Daily Archives: 10/30/2003

RFID And Me, Or How Much Is That Chip In My Head?

I got to thinking about the new ID badges they passed out at work a while ago. We now have to pass the badge over a scanner to gain access to different areas and departments at work. How do those things work? Obviously some kind of radio frequency was being used, but the badges contain no batteries. They must be transponders of some kind. What’s going on here?

Well this led to a little research on the internet. The badges use a device called Radio Frequency ID, or RFID. Get used to that term, they are about to burst into the mainstream. These tiny little radio transponders could bring about some big changes in society. Unlike bar codes which must be manually scanned, RFID tags are automatically read when they come in proximity to a reader. Since passive RFID tags require no batteries or moving parts, they offer long term durability and shelf life. New RFID tags are so small they can be embedded in just about anything, bank notes, clothes, pets, and even students. Okay, maybe they’re not implanted in students yet, but the principal in that Wired article sounds like he would be amenable to such a development. He touts the ability of the system to track students location in and out of school, to constantly monitor students for their own safety. Uh, kinda like Big Brother?

RFID is poised to become ubiquitous due to a big push by Wal-Mart to replace bar codes with RFID tagged items in stores. And when Wal-Mart talks, suppliers listen. The fear of civil libertarians is that RFID tags will be used to intrude on personal privacy. Think of last year’s movie, Minority Report. Whenever Tom Cruise walked around in public, retinal scanners instantly ID’ed him. People fear something just like that, but instead of using eyes to ID somebody, a halo of almost microscopic RFID tags would signal a person’s presence and their every move.