RFID technology has come a long way since it was introduced and many different uses have been found for this technology, most of which bring up many political and legal issues. These tiny RFID microchips have the ability to store and transmit information. In many cases this is an extremely helpful technology that stores utilize to help with keeping inventory, and to prevent loses of stolen goods, however this technology is being used just for keeping inventory.
These chips have the ability to store a very large amount of personal data, down to how the company can better market and cater to what that particular buyer wants. For example, there is a Prada store in New York City containing, “readers positioned in the dressing rooms [that] read the RFIDs in articles of clothing, and prompt screens inside the rooms to show video clips of models wearing the clothing as well as other Prada accessories” (Rich & Grant, 2011). Suggestive advertising based on what a person buys is a major advantage of tagging products with RFID chips.
There is a strong up rise against the idea of RFID tagging all retail items as the, “retailers could theoretically scan people with such licenses as they make purchases, combine the info with their credit card data, and then know the person’s identity the next time they stepped into the store” (Bustillo, 2010). The main concern with these tags is that they have the ability to collect more personal data than most people realize and continue to collect data even after an item has left the store just waiting to be scanned again and have the information retrieved.
These tags also have location tracking available so as long as someone wants to read the information they could track what exactly was done with a product bought from the store. These tags will stay on products until they are removed. Some of the RFID tags are put in clothing and theoretically could not come off, so the customer is walking around with an RFID tag that is continuously collecting information. Then when walking back into a store with RFID tags in use, that tag is scanned and the information about the customer’s whereabouts is known by that store.
Other tags are placed in the cardboard folding in boxes and after being thrown out people can drive by houses and scan what is in the trash to see what items have been recently thrown away in an attempt to better market to different neighborhoods or for a more sinister outlook see which houses buy quality products for a potential robbery. These tags ability to collect and store personal data make them extremely likely targets for people to use for illegal purposes.
There are now technologies available to pay using RFID technology; tags are connected to a person’s bank account or credit card and just need to walk buy a scanner to pay for their ticket. Recently this technology has been implemented, “some clubs in Europe are actually offering RFID implants to their VIP customers. These RFIDs are linked to a bank or credit account, so that a customer can simply walk up to the bar, order a drink, and pay without any money changing hands” (Rich & Grant, 2011).
While this may seem like a great way to assure payment and a convenience for customers this presents the opportunity for anyone to gain personal banking and credit card information. Anyone with a RFID reader running at the same frequency can intercept a transaction as there is an, “inability of chipped people either to control the disclosure of the data contained in their implants, or to know when their chips are being read” (Ballaro & Newton, 2011).
When the chip is read there is no filter on what can be accessed, so if a person is in a hospital and someone with a compatible reader reads the information on the chip, this unauthorized user can access any information stored on the chip as the person has no control the data transmission. Several other concerns have recently come up one in particular, “known as ‘spoofing,’ in which forged RFID-tags can be used to simulate other tags, raises the possibility of identity theft” (Ballaro & Newton, 2011).
By “spoofing” that person activates multiple tags and is able to read all of the information off of multiple tags collecting all of the information allows that person access to much more personal data than what would be available on a single tag. The other major issue with spoofing is that the “spoofer” does not need to be running on the same frequency as all of the tags, they just need to be running at the same frequency as the spoof tag, which makes identity theft much easier than trying to find individual frequencies for multiple tags. With negatives about any technology there are always positives surrounding it as well.
Tagging can be implemented into any hospital or medical field saving lives and money. Critical medical information can be stored on chips imbedded into patients, such as food and drug allergies and any other illnesses or diseases present in a patient giving anyone treating the patient instant access to this vital information. By having it stored on the chip this drastically reduces the chances of giving a patient something they are allergic to or mistreating the patient for a specific illness. Not only can these chips be used on the patients themselves, but these chips are being used on the medical equipment.
At Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville, TN tagging was implemented on all mobile equipment, they believe that, ”the use of RFID tags has saved them as much as $50,000 a month in unnecessary rental costs due to misplaced and lost rental equipment. The RFID technology also gives maintenance and nurses the ability to click on the piece of equipment to ? nd the serial number and when it was serviced last” (Kumar, Livermont, & McKewan 2010). Not only does this save the hospital money but it would also cut down on the cost of medical care.
The information stored on these chips as well as the tracking abilities helps nurses keep track of patients as they move from floor to floor. This system was developed to make sure a patient gets to where the nurse or doctor intended for them to go helping to prevent any mishaps and helping to give the patient the proper treatment. Currently RFID tags are being used in the pet industry to help people recover lost pets; having worked at PetLand I have actually “chipped” dogs before. These chips are no larger than a grain of rice and are scanned any time a dog is brought to the pound or to a shelter.
Stored on these chips is the owners contact information as well as any pertinent information about the animal with the chip. Using this technology has reunited many families with their lost pets. There is no reason, in the future, that all humans wouldn’t have these chips imbedded in them too. With the amount of personal data these chips are able to collect and store, they could eventually become a health monitoring system that just needs to be scanned and read to see what all has been going on. It will create a safer environment in the hospitals as all necessary medical information is right there on the chip.
It would cut down on the mistreatment of patients and overall help with the health of all patients. Talk of using RFID tagging to create a safer environment may be the very thing that ends up destroying what is left of privacy. Inmates are being outfitted with RFID wristbands and having chips implanted as a way for guards to keep track of them, the same can be said for known sex offenders and known criminals. The problem with this is who is to say that while they are tracking the criminals they aren’t tracking other RFID chipped citizens as well.
The government has the ability, “to monitor average citizens not under formal investigation through the use of electronic tracking devices and to compile the information to amass a database of information on US citizens” (Ballaro & Newton, 2011). The issue with this is that it is a direct, “threat to individual privacy and civil liberties such as the freedom of expression and the right to peaceably assemble” (Ballaro & Newton, 2011). This is especially important as there is much concern over potential terrorist attacks from within the United States and issues with border control.
The United States government disobeyed laws regarding telephone tapping and listening in on conversations in the aftermath of 9/11, if a disaster were to strike again who is to say that, with the implementation of RFID technology, they wouldn’t read our chips that contain intimate details of where we have been, what we do, and what we buy, essentially destroying out privacy. Currently there is not any federal laws regulating the use of RFID tagging, but based on the abilities of this technology one can see how it could potentially be misused and some of the privacy issues that follow.
The federal government must implement laws to prevent any misuse of this powerful technology. There is legitimate concern for privacy for everyone as RFID technology becomes more commonplace, “the potential for the misuse of this powerful tool poses a worrisome threat to democratic values and civil liberties” (Ballaro & Newton, 2011). With all of the privacy concerns surrounding RFID people fail to realize that the internet is currently RFID technology on steroids. Anything and everything done on the internet is logged and tracked using a user unique IP address.
Each web page visited is essentially like carrying around an RFID tagged item around the store. These pages are logged and compiled into personal interests. When searching something on Google the results that come up are catered to the individual based on these personal interests and what the individual is most likely to click because they find it interesting. Smart phones that are connected to the internet with GPS enabled are able to be tapped into to find user locations and that information is capable to being sold to advertisers to better cater to the individuals located in geographic locations and their interests.
In a sense IP addresses and the future of RFID technology are synonymous, yet people are not so worried about the lack of privacy they have on the internet because it has been that way for several years now. RFID technology is a new thing and people are uneasy about the “known” potential privacy issues with it. It will take time for people to accept RFID technology for what it is and what it can potentially become. While conducting a survey about internet privacy one survey taker says it best by stating, “The challenge now, is not to make little laws to try to protect ‘privacy. That kind of privacy is gone. The question is how to prevent people doing bad things with that info” (Timpane, 2012). It is accepted that the privacy is now gone, and we must simply prevent wrong doing with that information; eventually RFID tagging will reach the same point. It will be accepted that they are here and here to stay, so accept it and form laws preventing the misuse of the information these tags collect. With all of the information these small chips are able to collect they will be a larger part of our future than most people currently realize.