RFID's effects on privacy


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Preacherman
October 16, 2005, 06:17 PM
The article below is pretty scary from a privacy point of view, but also has implications for the RKBA - imagine tracking firearms and ammo purchases, the carrying of firearms, etc. through imbedded RFID chips?

From the Boston Globe (http://www.boston.com/business/globe/articles/2005/10/10/you_need_not_be_paranoid_to_fear_rfid?mode=PF):

You need not be paranoid to fear RFID

By Hiawatha Bray

October 10, 2005

It's one of the cutest of those cute IBM Corp. TV commercials, the ones that feature the ever-present help desk. This time, the desk appears smack in the middle of a highway, blocking the path of a big rig.

''Why are you blocking the road?" the driver asks. ''Because you're going the wrong way," replies the cheerful Help Desk lady. ''Your cargo told me so." It seems the cartons inside the truck contained IBM technology that alerted the company when the driver made a wrong turn.

It's clever, all right -- and creepy. Because the technology needn't be applied only to cases of beer. The trackers could be attached to every can of beer in the case, and allow marketers to track the boozing habits of the purchasers. Or if the cargo is clothing, those little trackers could have been stitched inside every last sweater. Then some high-tech busybody could keep those wearing them under surveillance.

If this sounds paranoid, take it up with IBM. The company filed a patent application in 2001 which contemplates using this wireless snooping technology to track people as they roam through ''shopping malls, airports, train stations, bus stations, elevators, trains, airplanes, rest rooms, sports arenas, libraries, theaters, museums, etc." An IBM spokeswoman insisted the company isn't really prepared to go this far. Patent applications are routinely written to include every possible use of a technology, even some the company doesn't intend to pursue. Still, it's clear somebody at IBM has a pretty creepy imagination.

And it's not just IBM. A host of other companies are looking at ways to embed surveillance chips into practically everything we purchase -- and even into our bodies. It's a prospect that infuriates Harvard graduate student Katherine Albrecht.

''I think the shocking part is they've spent the past three years saying, oh no, we'd never do this," Albrecht said. But instead of taking their word for it, Albrecht and her colleague, former bank examiner Liz McIntyre, began reading everything they could find on the subject. Now they're serving up the scary results of their research in a scathing new book, ''Spychips."

That's Albrecht's preferred name for a technology called radio frequency identification technology, or RFID. If you use a Mobil Speedpass to pay for gasoline, you're already using RFID. Your Speedpass contains a microchip and a small antenna that allows it to broadcast information to a receiver. The chip has no power source of its own. Instead, it picks up radio signals from an RFID chip reader, turns these radio waves into electricity, and uses the power to broadcast data to the reader.

Because they need no batteries, RFID chips can be made small enough to attach invisibly to practically anything. One company is even working on a way to print RFID chips onto newspapers, using electrically conductive ink.

Why is this so scary? Because so many of us pay for our purchases with credit or debit cards, which contain our names, addresses, and other sensitive information. Now imagine a store with RFID chips embedded in every product. At checkout time, the digital code in each item is associated with our credit card data. From now on, that particular pair of shoes or carton of cigarettes is associated with you. Even if you throw them away, the RFID chips will survive. Indeed, Albrecht and McIntyre learned that the phone company BellSouth Corp. had applied for a patent on a system for scanning RFID tags in trash, and using the data to study the shopping patterns of individual consumers.

''Spychips" reveals a US government plan to order RFID chips embedded in all cars sold in America. No big deal -- until you realize the police could then track your comings and goings by putting inexpensive RFID readers at key intersections.

Then there are the RFID pajamas from a California maker of children's clothing. It's a clever way to prevent kidnapping: Just put RFID readers in your home, to alert you if Junior's taking an unauthorized trip. It's easy to imagine parents buying into this idea, but they'll now have to install RFID readers in their homes. ''There's the nose in the camel's tent," said Albrecht. At first, companies will just scan your kids' jammies. But later they'll ask permission to scan the tags on your groceries and your clothes. The consulting company Accenture has patented a design that builds an RFID reader into a household medicine cabinet, to make sure you're taking all your medications.

There are countless applications for RFID, and viewed in isolation, some are downright appealing. It would be nice for the medicine cabinet to send you an e-mail -- ''Time to buy more Viagra." But what if it's also sending that data to consumer marketing companies, eager to bombard you with unwanted advertising? Worse yet, what if they're sending the data to government investigators, or to hackers who've figured out how to break into the system?

Not to worry, said Jack Grasso, spokesman for EPC Global of Lawrenceville, N.J.,, the nonprofit organization that sets technical standards for RFID systems. His organization has a code of ethics that requires notifying consumers about the presence of RFID tags. The group also recognizes the right of consumers to deactivate RFID tags, and is working to develop systems to make this easy.

So how about putting these principles into law? No thanks, said Grasso. ''We believe it is far too early." Because the RFID industry is so young, any regulation ''would have a chilling effect that would put us back years."

And that's a bad thing?

Somebody needs to sit down and think this through. Dozens of companies and government agencies are planning to use RFID to track nearly every move we make. And although many of the individual applications make sense, what would happen if they were all implemented, without oversight or restraint? We'd then live in a world in which everything we own gossips about us behind our backs.

And it would be too late to call the IBM Help Desk to ask for our privacy back.

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lysander
October 16, 2005, 06:23 PM
One can only hope that the PTB leave the technology designed to defeat RFID similarly unregulated. I have little problem with RFID...provided I can easily "opt out" or legally buy inexpensive devices which scramble/erase or override the tech.

