In Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film Minority Report, a futuristic America came complete with magnetic freeways, precognitive humans and high-tech tracking devices. Basically, the proficiency of technology in 2054 allowed the government, law enforcement and big corporations to know everything about you, to physically track you wherever you went.
When the protagonist (a besieged cop played by Tom Cruise) tried getting lost in this city of the future, it proved impossible. Wherever he went, various tracking devices were able to ID him within moments. Specifically targeted video ads spoke to him by name wherever he wandered, usually trying to sell him something.
Don’t look now, but some of that future has already arrived.
If you haven’t read yet about Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, here’s your chance. The minuscule chip written about in Devanie Angel’s feature story “They’re tracking you” this week has a tiny antenna that broadcasts detailed information about both products and people. The RFID industry claims the tag is just a logical follow-up to bar codes, but, not surprisingly, a coalition of privacy-rights advocates think otherwise and are working—at the state Capitol and elsewhere—to set up road blocks to the unhindered use of RFID tags.
Almost six years ago, SN&R published a story with the headline “You Are Product.” The cover image was a photograph of a young man with bold eyes, a shaved head and a large bar code emblazoned across his forehead. Indeed, we’d placed a giant, ubiquitous bar code on the cover one other time, too, in the late ’90s, for a story about privacy rights and advancing technology. Strange that a tracking device that was so futuristic then has already become moribund. And who knows what is to come tomorrow?
In Minority Report, Cruise’s character foiled the authorities by arranging to have a black-market, basement surgeon conduct a creepy, low-tech transplant of his eyeballs. Yes, eyeballs. The surgery changed his ID print, thereby allowing him to succeed at hiding out for at least a little while.
But, as I recall, they did find him in the end.