrum.


"Spychips" is the winner of the 2006 Lysander Spooner Award for Advancing the Literature of Liberty and has received wide critical acclaim. Authored by recent Harvard graduate Dr. Katherine Albrecht and former bank examiner Liz McIntyre, the book is meticulously researched. "Spychips" draws on patent documents, corporate source materials, conference proceedings, and firsthand interviews to paint a convincing -- and frightening -- picture of the threat posed by RFID.

Despite its hundreds of footnotes and academic-level accuracy, the book remains lively and readable according to critics, who have called it a "techno-thriller" and "a masterpiece of technocriticism."

"A chilling story about an emerging future in which spychips run amok as Big Brother and Big Shopkeeper invade our privacy in unprecedented ways." - Chicago Tribune

"Paints a 1984-ish picture of how corporations would like to use RFID tags to keep tabs on you." - The Associated Press

CASPIAN: Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering Opposing supermarket loyalty cards and other retail surveillance schemes since 1999

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