Old Dog
October 16, 2005, 06:37 PM
Not to worry, said Jack Grasso, spokesman for EPC Global of Lawrenceville, N.J.,, the nonprofit organization that sets technical standards for RFID systems. His organization has a code of ethics that requires notifying consumers about the presence of RFID tags. And we all know the severe sanctions for violating a "code of ethics," right?
any regulation ''would have a chilling effect that would put us back years."And the writer's comment, "And that's a bad thing?" was included in a piece published in the Globe? If the liberal media can actually help promote the privacy issues involved with the exploitation of RFID technology, maybe we're not doomed after all? Unfortunately, regulation of this sort of technology was due long ago; the technology is now so advanced, becoming so commonly used, that I fear attempts to regulate it will come far too late.

rudolf
October 16, 2005, 08:43 PM
Putting an RFID in a microwave will roast it. As to ammo, the RFID would only work when fastened to the box, not when inside a shell. So if you're paranoid, put the boxes in a microwave or repack your ammo.

BTW, and this is NO JOKE, wrapping it in tin foil keeps RFID's from working.
So if you think there's a RFID in your hat, well ...

longeyes
October 16, 2005, 09:19 PM
This technology is not about tracking commodities, it is about turning all of us into commodities.

Dorian
October 16, 2005, 11:43 PM
Hopefully someone will come out, ASAP, with the technology that will fry RFID chips the second they enter your car and house....

Or one that fits in your pocket and frys all rfid chips within 10 ft of you.

Waitone
October 16, 2005, 11:56 PM
Handheld tesla coils.

Lupinus
October 17, 2005, 12:00 AM
We could make a fortune if we collectivly started making tin foil hat's.

GunGoBoom
October 17, 2005, 01:00 AM
http://photos1.blogger.com/img/0/2133/1024/tinfoil_hat_wearers_for_bush.jpg

Alex45ACP
October 17, 2005, 01:33 AM
www.its.dot.gov

Radagast
October 17, 2005, 07:51 AM
The Australian government has a request for proposal out for a system to use RFID to track all firearms entering the country.

Ken

cuchulainn
October 17, 2005, 08:34 AM
Passive RFID tags (no power source) have a range of about 18 feet. Active RFID tags (power source) have a range of about 300 feet, but cost about $200 to $300 apiece. Thus, to track people/items with RFID you'd need scanners about every 15 feet or every 250 feet, depending on which kind you used.

Either way, that's just not economically practical.

I suppose that if RFIDs were embedded into new guns that certain places could set scanners at their doors in an attempt to stop CCWs from coming in. But that’s also not very practical – how do you tell the gun RFIDs from the other RFIDs, and what about the older guns that don’t have them?

We’ve got bigger worries, both in terms of privacy and guns.

Waitone
October 17, 2005, 09:11 AM
Current technology push is generated by continued advances in the technology, edicts from DoD, and WalMart. Both DoD and Walmart are writing contracts around having RFID capability available at some point in the future and shifting operations to it once available. DoDWalmart wants to be able to identify the contents of a mixed pallet without having to disassemble.

Technology has reduced the size of the endpoint device down to smaller than a grain of rice. I've seen devices the size of a ballpoint pen dot. Unless you were looking for it you would never see it. The general concept of usage is to make the device part of package labelling. Hence there is more than just passing working being done on manufacturing the device and on developing ways to afix it on package labels. Device production is producing yields of 5-to 10% on a consistent basis. Static electricity is the big killer. Label mounting is just as problematic contributing to device failure. Over all, industry is still in early stages of commercialization. Considerable resources are being expended to get yields up. Basic technology is pretty much fixed.

Huge amounts of capital are being invested by some of the most recognized companies around in an effort to develop a consistent and robust technology. What I describe is not pie-in-the-sky. There are real economic drivers for what is happening. Are the drivers consistent with human freedom and liberty? Nope.

cuchulainn
October 17, 2005, 09:49 AM
Current technology push is generated by continued advances in the technology, edicts from DoD, and WalMart.Yes, and the Post Office also is a major player in developing RFID -- for sorting mail trays in mail processing centers.

But regardless of how small the devices become, that doesn't change how far they work -- 18 feet for the cheap RFID tags, 300 feet for the expensive ones. With such short ranges, they don't have much use beyond specific, contained areas -- military buildings, stores, warehouses, factories, mail processing centers, etc.

Unless the ranges are expanded, I don't think we have much to worry about Big Brother wise.

By the way -- as to RFID for tracking guns -- we'd be much more successful in making the impractical argument than in making the privacy argument. Not that the privacy argument isn't valid, but the impractical argument is much better in this case.

rick_reno
October 17, 2005, 10:20 AM
I wouldn't worry about this technology infringing on freedoms. I'm sure it'll be used to make us safer in our ongoing "War on Terror" - No, strike that - our "Struggle against global extremism".

Beren
October 17, 2005, 10:22 AM
Now I finally have a use for a microwave oven. :evil:

Crosshair
October 17, 2005, 10:29 AM
I work retail and I WANT these things on the boxes of product we sell. I hate going into the back room and trying to find one little thing and having no idea where to look. As for nuking these little buggers, I SHOULD have built that microwave gun.

Bacchus
October 17, 2005, 10:30 AM
But regardless of how small the devices become, that doesn't change how far they work -- 18 feet for the cheap RFID tags, 300 feet for the expensive ones. With such short ranges, they don't have much use beyond specific, contained areas -- military buildings, stores, warehouses, factories, mail processing centers, etc.

Unless the ranges are expanded, I don't think we have much to worry about Big Brother wise.

