Thanks to my ETC colleague Stacy, I’ve realized that I was quoted in a previous weekend edition of Buffalo News. They ran a special feature on new surveillance technology and amidst all the IT security analysts and Internet researchers interviewed in the article, reporter Steve Watson sought my perspectives on the impact of RFIDs on privacy. Wikipedia lists a ton of examples of how Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is being used, and while it quite convenient to use for inventory management, payment transactions and as personal identification devices, the same convenience also opens itself up to potential abuse if not managed properly.
According to consumer privacy advocates Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre of CASPIAN, they refer to RFID tags as “spychips“. The four main privacy concerns regarding RFID are:
- The purchaser of an item will not necessarily be aware of the presence of the tag or be able to remove it;
- The tag can be read at a distance without the knowledge of the individual;
- If a tagged item is paid for by credit card or in conjunction with use of a loyalty card, then it would be possible to tie the unique ID of that item to the identity of the purchaser; and
- The EPCglobal system of tags create, or are proposed to create, globally unique serial numbers for all products, even though this creates privacy problems and is completely unnecessary for most applications.
In a recent incident where life imitates fictional art, Scott Silverman, Chairman of the Board of VeriChip Corporation, proposed implanting the company’s RFID tracking tags in immigrant and guest workers, over national television on May 16, 2006.
I see RFID as merely a tool, and as with all other emerging technology, is equally prone to misuse. It’s really up to people to manage the use of such tools. From a grassroots standpoint, people should be given a choice to resist RFID cards, tags or implants. However, if they are unable to, we can always fight back by using workarounds such as using RFID-proof wallets and clothing. Heck you can even make you own here…
UPDATE: Uh oh… RFID is nothing compared to RuBee. A traditional 900MHz RFID approach is 99.99 percent radio signal and 0.01 magnetic/inductive. What [RuBee] is doing is 99.99 percent magnetic. There is no radio signal in these tags at all!