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RFID: The New Big Brother ? 566

Makarand writes "The possibility that we could be tracked not because we have a microchip implant but merely because we wear clothes, eat and carry objects around is real according to this article on C|net news. A technology called RFID (radio frequency identification) consisting of miniscule microchips the size of a single grain of sand that listen to a radio query and respond by transmitting their unique ID can make this possible. Most RFID tags use the power from the initial radio signal to transmit their response and hence can be placed anywhere imaginable. Retailers are adoring this concept and soon everything more expensive than a Snickers bar will sport RFID tags making tracking possible through our own personal possessions. The privacy threat comes when RFID tags remain active once you leave a store and currently the RFID industry seems to be giving 'mixed' signals about whether the tags will be disabled or left enabled by default."
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RFID: The New Big Brother ?

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  • by Fesh ( 112953 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @10:58AM (#5080637) Homepage Journal
    Microwave clothes before wearing.
    • No seriously-- is this more insightful than it is funny? Would this *actually* work? How many seconds?
      • Re:Simple enough... (Score:5, Informative)

        by rot26 ( 240034 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:05AM (#5080729) Homepage Journal
        I'm sure it would work.

        Just be careful. Certain synthetic fabrics (nylon for one) will catch fire fairly quickly in a microwave.

      • Re:Simple enough... (Score:5, Informative)

        by ( 471768 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:07AM (#5080749)
        Yes it will work, its how half of the theft prevention devices work. Look for the square stickers with the coil wrapping around a center square. These are the earlier counterparts to what they are talking about. The gates that check for the tag listen for the response from the tag by emmiting relatively low power signals. To disable the tag, higher power is output, frying the circuitry.

        So to "clean" your, you could emit broad spectrum high power RF noise and nuke the little bastards.
        • Re:Simple enough... (Score:5, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:18AM (#5080891)
          These anti-theft stickers are not RFIDs. They do not store and respond with IDs. Instead they are simple oscillator circuits which influence the frequency of the detector oscillation. They are not disabled by microwaves but by a magnetic pulse which induces a current high enough to trigger the builtin "fuse".
          • Re:Simple enough... (Score:5, Informative)

            by ( 471768 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:41AM (#5081114)
            There's two types, the magnetic and the RF. Technically the magnetic ones don't have a fuse, but instead are disabled by magnetically saturating the metal. These are the most commonly used tags. The others are actual RF circuits. They don't transmit IDs, true, I shouldn't have given that impression, but the do respond to the broadcast in much the same way the rf tags do.
            • Not quite, the most common tags today are the sensormatic acoustomagnetic type, found at a wide range of retailers from WalMart to Home Depot to many cd/movie stores. This type has a number of advantages, over the older RF based tags. In fact, many consumer items can be found with an Acoustomagnetic tag inside the item. Recently, I disassembled an answering machine I had purchased from KMart and inside the case was a (presumably deactivated) tag. Because 58khz acoustic echos are not much affected by the container, (after all these are just sound waves) tags can be embedded rather than on the surface of the item (as with radio frequency tags) where a shoplifter can easily peal them off. Don't expect the RF tags to actually be embedded in too many items, metallic items and objects containing water will either absorb the RF energy or detune the tag, itself a simple LC (inductor-capacitor) network tuned to 8.2 mhz (most common - or 9.5 mhz). The above posts are indeed correct, the common RF tags are deactivated by a high intensity RF signal, but usually of a different (usually lower)frequency that the tag also has resonance at. The fusable link is commonly a crimp across the capacitor which upon deactivation shorts the capacitor out, thus detuning it, rather than burning itself out.
              The saturation type strips the parent refers to are actually prone to false alarms from certain metal objects with a low (and abrupt) saturation point. These systems are commonly found in libraries, rather than retail stores. Several other types are in use.
              Read here [] and here [].
        • No need for either broad-spectrum high-power RF or microwaves. It's easy enough to find out what frequencies the RFID tags use (usually fairly low frequencies). A relatively low-power transmitter operating on the frequency to which the device is tuned would fry it without arc-welding your zippers.