What makes you think that the ranges won't be expanded? It's about incrementalism--once the use of the tags are accepted, new "improved" technologies are developed, which increases the range/use of the tags...if we want to stop this, action is needed now, not after it's been developed.

cuchulainn
October 17, 2005, 10:31 AM
rick reno: I wouldn't worry about this technology infringing on freedoms. I'm sure it'll be used to make us safer in our ongoing "War on Terror" - No, strike that - our "Struggle against global extremism".Once again, the technology simply doesn't lend itself to Big Brother stuff. Big Brother would need scanners every ~15 feet for the cheap RFID tags and every ~250 feet for the expensive tags, and that's simply not economically practical.

We've got lots to worry about on guns and on privacy. This isn't one of them, unless there are some major changes to the technology to give the tags better range.

cuchulainn
October 17, 2005, 10:41 AM
Bacchus: What makes you think that the ranges won't be expanded?Well, I never said the ranges won’t be expanded -- that's why I've said a couple of times, "unless they are expanded."

However, given that the technology push is focused on size and durability rather than ranges measured in anything beyond feet/meters, I don't see the ranges expanding anytime soon.

Also note that the tags with big ranges ("big" = 300 feet) require their own power sources. However, the tags we're talking about -- on guns and ammo -- are passive devices (no power source). That fact makes expanding range even less likely.

So is a technological leap that allows long-distance, passive RFIDs possible? Yes. Is it likely sometime soon? No.

TallPine
October 17, 2005, 10:52 AM
Big Brother would need scanners every ~15 feet
No, just need them at strategic points, such as doorways of stores, office buildings, etc.

Derek Zeanah
October 17, 2005, 10:58 AM
Once again, the technology simply doesn't lend itself to Big Brother stuff. Big Brother would need scanners every ~15 feet for the cheap RFID tags and every ~250 feet for the expensive tags, and that's simply not economically practical.

Maybe. Or they could decide they're OK with every freeway onramp and offramp, and will include the technology in streetlights (provided all new cars are mandated to come with them -- much cheaper than something like OBD). Maybe contracts with (or mandates to) WalMart to provide the data from their own sensors to tie in with purchase data from banks. Add in a few parking garages, subway entrances, and the rest in the name of "Homeland Security" and most people are tracked, every day, without any real notice.

If you want to get really paranoid: new dollar bills are issued that include RFID technology to imbed serial numbers in the interest of reducing counterfeit -- now even if you pay with cash the ATM will keep track of your bills for you, so that source of anonymity goes away.

Mix that with cell-phone GPS data (know anyone without a cell phone?) and you've got a situation where 5-10 years from now most people's whereabouts and purchasing habits are known. Always.

And that's scary.

Waitone
October 17, 2005, 11:01 AM
We here on liberty oriented fora consider government as the source of danger to our liberties. RFID threats seem to be interpreted with that in mind. I maintain the biggest threat is not from government but from private companies acting with permission of the government. Will RFID track you out on the street? Not for the foreseeable future. Will WalMart track you in its store as you shop? In a Noo Yark minute. Maybe the distance is 20' or so. Plenty of distance for a shopping isle. Walking down the isle the company would be able to tell what brand of underwear you have on (boxers or briefs is no longer a question). What kind of shoes you have on. What kind of cell phone you use. Who provides cell service. Do you use electric razors or blades? What kind of blades. Ad nauseum.

Government for now will not be able to use a tracker to point a camera at you. Marketers will be able to strip you naked with respect to the information they can extract. Now, put on your tinfoil hat. Combine what marketers want and will do with the actions of our good buds in government in computerizing medical records. Now the potential for mischief expands geometrically.

My advice is not to dismiss the danger of RFID simply because the technology is limited by range. The real danger to personal liberty comes from corporations, not government. . . . . . for now.

cuchulainn
October 17, 2005, 11:09 AM
TallPine: No, just need them at strategic points, such as doorways of stores, office buildings, etc.Well, that leaves tons of holes in the system if you're using it for tracking people/things (although it's feasible for "building security" purposes as I noted above, but still rather limited).

In any event, tracking would require networked scanners, and even if Big Brother is willing to live with gaps in the tracking and opt for "strategic locations only," the network still would be a big deal economically.

As some point, even if our worst fears about the government's Big Brother intentions are true, economics takes over.

cuchulainn
October 17, 2005, 11:21 AM
Waitone: My advice is not to dismiss the danger of RFID simply because the technology is limited by range.My advice is to understand RFID's limitations so we can understand what its real dangers are (if any). The thought process of some -- RFID-->tracking-->Big Brother-->Ack! -- is not based on current fact.

Are advances possible? Yes. But let's deal with the facts, not our fears.

How often do we criticize gun-grabbers for being irrationally fearful, even throwing around words like "hoplophobic." Are we being any different when we engage in slippery-slope fears about RFID?Derek Zeanah: Or they could decide they're OK with every freeway onramp and offramp, and will include the technology in streetlights (provided all new cars are mandated to come with them -- much cheaper than something like OBD). Think of the networking required to allow tracking that way -- even if limited to highway ramps and Wal-Marts. Do you really think that's practical?

one45auto
October 17, 2005, 11:33 AM
Folks who aren't frightened by this technology are simply looking at today - not tomorrow. Just imagine the day when you'll drive through a toll booth or walk underneath an innocent looking street sign, only to be stopped shortly thereafter because they realize you're carrying. Or maybe you'll think of evacuating the city in advance of a hurricane and be told at a checkpoint that you'll have to surrender the firearms they know you've got in your vehicle. That 15' limitation really will be a comfort then, won't it?

