The Trouble with RFID
Recently RFID has been in the cross-hairs of every media outlet. With big businesses and some government offices finding more uses for the technology, the general public is starting to feel a little on edge. Accusations started flying: concerned citizens groups fear this technology could lead to a totalitarian state comparable to Orwell’s 1984 and some religious groups even declared RFID to be related to biblical tales of Armageddon.
“The unfortunate thing about that is once [a group] makes such a claim or statement, from that point on, it puts the RFID industry on the defensive,” said Max Golter, vice president of sales at Bielomatik, a manufacturer of RFID production machines headquartered in Neuffen, Germany. “I think all these accusations are coming from people who are reacting impulsively,” he said.
Indeed among the general public, misconceptions about the abilities of RFID tags and readers are abundant. Those in the industry know RFID tags cannot transmit data unless in the presence of a reader. And so far the small, self contained-tags cannot be outfitted with GPS transmitters. Visions of commercial or government bodies tooling around residential neighborhoods while inventorying a home’s contents and monitoring its residents are not realistic.
But some of the groups have done significant research into the potential uses (and abuses) of RFID technology. Though many RFID industry organizations tout the multifaceted utility of these chips, they cannot escape the original intention of RFID systems. “RFID is great for tracking,” said Mike Caulley, resident of Plastic Printing Professions, a division of Document Security Systems based in Daly City, Calif. “It can be adapted to do a lot of different things but tracking is where it really gets used well.” And tracking is precisely what frightens privacy advocates and consumer rights groups.
Unlike many visions of a dystopia future, in a society oppressed by RFID there would be little visible evidence of the machinery. This is the cause of concern for many. If placed strategically in a city, relatively few sensors could monitor the majority of citizens’ movements. So the battle for public opinion rages on.