Tuesday, August 09, 2005

RFID, Good or Bad?

I really have mixed feeling about the recent trends towards RFID.

What is RFID?

RFID stands for radio frequency identification. A computer chip is attached to an antenna, and they are often referred to together as an RFID tag. Data stored on the chip transmits wirelessly through the antenna to an RFID reader or scanning device that operates on the same frequency as the antenna.
The latest application of RFID in the United States involves attaching an RFID chip to passports, making identification and data collection much easier and more accurate.
United Airlines pilots and crew are the flying guinea pigs in a test of controversial new passports equipped with remotely readable chips.

Approximately 300 United employees stationed on international flights received the new passports in mid-June as part of a three-month, three-country test of IDs equipped with RFID chips. The chips can be read at a distance at border crossings by special readers installed for the trial.
Criticized for exposing unencrypted personal data to anyone with access to a Reader, the State Department responded.
In response to that criticism, and demonstrations of the chips' range, the State Department included some shielding in the covers of the passports given to the United employees. The agency didn't disclose what kind of material it used, but it has in the past publicly considered employing a metallic fiber weave in the cover.
The Brittan Elementary School in Sutter, CA experimented with RFID attached to identification badges, the easier to determine attendance with, you see. Due to negative reaction, the program was terminated in short order. But therein lies the problem with RFID: I see, you see, we all see.

Granted, it would be much easier to identify and track potential terrorists, illegal immigrants, and various and sundry other petty criminals. Once they have been tagged, that is. I wonder how many will voluntarily self-identify at tagging time? At the same time, it will also be much easier to identify and track lost hikers, kidnapped children, fugitives from justice, and ME!

Without apology, I will state here and now that I will not allow myself to be tagged, for any purpose. Or my transportation.

The British government is preparing to test new high-tech license plates containing microchips capable of transmitting unique vehicle identification numbers and other data to readers more than 300 feet away.

Officials in the United States say they'll be closely watching the British trial as they contemplate initiating their own tests of the plates, which incorporate radio frequency identification, or RFID, tags to make vehicles electronically trackable.

"We definitely have an interest in testing an RFID-tagged license plate," said Jerry Dike, chairman of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators and director of the Vehicle Titles and Registration Division of the Texas Department of Transportation.
Or anything that I need to carry on my person, such as a driver's license, a credit/debit card, a passport, or any shopping cards. If it requires an optical scan, and otherwise can be shielded, I'm OK with it. Otherwise no. Also add in a big, fat NO to RFID or even GPS trackers in rental vehicles.

The argument goes that if you don't break the laws, and have nothing to hide, you should submit meekly to this process. The problem is that no matter how attractive is the idea that it's only for the BIG things, say child molestation, Police and DA creep (similar to this) always comes into play.

On the other hand, I have no problems with RFID being used for inventory control, sales data, shipment tracking, or the like. I'm not going to complain if Wal Mart uses this technology. For discussions against this concept, go here.

So, is it possible to have one aspect (material control) without the other (people control)?

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