Now, just imagine what things could be like if they boosted the range for devices that require no power source. Worried yet? You should be.

cuchulainn
October 17, 2005, 11:39 AM
one45auto: Folks who aren't frightened by this technology are simply looking at today - not tomorrow.No, I'm looking at the foreseeable future. Frankly, by the time RFIDs advance enough to become a Big Brother worry (if they ever do), some better technology likely will have come along that will be able to track us better.

Do I think we need to worry about privacy and tracking now and in the future? You bet.

Do I think RFID is Big Brother's dream device in this regard. Not at all.

rick_reno
October 17, 2005, 11:40 AM
As some point, even if our worst fears about the government's Big Brother intentions are true, economics takes over.

You must be forgetting "Moores Law", the empirical observation that at our rate of technological development, the complexity of an integrated circuit, with respect to minimum component cost will double in about 24 months.
I enjoyed the opportunity to work for Dr. Moore in the mid-90's, we had
a 3 person team looking at some technology he (Intel) was interested in investing in - he is both brilliant and a nice fellow. Since he made his observation in 1965 it has proven better than true, the timeframe is down to about 18 months.

These devices operate in the wideband 433.5 to 434.5 Mhz and FCC rules limit signal strength and signal duration. The FCC increased signal strength and duration in May of 2004, allowing the scanners to read shipping containers. Users of the technology wanted this to be able to use it at ports, rail yards, etc. "With more than two billion tons of freight traveling through U.S. ports and waterways yearly, ensuring the efficient flow of goods while reducing the possibility of terrorism and fraud is no easy task,” said FCC Chairman Michael Powell, in a statement. “I'm excited by the prospects for improved inventory control, lower costs, and increased homeland security that this technology promises to bring.”

Note the hook into "homeland security", "terrorism". We're safer.

Given this technology is in it's infancy (I believe the current 64bit ID tag at 550 microns is 2nd generation, I've forgotten what the bit length was on the early tags) I expect to see amazing advances in these as they become ubiquitous. I'm retired from doing silicon architecture, but I'll admit I'd enjoy the opportunity to play with this technology.

I don't object to using them for inventory control, tracking, etc. while the object being tracked is in the supplier chain. When it enters the hands of the consumer, the tags should be disabled. Will this happen? Who knows.

cuchulainn
October 17, 2005, 11:52 AM
rick_reno: I expect to see amazing advances in these as they become ubiquitous. No doubt there will be. But the economics of RFID tracking are not simply about the cost/range of the RFID tags. The networking and labor required for an effective RFID tracking system on a Big Brother scale would be immense. Moore's law doesn't apply to labor.

Further, if the tags do become ubiquitous, imagine the labor/programing that would be needed to sort out the background noise, and then assess what's found.

Look, I'm not putting my head in the sand. I'm simply trying to strike a middle ground between being such an ostrich and being chicken little.

lysander
October 17, 2005, 12:33 PM
Network connectivity is becoming increasingly easier and more prevalent. You have:
City and statewide Wi-Fi nets under construction. Wi-Fi (http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20051016/ap_on_hi_te/wi_fi_on_the_farm;_ylt=AkDEPsWXe_m_c6H3AQ4r_yYDW7oF;_ylu=X3oDMTBiMW04NW9mBHNlYwMlJVRPUCUl)
High speed data connections over power lines. BPL (http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,57605,00.html)
High Speed wireless over cellphones. Cell Internet (http://informationweek.com/story/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=166403827)
etc., etc.,

In essence every person in America has become a node on a network. As a society we opt into technology without contemplating its negative possibilities. Do you carry a cell phone? It's not too much of a stretch to comtemplate RFID scanners imbedded in your phone...constantly polling for data. Does your state require eletronic toll collection on the highway? Do you have Onstar or a similar service? What about TIVO or Digital Cable? Or an IPOD for that matter? If you think about it for just a minute...I think you'll see that the average American is rarely far away from a potential "node".

Would this require a massive data collection and processing center? Of course. Is it possible? Absolutely. We put men on the moon nearly 40 years ago...the gub'mint can direct funding wherever it chooses...and it can get things done a hell of a lot faster when private enterprise is pushing for a system rollout. In the end it simply becomes a matter of how unobtrusive the "readers" can become, how slowly the public is conditioned to the readers and how many places the government can require the readers.

Off the top of my head:
1) Your insurance company lobbies to have "whole house readers" installed. Rationale: To inventory your possessions in the event of a homeowner's claim.
2) Your vehicle manufacturer lobbies to have a device installed in your car.
Rationale: To track the age of parts for regularly scheduled maintenance.
3) Your children's school board lobbies to have readers installed in the same metal detector units that scan for nail clippers.
Rationale: To keep the kids safe from truancy and the boogeyman.
4) Your local library tags each and every book.
Rationale: To protect inventory.

the list goes on....

You should be able to infer from the examples above some "unintended consequences" from what may seem perfectly innocuous reasons to utilize RFID.

Waitone
October 17, 2005, 12:53 PM
Couple of weeks ago I read a story about a city that wants to use cell phone volume statistics to identify highway blockages. Great example of product extension and how it works.

cuchulainn
October 17, 2005, 01:43 PM
Network connectivity is becoming increasingly easier and more prevalent. You have:
City and statewide Wi-Fi nets under construction. Wi-Fi
High speed data connections over power lines. BPL
High Speed wireless over cellphones. Cell Internet
etc., etc.,Thus, if we're going to be tracked, it's going to be through our cell phones and our Wi-Fi laptops, not through some RFID tags in our shoes/guns/money.

The government already has more-practical ways than RFID to track us, and they're going to get more. Companies have more practical ways to learn about our buying habits.

It's not RFID we need to be worried about.

