In the first half, consumer privacy expert, and co-author of the bestseller Spychips with Katherine Albrecht, Liz McIntyre, discussed the recent news of human chipping and the latest in the world of RFID and electronic privacy. About half of the employees of a Wisconsin company, Three Square Market, agreed to have an RFID microchip installed in their hand at a "party" event held earlier this month. The chip allows employees to pay for items by swiping their hand. McIntyre believes the company had an ulterior motive in pushing this technology, as their business involves marketing vending and break room snack machines, and the chip solution could simplify payments, and perhaps increase sales.
Even overlooking privacy concerns (Three Square says the chip they're using is encrypted, and doesn't contain GPS tracking), McIntyre expressed concerns about the medical safety of such devices, citing the danger of the chip migrating to a different area of the body, and how cancers have developed in pets near where their tracking chips were installed. Down the road, there could be problems with hackers stealing identities via embedded chips, as well as issues with the reprogramming of chips once they're implanted. The technology is being pushed by marketers, wanting to track people's movements and interests, and has the potential to be misused by the government, she added. We need a law, McIntyre argued, to protect people from forcible chipping, such as by companies that insist their employees comply with the request (Wisconsin actually has such a law already in place).
Professor Craig Bauer was the 2011-2012 Scholar-in-Residence at the National Security Agency (NSA) Center for Cryptologic History. In the latter half, he shared the fascinating stories of how cryptology has been used from the ancients up to the digital era. Ciphers are codes used to hide or disguise messages or secrets (view related images), and centuries ago, people could use regular handwriting as most of the world was illiterate, he noted. These codes, which may contain letters and numbers jumbled in specific ways, can be used by spies or terrorists, industrialists who want to protect business secrets, as well as in religious contexts.
Ciphers date all the way back to ancient Egypt-- there are "meaningless" hieroglyphics on many sarcophagi, which Bauer suspects are actually codes of statements people were trying to obscure. He also talked about the mysterious 15th century Voynich manuscript, which has defied code breakers over the centuries. One of the most significant uses of cryptology was the Nazi's Enigma Machine, he recounted, and when a British team that included mathematician Alan Turing cracked the code, it turned the tide against the Germans in WWII.
Couldn't catch this episode of the show? Sign up for Coast Insider to listen at your leisure and never miss another program again!