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Anti-RFID outfit deflates Mexican VeriChip hype

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Reports that 160 Mexican officials have had RFID chips implanted within their flesh in some bizarre "security" scheme have been exaggerated, Anti-RFID outfit CASPIAN (Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering) says.

"Our concern is that dozens of news outlets have repeated the inflated number, which has reached the level of an urban legend," CASPIAN Director Katherine Albrecht said in a recent press release.

"I myself have repeated the erroneous figure in several media interviews, and I want to set the record straight," she added.

The true number of Mexico's new robo-crats, based on a transcript from a Televisa Mexican interview, is only 18, CASPIAN says.

In a 19 July, 2004 press release, Albrecht made a clear mention of the imaginary 160:

"Promoting implanted RFID devices as a security measure is downright 'loco,'" says Katherine Albrecht. "Advertising you've got a chip in your arm that opens important doors is an invitation to kidnapping and mutilation."

That's Albrecht's response to the announcement by Mexican Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha that he and 160 other Mexican officials were implanted with Verichip RFID devices.

We wondered how the inflated figure got circulating in the first place. The earliest mention in English that we could find on the Web, following a not-terribly-aggressive search, comes from a blog called igargoyle on 13 July 2004. This is followed, with more details, by the Associated Press, The Guardian, and The Register, each on 14 July.

CASPIAN, weighing in several days later, is clearly not to blame for the hype. And now the outfit has learned that classic lesson about believing what one reads in the papers.

But who is to blame? Well, there is a 13 July item in Spanish that seems to have words in it that relate to the RFID story, along with the number 160; but this is unlikely to be the original source. There is also (we believe) a brief mention in a 13 July press release on what we think is the Mexican President's official Web site.

The thirteenth seems to be when the story broke in Mexico, and the source seems to be Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha himself, although we could not find a place where he is directly quoted as saying that 160 employees would be chipped. Reporters have offered the number in the context of interviewing him, which suggests that he's the source, but there are no specific, direct quotes that we could find. Perhaps, like many senior bureaucrats, he had no idea what he was talking about.

Perhaps a companion press release contained the bogus number, or perhaps the Spanish words for 18 and 160 sound alike, as fifteen and fifty do in English.

In any case, we're pleased to have cleared this up. ®

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