Readers sound off on RFID surveillance and terrorist flight simulators.

By Salon Staff
Published July 31, 2003 7:30PM (EDT)

[Read "Everything Is Watching YOU," by Farhad Manjoo.] story.]

Every time a new product-tracking scheme is introduced we are told how it will solve all kinds of problems.

Guess what? So far none have worked.

We are told that monitoring our shopping habits will result in improved stock control and better shops.

Guess what? It won't happen.

Why? Because you improve shops by discovering why customers did not buy, not by knowing what they bought.

If the supermarket runs out of a product, unless they interview customers they can never learn how the customers responded to the item being absent.

-- Geoff Lane

It may well be that we eventually have RFID tags in every product that we buy, but a microwave oven (on full power) will disable them in less than two seconds.

-- Tim Whitworth

As the article states, this topic appears on Slashdot and other techie sites from time to time.

One of the favorite solutions is to take tagged items and place them in a microwave oven for 5-10 seconds (with a glass of water to absorb reflected microwaves). The belief is that this is sufficient to destroy any RFID tags and shouldn't damage the product.

Personally, given the trade-off between being tracked and microwaving my new shorts, I think future shopping trips will end in my kitchen.

Granted, this does nothing for the in-store tracking and identification if you're using a credit card, but at least you're not being followed.

-- David Cross

In all of these discussions about privacy invasion through technology, nobody seems to bring up the point that technology cuts both ways. Individuals have the wherewithal to own and/or detect these invasive technologies -- and we should.

For instance, I imagine a savvy geek could market a device that spots RFID-enabled objects and lets a person know "You are being watched by that pack of razors." Would you buy this device?

In a country like America, "Big Brother" is effective only if we let him. Will big corporations, or the government, try to ban personal RFID detectors (as they did with radar detectors)? Perhaps. Would we let them? We'll see.

There is much wringing of hands over the fact that big companies and the government are watching us with malicious intent in their black hearts. But where is the effective countermeasure?

The technology to create detectors exists. By demanding it, and using it, we are only asserting our own ability to protect ourselves from an increasingly invasive environment.

-- Anca Mosoiu

Everything has positives and negatives and for the activists to ignore the positives and focus on the negatives of RFID is patently unjust.

Do the activists against RFID really think that people would pay extra to not risk being tracked (and I'd say it's a small risk)? Gillette razor blades are $10 a pack because the people that buy the razors must subsidize the company for those that steal them. That's economics, something few activists understand. If people don't steal them, razors become $5 a pack. Show me an activist who won't buy the $5-tagged razors in favor of $10 untagged razors and I'll show you an activist with a trust fund.

-- Gary Schnierow

[Read "Air Osama," by Joshua Tompkins.]

Joshua Tompkins' article implies that the increasing realism of flight simulators makes it ever easier for a potential terrorist to practice flying an airliner. Agreed, but so what?

The most effective airline-security improvement since 9/11 has been the knowledge that the flying public will not allow terrorists to take over another plane. Limiting the realism of a potential terrorist's flight simulator will have no effect on this.

-- Pete Butler

In your article "Air Osama," you didn't mention X-Plane by Laminar Research, the software that I've been told is the current gold standard for civilian flight simulators.

-- Zach Wither

To suggest that a flight-simulation game, no matter how sophisticated the game may be, motivated or encouraged the 9/11 hijackings is absurd and offensive. Knowing how to do something has nothing to do with how one chooses to use that information. I know how to drive my car on the sidewalk so as to kill as many pedestrians as possible, but I won't do that because I am not interested in killing random innocents.

I am, quite frankly, sick and tired of non-gamers blaming gamers and the game industry for whatever acts of violence evil/crazy/frustrated people commit. I can hear how the author's argument stems from his disgust for games in general when he writes about how people play in a "bizarre fantasy world" and how they "impersonate a drug-dealing Miami hoodlum." Last time I checked, Steven Spielberg's film "A.I." was still considered a smart fantasy world and "The Godfather" was still one of most watched movie series of all time (and let's not even try to measure how popular "The Sopranos" is!). You love the mob when they're in a movie, but you hate they mob when they're in a game.

Eh? Why don't you just say "I'm comfortable with film, but I just don't understand gaming as a form of media" rather than meeting what you essentially don't understand with fear and suspicion? I'm sure the author and those that agree with him can see how absurd the following suggestion is: Let's ban instructional driving videos for teenagers because knowing how to operate a car might give teens the tools they need to wipe out pedestrians. See how stupid that is? If you think games teach/encourage/embolden terrorists, it's because you just don't understand what games are and what they do. It's that simple.

-- Alex Sharpe

Normally your reporting is excellent, but in this case you have lowered yourselves to the alarmist quality of TV "news magazines" like "20/20" or "Dateline." Everything about the article follows the format: from the alarming headline, to the content that doesn't quite support the headline but is twisted to bring it in line with the presupposed concept, to the fact that you can't quite get the experts to say what you want, then dismiss their opinion by referring to "common sense." The author even admits to a desire to get people to say what he wants: "When asked to amplify his remarks for this story."

From this story I expect you will soon be publishing articles describing first-person shooters (games such as "Counter-Strike" or the beaten-to-death "Doom") as "murder simulators." Or worse yet, warning us about how rapists are using the Internet to lure your children into a life of white slavery. Alarmist articles about how the PATRIOT Act is being used to subvert our civil rights are fine, but trying to make "Microsoft Flight Simulator" the new scapegoat for fears about terrorism are out of line. Please leave this kind of journalism to major networks desperate for ratings.

-- Eric Church

Joshua Tompkins' article, "Air Osama," is interesting, but what's the point? Could/did a terrorist utilize such software to make the use of an airplane as a weapon easier? Possibly, but so what? That doesn't make the software responsible for the barbaric acts of those who committed them. Neither will restricting the free flow of information stop future acts of terrorism.

I'm thankful for the response Mr. Tompkins received from the FBI. Anything other than the response that it's "not something the FBI would be interested in" would give me reason for great concern. Does Mr. Tompkins think the government should be curtailing our ability to learn what we want to learn, even if the information comes in the form of a computer game? I should hope not!

I don't own a copy of one of the simulators he mentioned, but if I decide to get one, what business does anyone have saying I can't have it? Be careful what you wish for, Mr. Tompkins. If we start questioning the free dissemination of information, in whatever form, we will soon find ourselves on a slippery slope toward the trampling of the First Amendment.

-- Jess Bunshaft

Even if your premise that today's near-reality technology in PC simulation is helping to enable and embolden terrorists is correct, I believe many more thousands of innocent people worldwide die as a direct result of violent, perverse shoot-'em-up games. These titles are helping to promote a vicious young class of criminal that can kill and maim at the drop of a hat, then feel no guilt whatsoever during the subsequent trial. Years of modern television and video titles have created these monsters.

No one can say for certain what transpired in the last minutes when those brave souls stormed the cockpit in a last-ditch effort to wrestle the plane from the hijackers before the 9/11 Pennsylvania crash. In fact, the last 90 seconds have been hushed up, with even the relatives of the victims having to sign a non-disclosure form before listening to the playback. In such a nightmare scenario, I hasten to ask the following: Did they actually regain the cockpit, but not know how to control the out-of-control craft?

It is of course foolish to speculate what may or may not have happened, but I would hope that in a similar situation with all pilots dispatched or dead, at least a PC simulator owner would be present to try their best at landing the plane. It's either a PC simulator pilot or Joe from the tavern. Whom would you trust?

-- John Marino

Salon Staff

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