The Integrity News
Vol. XII No. 25
August 25, 2003
August 8, 2003
"RFID" stands for Radio Frequency Identification.
The fundamental idea is that manufacturers
want to implant tiny radio transponders (tags)
in their product's packaging. 'Packaging' can
mean the wrapping, or the product itself.
When a tag is activated by radio waves of a
particular frequency, it responds with a signal
that reveals 'what' it is implanted in, and
'where' it is. Airplane transponders generally
work in this manner -- think of an air traffic
Major retailers, consumer product suppliers,
grocery chains, and others see these chips
as a "godsend". Goods can be tracked from
the factory to the store shelves, retailers can
instantly get a 100% accurate inventory
of what is on their shelves, and recall efforts
would be greatly simplified. They claim that
they would save billions of dollars each year.
Privacy advocates see RFID as a massive
invasion of privacy. "They say the technology
would let retailers, marketers, governments,
or criminals scan people -- or even their
houses (or businesses) -- and ascertain what
they own" and how they use it.
Because there are legitimate business and privacy
concerns, there is increasing resistance to the use of
this technology in its current form. The proponents see
very large savings from using RFID tags, so they want
to overcome this resistance.
Proponents currently seem to feel that they have the best
shot at winning the minds and hearts of consumers and
businesses by "portraying the technology as an essential
tool for keeping the nation's food supply safe from
terrorists." More generally, they want to "portray
the technology as an antiterrorist tool".
The proponent companies have banded together, formed
an industry association, and want the Department of
Homeland Security to designate RFID as an antiterrorism
technology. They have also hired "a powerhouse PR
firm" to get "members of Congress and other influential
figures to portray RFID in a favorable light".
The proponents feel that "the technology will catch on
'when the government mandates it for homeland security
reasons'." They want to win over a wary public, and they
also "want the legal protection under the Safety Act of 2002
-- a tort reform law that offers blanket lawsuit protections
to makers of antiterrorism devices, should those devices
fail during a terrorist attack."
"But not all legislators on Capitol Hill are buying into
RFID tags, especially when they see companies playing
the terrorism card to gain acceptance for the technology."
There are enough real terrorists, trying to do real damage,
so that we don't need to trivialize the mission of the
Department of Homeland Security as being a marketing
The fundamental value of RFID technology seems to be
sound. However, any deployment in the marketplace
must include privacy protections for individuals and home
or commercial businesses. A business cannot tolerate
having the items it owns reporting what they are, where
they are, and in what combinations they exist -- to any