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RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) Tags

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is the generic term used to describe technologies using radio waves to automatically identify people or objects. We need to be aware of the privacy implications of this technology as its use becomes more widespread.
Radio Frequency Identification is a type of automatic identification system, a system designed to collect information and enter it into a computer without manual (human) data entry.  It's used like barcodes but is consider superior because it doesn't need a direct line of vision to complete a scan.  If you use, or have seen the use of, a card to pay on a toll road ( FasTrak, I-Pass or E-Z Pass ), that's an example of RFID.  Typically an RFID tag holds an id number which is scanned and then looked up in a database which provides more inforation based on the id number. RFID chips can hold more information than just an ID number.  In a store, for example, the chip may give the product name, price, date made, vendor etc. 

RFID is currently used to track inventory in stores and to speed up transactions like tollbooths and gasoline purchases. Some libraries and bookstores have begun to use RFID to manage books.   RFID tags can be implanted in animals to help identify a lost pet.  Tracking humans has also begun to be used. It is being tested for use to track school children for attendance and safety purposes, and some prisons are testing RFID systems.  It was given approved by the FDA 2004 for implants in humans in the US. RFID tags are also being proposed for driver's licenses and passports.

As the use of RFID chips spread you would hope that laws would be in place to govern the use of these systems, but this is not always the case.  Consumers must ask themselves these questions about any RFID system:
  • How is my information being used?
  • How is it, or is it being protected? Is it being shared?
  • How secure is my information both as it is stored in a database and on the tag.
To understand why these are concerns consider

If it was deemed ok for the toll booth databases to be shared or sold to stores and restaurants near the toll booth.  Suddenly your getting junk mail from restaurants that say "Since your driving by us every day, why not stop in?"  

Your spouse wants to know if your having an affair, can your toll road use be gathered by your spouse? Can it be presented in court?

What if someone hacks into the system and suddenly your identity is being used to travel , buy gas etc, etc. 

Someone hacking into a school system and starts selling the information to anyone who wants to know what time kids arrive at and leave school. 

Imagine your company or your school using a security card to control entry into the building, but installing scanners at the water cooler and above the bathroom doors to see how many breaks you're taking.

This smacks of  Big Brother, but this is why we need to ensure that basic privacy is respected when using these systems.

Created by lsmithlas
Last modified March 13, 2005 01:35 PM

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