Universal Price Codes

A widely circulated contemporary conspiracy theory holds that the Universal Price Code (UPC) has the number “666” hidden in it (the symbol 666 is the “mark of the beast” according to the New Testament Book of Revelation).

The Universal Price Code, sometimes called a “barcode,” was introduced in 1973 to speed up and eliminate human cashier errors in U.S. supermarkets. According to the conspiracy theory, the 666 code appears as the three longer “guard bars,” to the left, center, and right of a UPC barcode.

Since their introduction, UPC barcodes have been placed on many items. A fear has spread that one day barcodes will be placed on humans, allowing the government to keep track of a person’s movements. The basic root of this fear lies in a passage from Revelation, the final book of the Bible:
And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is six hundred threescore and six. (Revelation 13:16–18)
The theory suggests that every person will be marked with a barcode in which the 666 is hidden. The barcode will be used to buy and sell things and engage in every form of commerce.

Particularly frightening to those who believe in this conspiracy theory is the trend toward a cashless society, one in which credit cards using barcodes embedded in magnetic strips are used for all financial transactions. The growth in the use of smart cards, which resemble credit cards but have tiny computer chips on them, also raises the concern of those who take the Revelation passage literally.

Smart cards have the possibility of storing private information including medical records and financial information. The technology has not been widely accepted in the United States, but is quite common in Japan and Europe.

Conspiracy theorists claim that not long after the introduction of smart cards, security concerns will cause the computer chip to be placed on the body to prevent theft of this information. This will be the mark of the beast as predicted in Revelation.