Derek Zeanah
October 17, 2005, 02:58 PM
Thus, if we're going to be tracked, it's going to be through our cell phones and our Wi-Fi laptops, not through some RFID tags in our shoes/guns/money.You're missing the point here: The government doesn't track us through our cell phones. Cell providers do, and the government shares that data.
Government doesn't track our spending habits, credit card companies and banks do. They share.
Government won't track our RFID purchases for the most part -- it'll be more of the same kind of cooperation. Say, everyone that's got "loss prevention" alarms at their doors gets the newer models which work better, which check every RFID that cross their boundaries against a database. They happen to log everything, and the data gets shared.As far as I'm aware, newer traffic lights are already wired -- IIRC they're controlled centrally, ane and even use IP networking. I think you're underestimating the degree to which technology pervades our lives, and how quickly it becomes cheap.

Quic example: I just bought a 160 gigabyte HD for $119. Ten years ago was 1995 -- what would it have cost to build a system that could hold 160 gigs back then? How many expensive drives and server-class machines to hold them all? What operating system?

You're saying "too expensive." I'm saying: Not for long
We're dealing with fascism rather than the more direct kinds of totalitarian systems. They use business as part of the "system."

acdodd
October 17, 2005, 04:14 PM
Once again, the technology simply doesn't lend itself to Big Brother stuff. Big Brother would need scanners every ~15 feet for the cheap RFID tags and every ~250 feet for the expensive tags, and that's simply not economically practical.

We've got lots to worry about on guns and on privacy. This isn't one of them, unless there are some major changes to the technology to give the tags better range.
Look at this link.http://www.rfidnews.org/weblog/2005/08/02/michielsen-watch-defcon-hackers/
If a bunch of 20 something hackers can do it how long will it take big brother?

Michielsen Watch: Defcon Hackers
Tuesday, August 2 2005
"A group of twentysomethings from Southern California climbed onto the hotel roof to show that RFID tags could be read from as far as 69 feet. That's important because the tags have been proposed for such things as U.S. passports, and critics have raised fears that kidnappers could use RFID readers to pick traveling U.S. citizens out of a crowd.
RFID companies had said the signals didn't reach more than 20 feet, said John Hering, one of the founders of Flexilis, the company that conducted the experiment.

"Our goal is to raise awareness," said Hering, 22. "Our hope is to spawn other research so that people will move to secure this technology before it becomes a problem.""

AC

cuchulainn
October 18, 2005, 08:49 AM
Derek Zeanah: You're missing the point here:No, I'm not missing your point. I understand how and why both government and business want to track us. I also fully understand how those desires can lead to abuse. I simply don't see RFID as the threat. The limitations of RFID make it a poor candidate for Big Brother work. When that Brave New World comes, it'll be done with other, better technology.

Then again, maybe it's me. I use one of those key-fobs at the grocery store that gives me discounts, but lets the store track <gasp> which brands of soda and underarm deodorant I use. I haven't lost any sleep yet.

RFID offers less tracking ability of my buying habits than those key-fobs.

Why? Linking a particular RFID tag to a person isn't that easy. If I buy a gizmo with cash, just how is the tag linked to me? It isn’t unless I volunteer personal information. If I buy it with a check or credit/bank card, then the purchase is linked to me regardless of the RFID tag.

As for tracking my movement, RFID simply would require too many scanners to do that effectively.

Could RFID in guns allow gun-unfriendly businesses and facilities to set up gun-free perimeters? Yes -- but not any more effectively than they do now with metal detectors. Actually less effectively because the old, RFID-free guns wouldn’t be caught.

Could RFID be abused, for example, so all new guns must have them and cops (and crooks, for that matter) could use handheld scanners to pick out the armed people walking down the street? Yes it could (although what about all the old, RFID-free guns). If that starts happening, I'll be right with you fighting it. But, I'm not too worried about that hypothetical just yet.acdodd: A group of twentysomethings from Southern California climbed onto the hotel roof to show that RFID tags could be read from as far as 69 feet. 69 WHOLE feet? Wow.

lysander
October 18, 2005, 09:19 AM
cuchulainn -

So the argument is one of semantics then? I think some of us here are using the term RFID to describe both the current and potential future iterations of the technology. On the other hand...your position is that the current tech is not a threat and seems to based on the RFID tech which exists currently. I tend to agree with you there...current forms of RFID tags and the machines that track them are not terribly sophisticated.

....but its not the current form that I worry about.

I would still contend that it isn't to difficult to link a product with RFID to a specific buyer at all....it just requires a small bit of synergy amongst government and business.

Either way it is a shame that we are slowly being left with 2 options....drop out of the modern world and move to Amish country, or deal with being passively spied upon. :mad:

cuchulainn
October 18, 2005, 09:39 AM
lysander: So the argument is one of semantics then?No, I think that RFID isn't a candidate for development in this direction. There already are numerous technologies better than RFID for spying on us, and which are capable of becoming just a ubiquitous. There surely are even better technologies to come. Why spend the time and resources on developing RFID's spying capabilities when better, farther-along candidates exist?

Waitone
October 18, 2005, 09:40 AM
RFID may not be the technology which collects the data. Rest assured there is a strong movement afoot to link individual purchasers to what they purchase. Consumer marketing used to be an exercise in statistics as companies try to match statistically determined needs with a statistically determined customer base. Consumer marketing is shifting at a fairly rapid rate to the industrial model of marketing where the customer base is defined and the number of participants is finite. Companies will be able to pitch highly refined products and services directly to a qualified core of prospects. The rule of thumb in consumer based marketing is 10% success or effectiveness. Regardless of the measure, apply 10% to it and you won't be far off. Industrial marketing could be represented by the figure of 70%. The difference is knowing the customer base and tailoring products and services to a well-defined client.

