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Byte Me

I bet you have a wallet full of cards. Most of the time, you probably have the basics on you- student ID card, your driver’s license and a debit or credit card. Others of us have a flurry of rewards cards-supermarkets, pet supply stores, bookstores. You sign up for a card, save some cash; it’s a good deal. You even feel like a V.I.P with all those plastic things dangling from your keychain or nestled in your wallet.

So what about the Card to End All Cards? An ID to take the place of your driver’s license at the very least, something that means that you’d never have to dig up your birth certificate or social security card again to prove your existence and your citizenship? Something that would allegedly thwart identity thieves? Something that could tell hospital emergency room staff your vital details in an emergency? Something our government says will make us safer?

At face value, the Real ID may sound like the answer-a card that sums you up. Name, sex, date of birth, social security number, principal residence as well as a digital photograph. And that doesn’t seem so bad, because it’s almost what your driver’s license does anyway. But see, it’s the “common machine-readable technology” phrase in the verbiage of the Real ID Act that makes so many of us nervous.

The standard for the machine-readable technology will be set by none other than the Department of Homeland Security. And the Department can add whatever stipulations they want to the Act as they see fit. Critics expect that biometric identifiers will be added, like a retinal scan or a fingerprint.

The crux, though, is with the increasing popularity of radio frequency identification measures. And this is where the whole issue turns into a horrifying amalgamation of 1984, The Jetsons, and that movie Gattaca with Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman. And throw in a little Spy v. Spy just for effect.

Radio Frequency Identification in this case would be a chip that broadcasts your information to anyone with the appropriate reader. Worst case scenario is that the signal could be used to track you-whether you’re fleeing authorities in a stolen Corvette or just window-shopping in the mall. And that information, like that you’re moving at 110mph or you stopped in front of the Gap could be routed to the appropriate institution: the police or advertisers.

Nervous yet?

From MasterCard to Smith and Wesson, companies are looking at the opportunities RFID presents. A reader in a gun matching a signal from a chip embedded in your palm would prevent a gun in the wrong hands from firing. Having your bank account details embedded in your wrist would certainly eliminate the risk of losing your credit card.

And, for those of you thinking “Well, what if someone cuts your arm off to charge some concert tickets?”-if someone has taken your arm, you have more pressing matters than some fraudulent charges, hmm?

In the summer of 2004, the Baja Beach Club in Barcelona, Spain, was already using RFID to help identify their VIPs. The syringe-injectable chip was placed in the palms or forearms of some of their customers, allowing them to pay for drinks with the wave of a hand. The chip is also linked to the club’s security system, allowing customers access to exclusive lounges.

I find this extremely creepy. Especially the thought that anyone could scan you, and unlike in the grocery store, where you swipe your credit card, there is no beepy sound to let you know you’ve swiped correctly. Nothing. A creepy nothing.

Back to our impending ID cards. We’ll likely all have these by May 2008. The Act has already passed. We really missed the bus on this one, folks. Without this card you don’t get to drive, visit a federal building, board a plane, open a bank account or collect Social Security. You are persona non grata.

The owner of the Baja Club said that his customers enjoyed getting their implants.

“I know many people who want to be implanted,” he said. “Actually, almost everybody has piercings, tattoos or silicone.”

So, to all you pierced, tattooed, siliconed people out there, are you ready for your new fashion statement? You and your Homeland Security-approved card with embedded chip will travel everywhere together.

Might as well just skip the card. Just implant the chip in my forehead and let me scan my face at Safeway to get peanut butter