Tracking devices were once solely the stuff of superheroes and foreboding sci-fi satire featuring a shadowy, technologically advanced Big Brother. Over the last two years though, RFID technologies have been utilized all over the globe, from China’s national ID card program to Germany’s World Cup tickets. In the United States, the State Department’s 2006 passports began including RFID chips. Also in 2006, the New York City subway system tested the RFID-enabled Mastercard PayPass at a portion of its turnstiles, and markets such as Philadelphia, Dallas, and Orlando, Fla., underwent PayPass trials, as well.
It’s hard to deny that the future of RFID technology has arrived. IDTechEx, an RFID consulting company with offices in the United Kingdom and Ann Arbor, Mich., predicted an increase in the worldwide use of RFID ticketing from 100 million in 2007 to 450 million in 2010. And the reported earnings for 2005’s RFID manufacturing hover just over $74 million. In turn, privacy rights groups are increasingly vigilant when it comes to identity theft and the lack of regulations being placed on the manufacturing and development of RFID technology. These concerns were once dismissed as sheer sci-fi hype—when RFIDs were used less, cost more to produce and weighed more. But now, the chip itself is only the size of half of a grain of sand; it can be affixed cheaply; and information can be stored, read and sent with much more facility. Industry growth is inevitable. It’s so inevitable, in fact, the California Senate attempted to limit access to RFID information through a bill known as the Identity Information Protection Act of 2006. (Eventually vetoed by the governor, the Act will be proposed again in 2007.) The San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which supported the Identity Information Protection Act, has been handling privacy and technological advances since its 1990 inception.