What I described is reality. What is developing is the technology to deliver it. We have mass data storage getting increasingly cheaper. We have databases and search capabilities which are developing nicely. We've already been down the road on unique product identifiers (aka UPC labelling). RFID will convert the UPC from a graphical--optical interface to fully electronic. A further advantage is the potential of combining unique product identifiers with specific product identification (aka serial numbers). Whether nor not the capability generates meaningful data remains to be seen. What is not in question is whether of not the desire to collect that kind of data exists.

Has anyone really asked why the Able Danger operation is being flushed? Naughty government officials is the obvious answer. Ongoing intel operations is a good excuse. I'd like to posit another reason. AD makes use of off the shelf technology in separate pieces to collect information of people to a level which would be unnerving should it be known. Information when combined which would paint highly intrusive pictures of actions, beliefs, and intentions. Information which I think is generally available from non-governmental sources. We now know Total Information Awareness program came from somewhere. It appeared right out of the blue. Looks to me like it was based on what Able Danger developed. AD was set up to track terrorists (and government officials if you believe the foil hat crowd), now presto chango the concept becomes a screening initiative.

No, I'm not a paranoid, foil hatter. I am a poor working stiff who has spend decades in marketing, product development, and new business development. What I see developing is consistent with everything I've experienced professionally. I also see what is developing as bad news for individual liberty. . . .and the immediate threat is not the goobermint.

cuchulainn
October 18, 2005, 09:54 AM
Waitone: RFID may not be the technology which collects the data. Rest assured there is a strong movement afoot to link individual purchasers to what they purchase. That's exactly my point if you reprase it as, "Although there is a strong movement afoot to link individual purchasers to what they purchase, RFID is unlikely to be the technology which collects the data."

I haven't denied the societal trends. I've simply dismissed RFID as being the tool.

Look at it this way: I'm certain that terrorists are trying to figure out ways to take down airliners. I'm also certain that their doing it with Barrett .50s is a very unlikely scenario given the other, better weapons they have access to.

roo_ster
October 18, 2005, 11:14 AM
networked scanners

Think of the networking required to allow tracking that way -- even if limited to highway ramps and Wal-Marts. Do you really think that's practical?

We already have beau coup networks on which RFID data could ride, today. Mate an RFID scanner to a digital cell phone, have it broadcast all the RFID tags it gathers once a minute in a compressed burst & you're there, baby.


Folks who aren't frightened by this technology are simply looking at today - not tomorrow.

No, they are looking at yesterday. The ability to network, store, and crucnh through the data is here. As they said on the Six Million Dollar Man, "We have the technology."


I think you're underestimating the degree to which technology pervades our lives, and how quickly it becomes cheap.

I recall pricing 300GB drives on a Friday and getting a last, final quote form the vendor's web site Monday...only to find that the 320GB drives were now priced at the same level as the 300BG drives were three days prior.

Why? Linking a particular RFID tag to a person isn't that easy. If I buy a gizmo with cash, just how is the tag linked to me?

Unless cash has RFID, too. If you buy with credit/debit cards or checks, you can be linked ot RFID signatures.

As for tracking my movement, RFID simply would require too many scanners to do that effectively.
Define "effectively." Down to within 10 meters in real time? No, RFID would not be the answer. From stoplight to stoplight with some time latency? Yeah, that can be done.

The cost of an RFID reader and cell phone function would be in the noise when considering the cost of a 4 lane x 4 lane intersection. Most new intersection installations already have devices to detect the presence of vehicles. It would be even less (as a proportion of total cost) for the average on-ramp.

Also, the assumption seems to be that everybody will be tracked everywhere and at all times. Maybe so. But it is more likely (at first) that folks the big.gov are interested in would be the primary targets. Broadcast the ID of the person in qestion to the RFID readers and give those transmissions priority and you get much closer to real-time surveillance.

I would suggest some googling:
net centric warfare
networked operations
fcs
asi

Preacherman
October 18, 2005, 11:28 AM
Linking a particular RFID tag to a person isn't that easy. If I buy a gizmo with cash, just how is the tag linked to me?

Well, consider this... cash may not (at present, anyway) have RFID tags embedded in the notes, but you'll likely be carrying other things (e.g. credit and/or debit cards, ID, keys, etc.) that will have RFID tags attached. If you're standing within a couple of feet of an RFID reader, it doesn't matter that you're paying with cash - the other identifying tags on your person can still be read, and if even one of those tags is linked to your identity (e.g. a drivers license), you're "made" as to what you're buying, and the fact that you prefer to use cash.

Despite all the arguments against RFID being a threat to privacy, I'm convinced that we're seeing only the tip of the iceberg here. If the tags themselves are so cheap and easy to produce and use, then the readers won't be far behind. As a previous poster postulated, one's cellphone could be used surreptitiously by marketers to gather details of all RFID chips it passes, and call in the results at predetermined intervals. One's household appliances can do the same - remember the "smart fridge" connected to the Internet that can order supplies when it runs low? It can also report all RFID tags within range. What about Bellsouth's plan, reported in the original article, to read all RFID tags in garbage? Since their telephone trucks go everywhere, anytime, they can simply correlate the bag of garbage, with its RFID readout, with the address where it's located - and they've tied you to your purchases.

I think that current technology's limitations are temporary, and that this is the first wave of an avalanche of privacy-destroying technology. I hope I'm wrong, but I fear I'm right... :(

zahc
October 18, 2005, 11:51 AM
This thread reminds me of the scenes in Minority Report where the the main character walks by advertisements that recognize him and call him by name. Everywhere he goes.

