"RFID in your underpants," said radio talk show host Keith Larson, and the comic accusation has stuck to privacy discussions about radio frequency identification ever since.
As long as RFID tags were kept in the warehouse or distribution center, the public had no immediate need for concern. They were out of sight and out of mind, or underpants. RFID tags and their readers help identify with greater detail, and from a distance, thousands of pallets and cartons. Their use in warehousing is, as such, a no-brainer.
They're no longer confined to the warehouse. They've broken out and are now making their appearances as far afield as groceries and appliance stores, even passports.
Some states are taking this incursion as a serious threat to privacy. California state Sen. Joe Simitian has introduced the Identity Information Protection Act to prohibit the use of RFIDs that can be read remotely, and without a person's knowledge, in all state identity documents, such as drivers' licenses, student IDs and medical cards. According to the newsletter Privacy Journal, other California bills are pending that prevent tagging children and restrict RFID tags on non-state IDs.
The push for RFID comes from a Wal-Mart mandate for RFIDs on goods received from their suppliers, plus another mandate from the U.S. Department of Defense. There is also the enthusiasm of companies like Procter & Gamble , Gillette and U.K.-based supermarket chainTesco . They see the opportunity for better warehouse inventory control and on-time receiving of goods.
The inlay of the RFID tag holds a code called the Electronic Product Code (EPC), which is a unique number that identifies the specific item tagged. Once the EPC information is retrieved from a reader, it can be associated with dynamic data in a database as to the items origin or the date of its production, among other information.
Dick Cantwell, vice president for global value with Gillette, sees the positive side of RFID and says the value of EPC will be in its ability to transform business processes in a company's supply chain, "Manufacturers and retailers can reduce out of stocks, increasing retail availability of all products and improve shopper satisfaction," he says.
Those who see the danger in RFID item technology are not necessarily paranoid. They tend to see a society whose citizens are plagued by a growing privacy invasion. The connection between item-level RFID and E-ZPass, where a person's car is tracked and recorded, is hinted at by some, not to mention the e-passport system with embedded RFID devices being tested by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. That system is already being questioned by privacy advocates.
An RFID tag is more powerful than the conventional bar code. It is basically a microchip and an antenna from which readers are able to communicate with the tag. Using it, an authorized party can follow a tagged item from place to place and tune in on the condition of the item and place it geographically. The RFID tag readers can be placed anywhere within a facility like a warehouse or a store and are able to read, as of today, up to 30 feet with a good deal of reliability.
The concern arises when an RFID tag is attached to a consumer item in a store, like a pair of jeans or a sweater. The tag may help the store, and nobody questions that. It tells managers via readers of the tag what is moving, where and what they have to restock, and what has been bought. Item-level tagging can cut down on theft. The same tag, however, could also track who bought it and when.
In Europe, at Selexyz bookstores, the tags are already being used on books but are disabled at the checkout counter. Marks & Spencer is using tags on some items. There have already been trials of tags in the U.S. (demonstrations were made of item-level Levi jeans at a retail show), but they have not been aired publicly. Benetton began to tag but pulled back after adverse reaction.
There is also confusion because some items have a security tag that an unknowing customer could mistake for an RFID tag that has highly detailed identification information from EPCglobal, an organization of industry leaders and organizations focused on creating global standards for the EPCglobal Network. A security tag (known as Electronic Article Surveillance, or EAS) presumably tells the store only if the item has been properly processed and paid for at a register.
Several organizations have taken on the task of regulating tags with respect to privacy matters. SmartCode Research has taken on the mission of creating a solution for reducing privacy concerns by targeting RFID tags associated with ID cards, passports and other short-range devices. Its solution consists of a tag carrying an embedded, miniature push button that connects to the device's antenna. The tag can be read only when the user pushes the button and allows access to the information.
IBM has made a significant move in privacy security, working with Marnlen RFID, which will begin production of its Clipped Tag.
"The clipped tag puts privacy protection in the hands of the consumer, as it gives the customer a visual confirmation of the tags' modification. And at IBM we believe that successful commerce depends on trust," says Dr. Paul Moskowitz, inventor of the Clipped Tag.
"The tag allows consumers to tear off the majority of an RFID tag's antennae, reducing the tag's read range [by a stationary or hand-held reader] to just a few inches," he says. "This ensures consumer privacy and at the same time maintains the benefits of the technology, such as with product authentication or recalls."
The IBM tags are activated by the reader as the power comes from the reader. The tags themselves are passive and do not transmit by themselves.
It is important to understand the actual potential of RFID tracking in a retail establishment or transportation terminal. A customer entering a facility while wearing or carrying an RFID tag will be readable by devices placed within the store, airport or train station. The items being carried or worn will be read by their specific number and correlated with a database connected to a reader that will disclose transaction records, identify the person and give information as to where that person has been and what he or she has visited.
Hold on to your identity, though. New and even more ominous developments are just coming over the horizon.
Chips the size of a grain of rice, implantable in humans and called the VeriChip, have been developed for patient identification by the VeriChip Corp. In hospitals, they may keep track of a patient and prevent all kinds of dreadful mix-ups like lost bodies and improperly lost limbs or other body parts. It also may give pause for thought in terms of the future of implantable lifelong identity tags.
Hitachi's latest tag is slim enough to fit comfortably inside a dollar bill even though the dollar's value continues to shrink. It is just 0.15 millimeters square and 7.5 microns thin. It is readable 10 feet away and can store 128 bits of data. Even George Washington may soon have no secrets anymore.
1 Month Ago, Sunday, October 14, 2018, 23:49:34