RFID and Your Privacy
Maybe you haven’t heard about RFID. The acronym RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification. The technology was first used by manufacturers to convey information to retailers and keep track of shipping and inventory on their products in the late 1990’s.
Manufactures have embedded them in ordinary consumer items such as clothing, warehouse pallets and packaging on many items. And like the name says, they just use simple radio waves to transmit the data and therefore the waves can travel through just about any material.
RFID technology is used in many forms – everyday items that you buy daily, such as shampoo, toilet paper, office supplies, furniture, food, books, tires, medicine bottles, light bulbs, bedding and, of course, electronics. It can be incorporated into fabric fibers, plastics, metals, wires, paper, paint, almost anything.
The integrated circuit chips are incredibly tiny - about 1/64th the size of a grain of salt; and each has its own individual 38-digit number 128-bit ROM identification number. Because they are so miniscule the tags can be hidden inside almost anything, from the hat on the top your head, to your underwear or even the soles of your shoes. And every time you step within range of an RFID reader, the tags can be detected and their information extracted by any reader in that RF range all unbeknownst to you.
Like their tag counterparts, readers have become so small they can also barely be seen. Now they are hidden in store displays, public buildings, woven into carpet, embedded in ceiling tiles, incorporated into shelving, homes, sports arenas, shopping malls, bathrooms and even public spaces like parks with their composite benches, it’s even put it into flooring to tell where you are walking. They simply place the readers in key locations, and you never know that you have been probed. RFIDs incognito characteristics have enabled it to easily blend into our lives.
Your every move has been tracked for decades by the prying eyes of corporations and governments through the ordinary objects in your possession such as your cell phone, your key fob, your watch, your jewelry, your purse or your wallet; and you likely never had a clue about it. They use the chips to evaluate your status, age, sex, purchasing preferences and more.
School children’s and government uniform providers sew RFID tracking tags into the uniforms to keep an eye on the wearer revealing where they have been and who they have been associating with.
The U.S Postal Service embeds every U.S. Postage Stamp with an RFID chip and our own U.S Currency and International banknotes are embedded with RFID chips.
The Dept. of Transportation has long subsidized RFID technology, going as far as creating an exclusive radio band for surveillance systems that extract information from vehicles as they drive past pole mounted readers. The Federal Highway Administration some years ago required that every car manufactured in the U.S. is microchipped at the factory complete with global positioning satellite receiver that can identify any cars exact location. Automatic Vehicle Identification stations are now placed along the road monitoring your vehicles speed, direction and the date and times that you travelled. Toll booths have them as well. RFID enabled license plates, registrations and inspection stickers also monitor our travels.
When the U.S. public resisted a National ID card, our government simply RFID chipped our Drivers Licenses and passports, so you really wound up with a National ID card whether you wanted one or not.
Retailers and marketers are of course thrilled. With RFID technology they are able to evaluate a household’s income level, habits and purchases. RFID enabled refrigerators might record your eating habits and report to marketers what kind of goods are inside. When it is time to restock, a coupon might be sent in the mail or a targeted commercial may play on TV just for you. Or perhaps your RFID enabled fridge may make a recommendation for you; warning you about expiring milk or even compose a weekly shopping lists for you.
Medicine cabinets may now talk to your insurance company, doctor or government official and report your meds usage. Then there is the matter of the garbage that you throw away every day, RFID readers are placed inside garbage cans and garbage trucks. The marketer collects the data on your trash and then sells it on the open market.
Have you frequented a drugstore and used a loyalty card that offers you ‘rewards’ for shopping with them? Well guess what? You just gave them some good information they could use. Health officials track our prescription drug use and attorneys can subpoena your home activity records for use against you in court. Have your health insurance premiums gone through the roof lately? Perhaps your insurance company monitored your consumption of alcohol, junk food and cigarettes and set rates accordingly.
Not just marketers and government agents have access to our information but also criminals. RFID gives thieves a huge advantage to scope out valuables and identify easy marks. They can easily identify what is inside your shopping bag, car or house. More sophisticated criminal activities might include hacking, jamming, sabotage, eavesdropping or even terrorism. There is also a large threat of peeping Toms, perverts and stalkers using RFID to harass and intimidate their victims.
With all these drawbacks, you might be amazed that the public has accepted them so readily. Never underestimate the power of convenience. Arguments in support of RFID adoption include faster checkout, educational benefits, consumer safety, quick access to diagnostic tests and other information, theft prevention, improved planning and forecasting, shaved labor cost and improved productivity; all resulting in greater profits!
But once RFID is allowed to slowly infiltrate our lives it becomes accepted as the norm. First comes RFID-microchipped inanimate objects, then comes microchipped pets and livestock, then prisoners, then military and security personnel; then immigrants, then voluntary chipping programs, then a national RFID medical device registry tied to healthcare, then schoolchildren in the classroom, then government workers, then newborn babies; and then, finally, as a show of absolute dominance and control, the general public.