Coronach
October 18, 2005, 12:21 PM
I think Preach hit the nail on the head. Regardless of the drawbacks of range and limited functionality, RFIDs have a few strong things going for them:

1. Economy. They're dirt cheap.

2. Life cycle. With no battery required, they last indefinitely.

3. Passivity. All that is needed to read them is a scanner. The carrier does not have to use his cell phone or engage in any specific activity to trigger them.

4. Stealth. They're small, and can be hidden in almost anything.

These traits alone can make them ubiquitous, and therefore usable for some manner of tracking (malicous or benign), regardless of the other drawbacks of the system. Add in the pace of change in the field (especially of wireless connectivity), and I anticipate a very real problem in a few years. I think that, like most such things, it will be gradual at first, and benign at first. It's what comes after that worries me.

Questions:

How can one identify an RFID? Do they make commercially available readers?

How are they disabled, besides placing the object in a microwave?

Mike

cuchulainn
October 18, 2005, 12:59 PM
Preacherman: Well, consider this... cash may not (at present, anyway) have RFID tags embedded in the notes, but you'll likely be carrying other things (e.g. credit and/or debit cards, ID, keys, etc.) that will have RFID tags attached.If you use cash, how does the scanner tell that you're the buyer -- as opposed to the 37 other people within X-feet of the counter who also have RFID stuff in their pockets. Is the store supposed to set up an 20-foot perimeter around each cash register within which only the customer currently checking out can enter, lest some poor shlub looking through the clearance rack 5-feet away gets mistaken for the buyer because he has an RFID key-fob in his pocket?

As for RFID in cash itself, so what? Given that a bill can change hands as much as a dozen times in a day and hundreds of times in a week, I defy anyone to come up with a realistic way to link a particular bill to a particular user.

The facts are
If you buy with cash, RFID isn't useful in tracking your purchases (unless you voluteer the info, which doesn't involve the RFID)
If you buy with check or credit/bank cards, you're giving the info over regardless of the RFIDs.
Preacherman: As a previous poster postulated, one's cellphone could be used surreptitiously by marketers to gather details of all RFID chips it passes, and call in the results at predetermined intervals. So if I go to the mall, my cell phone will collect information on 3,000,000 RFID tags (no exaggeration) that I pass in stores and on other people -- none of which have anything to do with me whatsoever. And how will marketers/government use such noise-cluttered data?

The cheapness and ubiquitous nature of RFIDs actually argue against their use as spy-tech -- they become too "noisy" for useful data mining.Preacherman: Since their telephone trucks go everywhere, anytime, they can simply correlate the bag of garbage, with its RFID readout, with the address where it's located - and they've tied you to your purchases.Of course, for the RFID tags to be tied to me, I would need to purchase the items in a manner that identifies me (credit card, for example). Thus the marketers would already have the data before I even get the items home, much less throw them out. The trucks would be reduntantly collecting information already held. What's the point of such redundancy?Preacherman: I think that current technology's limitations are temporary, and that this is the first wave of an avalanche of privacy-destroying technology.Yes, we've got a lot of worries about technology and privacy, I agree. I don't think it will come from RFID.

Old Dog
October 18, 2005, 02:12 PM
Cuchulainn, going back a bit to this statement:
I've simply dismissed RFID as being the tool. I find I must disagree -- RFID is a fine tool for slowly letting consumers adapt to the concept and use of technology that invades their privacy -- and the fact is, once we as a society become conditioned to, and accept, this technology -- it become that much easier for the general citizenry to accept the more serious technology (that we should be tremendously frightened of) ...

As Waitone indicated, it's all marketing -- gain acceptance of the technology because it makes our lives easier (isn't it great to know the exact latitude and longitude of our UPS shipment at any given second?) and our consumer-driven society will accept any little consequences such as total lack of privacy or anonymity ...

cuchulainn
October 18, 2005, 02:34 PM
Old Dog: I find I must disagree -- RFID is a fine tool for slowly letting consumers adapt to the concept and use of technology that invades their privacy -- and the fact is, once we as a society become conditioned to, and accept, this technology -- it become that much easier for the general citizenry to accept the more serious technology (that we should be tremendously frightened of)A gateway drug, huh? Yeah, possibly.

On the other hand, we're already conditioned to using privacy-compromising technology -- from our credit cards to our cable-TV boxes to those key-fobs at the grocery store to ON-Star to our cell phones.

We certainly don't need RFID to condition us. That's like worrying about coffee being a gateway drug among a group that already uses marijuana and cocaine.

Old Dog
October 18, 2005, 02:43 PM
I'm not saying we need RFID to condition us ... It's simply another marketing device ... OnStar has been marketed as essentially a glorified cell-phone for use in emergencies ... Most citizens never give a thought about the fact that their cell phones are transmitters or that their credit/debit card and "preferred shopper" cards can be used to track them ... What should be of concern is that the RFID used in the parcel service commercial is probably about the first mass-broadcast ad that clearly demonstrates what the technology is all about. This is the first commercial that actually comes right out and says, hey, look at how accurately we can locate things now, anywhere! Now, this may scare those who already have concerns about invasive technology, but the average consumer obviously cares only about personal convenience.

cuchulainn
October 18, 2005, 02:47 PM
Old Dog: Now, this may scare those who already have concerns about invasive technology, but the average consumer obviously cares only about personal convenience.And I'm saying that we've got lots bigger worries than RFID. We've been smoking maryjane and crack for awhile now. Who cares of Starbucks is selling coffee on every corner (did you hear the one about a Starbucks opening in the bathroom of a Starbucks)?

