Levi Strauss Confirms RFID 'Test' Refuses to Disclose Location
It may be time to ditch your Dockers and lay off the Levi's, say privacy activists
Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre. New information confirms that Levi Strauss
& Co. is violating a call for a moratorium on item-level RFID by spychipping
its clothing. What's more, the company is refusing to disclose the location
of its U.S. test.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a controversial technology that uses
tiny microchips to track items from a distance. These RFID microchips have earned
the nickname "spychips" because each contains a unique identification
number, like a Social Security number for things, that can be read silently
and invisibly by radio waves. Over 40 of the world's leading privacy and civil
liberties organizations have called for a moratorium on chipping individual
consumer items because the technology can be used to track people without their
knowledge or consent.
Jeffrey Beckman, Director of Worldwide and U.S. Communications for Levi Strauss,
confirmed his company's chipping program in an email exhange with McIntyre,
saying "a retail customer is testing RFID at one location [in the U.S.]...on
a few of our larger-volume core men's Levi's jeans styles." However, he
refused to name the location.
"Out of respect for our customer's wishes, we are not going to discuss
any specifics about their test," he said. Beckman also confirmed the company
is tagging Levi Strauss clothing products, including Dockers brand pants, at
two of its franchise locations in Mexico.
McIntyre was tipped off to the activity by a mention in an industry publication.
The article indicated Levi Strauss was looking for additional RFID "test
Albrecht believes the companies are keeping mum about the U.S. test location
in order to prevent a consumer backlash. Clothing retailer Benetton was hit
hard by a consumer boycott led by Albrecht in 2003 when the company announced
plans to embed RFID tags in its Sisley line of women's clothing. The resulting
consumer outcry forced the company to retreat from its plans and disclaim its
Levi Strauss can little afford similar problems with consumers. It is one of
the world's largest brand-name apparel marketers with a presence in more than
110 countries, but has suffered through several years of declining sales as
younger consumers gravitate to new brands. The company has also been hurt by
Wal-Mart's decision to cut back on inventory in a bid to shore up its own declining
While Levi Strauss reports that its current RFID trials use external RFID "hang
tags" that can be clipped from the clothes and the focus is on inventory
management, not customer tracking, the company isn't guaranteeing how it will
use RFID in the future.
"Companies like Levi Strauss are painting their RFID trials as innocuous,"
observes Albrecht. "But this technology is extraordinarily dangerous. There
is a reason why we have asked companies not to spychip clothing. Few things
are more intimately connected with an individual than the clothes they wear."
"Once clothing manufacturers begin applying RFID to hang tags, the floodgates
will open and we'll soon find these things sewn into the hem of our jeans,"
Albrecht adds. "The problem with RFID is that it is tracking technology,
plain and simple."
Albrecht and McIntyre point out that tracking people through the things they
wear and carry is more than mere speculation. In their book "Spychips:
How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID,"
they reveal sworn patent documents that describe ways to link the unique serial
numbers on RFID-tagged items with the people who purchase them.
One of the most graphic examples is IBM's "Identification and Tracking
of Persons Using RFID-Tagged Items." In that patent application, IBM inventors
suggest tracking consumers for marketing and advertising purposes.
"That's enough to steam most consumers," says McIntyre."But IBM's
proposal that the government track people through RFID tags on the things they
wear and carry should send a cold chill down our spines."
IBM inventors detail how the government could use RFID tags to track people
in public places like shopping malls, museums, libraries, sports arenas, elevators,
and even restrooms.
"Make no mistake," McIntyre adds. "Today's RFID inventory tags
could evolve into embedded homing beacons. Unchecked, this technology could
become a Big Brother bonanza and a civil liberties nightmare."
ABOUT THE BOOK
"Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track your Every
Move with RFID" (Nelson Current) was released in October 2005. Already
in its fifth printing, "Spychips" is the winner of the 2006 Lysander
Spooner Award for Advancing the Literature of Liberty and has received wide
critical acclaim. Authored by Harvard doctoral researcher Katherine Albrecht
and former bank examiner Liz McIntyre, the book is meticulously researched,
drawing on patent documents, corporate source materials, conference proceedings,
and firsthand interviews to paint a convincing -- and frightening -- picture
of the threat posed by RFID.
Despite its hundreds of footnotes and academic-level accuracy, the book remains
lively and readable according to critics, who have called it a "techno-thriller"
and "a masterpiece of technocriticism."
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT:
Katherine Albrecht (firstname.lastname@example.org)
877-287-5854 ext. 1
Liz McIntyre (email@example.com)
877-287-5854 ext. 2