Old Dog
October 18, 2005, 02:54 PM
And I'm saying that we've got lots bigger worries than RFIDExactly. I heartily concur with you on everything. All I'm saying is that perhaps we should be worrying a bit more now that the exploitation of invasive technology is finally being overtly marketed -- and no one cares!

lysander
October 18, 2005, 03:40 PM
Old Dog-

Exactly. I heartily concur with you on everything. All I'm saying is that perhaps we should be worrying a bit more now that the exploitation of invasive technology is finally being overtly marketed -- and no one cares!

Therein lies the rub. I had the opportunity to listen to a presentation made by former congressman Bob Barr about the Patriot Act, privacy, surveillance and the erosion of civil liberties in this nation. I posed the following question:

- How does one propose that we effectively fight the erosion of privacy rights in a nation where our young people and children are being trained almost from birth to accept surveillance as a part of the everyday fabric of their lives? We have parents who watch their children on cams at daycare, an entire segment of our entertainment is devoted to "reality programming", the primary focus of our public schools has shifted away from education and towards indoctrination, our employers read our emails, our various "service providers" monitor our activity and sell the information to other private industry, etc. etc. etc. ad infinitum...

His answer was: "Ummm...yes...that is a challenge."

I didn't expect an answer....I was really just interested in hearing if a former US Attorney and politician (and one who originally voted for Patriot I) had some useful ideas about how we could push back the onslaught.

Cuchulainn has some excellent points about RFID's limiting factors as a 'total surveillance' instrument...but the tech is really in its infancy...and with the public not caring, private industry bucking for it, and Uncle Sugar happy to oblige (provided he gets to peek at whatever he wants) I see quantum leaps in both the performance and implementation of RFID.

roo_ster
October 18, 2005, 06:20 PM
If you use cash, how does the scanner tell that you're the buyer -- as opposed to the 37 other people within X-feet of the counter who also have RFID stuff in their pockets. Is the store supposed to set up an 20-foot perimeter around each cash register within which only the customer currently checking out can enter, lest some poor shlub looking through the clearance rack 5-feet away gets mistaken for the buyer because he has an RFID key-fob in his pocket?

No, they would do just the opposite and place cash registers within 20' (or whatever useful distance) of each other. That way, they can use the differing signal strength to more accurately determine location. The more registers/RFID scanners, the better. It is analogous to GPS: the more satellites you can connect with, the better your location estimate.

I did not suggest that every cell phone would also be an RFID scanner, I was merely showing that the mating of an RFID scanner with cell phone functionality allows it to access a nearly ubiquitous comms network from remote locations.

The idea of cell phones with embedded RFID scanning tech is, however, a scary thought and do-able. Why not? We already have the equivalent of personal computers integrated into cell phones.

As to the sheer volume of RFID hits, you are right in that a lot would be noise. As I wrote earlier, I doubt its initial use woud be to track everybody all the time, everywhere. Trade-offs would be made as to who, where, & when the tracking would occur. As technology matures, fewer trade-offs need to be made.

NMshooter
October 18, 2005, 07:06 PM
Don't worry jfruser, folks are working on solutions to those pesky "needle in the haystack" problems.

Amazing what you can do with a modern computer and the right software.

Too late to worry about legislation, countermeasures however...

I envision personal ECM suites, hey, if Mark Valentine can make a fortune on radar and laser detectors just think what he could do for tracking devices.

cuchulainn
October 18, 2005, 07:15 PM
jfruser: No, they would do just the opposite and place cash registers within 20' (or whatever useful distance) of each other. That way, they can use the differing signal strength to more accurately determine location.I still don't think they would be able to distinguish an RFID tag on a particular person in a crowded store. In many cases, you might be talking about triangulating down to a couple inches to distinguish between two people in line.Old Dog: All I'm saying is that perhaps we should be worrying a bit more now that the exploitation of invasive technology is finally being overtly marketed -- and no one cares!Well maybe there eventually will be private sector solutions, much like that for cookies, spyware, etc. What we're talking about is really nothing but spyware, but on items other than computers. Perhaps the answer would be devices that set up personal firewalls, or something like that. Or maybe the answer is devices that deactivate the tags.

In any event, we certainly don't want the government to "protect" us from "big business RFIDs” -- we'd end up with something like that unwieldy behemoth: HIPAA.

lysander
October 18, 2005, 08:18 PM
In any event, we certainly don't want the government to "protect" us from "big business RFIDs”

Boom goes the dynamite! (don't worry mods...this is a pop culture reference to a sportscaster highlight...not a call for armed insurrection)

We certainly don't want that. What we do want is for private industry to be free to both offer RFID and to offer countermeasures.

Somehow I don't see that happening....I see the anti RFID tech getting b-slapped into illegality.

DRZinn
October 19, 2005, 10:01 AM
Thus, to track people/items with RFID you'd need scanners about every 15 feet or every 250 feet, depending on which kind you used.Not really. One (powered) per car and one in your clothing, and a reader at every intersection would get pretty close.

In any event, tracking would require networked scanners, and even if Big Brother is willing to live with gaps in the tracking and opt for "strategic locations only," the network still would be a big deal economically.Not really. Depends on how many people they want to track. They could read everything, but only make certain tags "of interest." You'rer assuming they'd track everyone at all times, which I'll grant is not feasible. Yet.

benEzra
October 19, 2005, 11:23 AM
In many cases, you might be talking about triangulating down to a couple inches to distinguish between two people in line.
People where you live must be friendlier in grocery store lines than they are here. :D

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