          Of course, such a transmitter would probably be declared a "DMCA circumvention device"...
        • Re:Simple enough... (Score:5, Informative)

          by dnoyeb ( 547705 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @02:30PM (#5082261) Homepage Journal
          You all are tripping. I worked on these things over the last year. The first approach should be the old fashioned Hammer.

          These are the same Tags that have been around for YEARS. Its what they tag whales with. Now their in your cars as passive anti-theft devices on the Luxury and expensive models. The keys have a chip in them.

          I dont think you will be frying this thing with any low power RF noise. Thats everywhere, and I have yet to loose an electronic device to it.

          This think is not a tick. It will not absorb energy till it pops.

          Microwave is an excellent idea. If its too small to be seen, its power output will be too low to be of consequence.
      • It won't take very long. The antenna great at capturing RF power to overpower to the tag. The device due to it's size is unable to dissapate much heat. Throw it in with an old AOL CD. They should both be done at about the same time. It should be just a sec or so after the filament warms up in the magnatron.
    • by fleener ( 140714 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:08AM (#5080767)
      Finally, my privacy electromagnet will go mainstream. (Until now it was only used to plug into your Aluminum Foil Deflector Beanie.)

      Fleener's Law: 80% of conspiracy theories come true in time.
    • Re:Simple enough... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:21AM (#5080919) Journal
      This would actually work!

      I used to own a computer store, and we had problems when we had a "flaky" motherboard that would boot but was unreliable, and was still under warranty.

      The distributor would set it up, see it do something, and send it back to us. To fix this, we'd put it into a microwave oven for 3 seconds before shipping it back.

      That'd cook the chips on the motherboard without leaving any visible sign of problems. It would then show no signs of working, and they'd give us a whole new motherboard, and everybody was happy.

      Worked for RAM chips, video cards, sound cards, modems, etc. although we had the most trouble with motherboards.

      So why is this "funny"? Should be "informative"...
    • by phorm ( 591458 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:51AM (#5081217) Journal
      Don't wear clothes. When you're in court for indecent exposure, tell them that RFID tags have made current clothing violate your right to privacy/anonymity...

      That, or you could advertise a protect using your body...
    • Re:Simple enough... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sql*kitten ( 1359 )
      Microwave clothes before wearing.

      Or indeed, everything. If they can put it unobtrusively into a Snickers wrapper, what's to stop them putting it into the bar itself?
    • by jmichaelg ( 148257 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @01:07PM (#5081797) Journal
      Alien Technology [], the people who make these things, anticipated that attack. The RFID tags disconnect their attenna when they sense a power surge. When the power dies down, the tag re-connects and it's working again.

      This Stanford seminar [] gave a good overview of the underlying technology.

  • I think it's going to be my personal challenge to find a way to "short out said devices" I'm thinking a microwave oven should do the trick. THe hard part, defeating an ingested tag, hmm... this could be a real problem, tracked until your bowels process the dammed thing out...
  • Wow... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Slarty ( 11126 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @10:59AM (#5080648) Homepage
    That's nutty. Soon anyone who cares about privacy is going to have to EMP themselves before they can go anywhere...
    • I agree. Just get buddy-buddy with the X-ray machine operator at your local airport and have all your RFID's fried!

      Of course from the consumer standpoint, the idea of this is ludicrous. Why should *I* have to disable these tracking devices? Shouldn't it be the other way around? That they have to ask my permission before trying to follow me around?
  • Put your tracking enabled underwear in the microwave for 30 seconds and not only will they be toasty warm but you will be able to wear them anonymously. The problem comes when certain establishments mandate that you wear trackable underwear!
    • The problem comes when certain establishments mandate that you wear trackable underwear!

      No... the real problem comes when certain establishments mandate that you wear underwear..
  • Lojack for Dogs (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lizard_King ( 149713 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:02AM (#5080681) Journal
    I believe that the majority of recently born puppies have a tiny microchip embedded in the back of their necks for similar purposes. I was shocked when I first heard of this practice (about a year ago), but I hear its quite accepted among dog owners. I can see the benefit for pets... ...but for humans? Scary.

    • Re:Lojack for Dogs (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:36AM (#5081076) Homepage Journal
      Yeah. For pets, there's someone (the owner) who has a legitimate reason for wanting to know where the pet is at all times. For adult humans ... there is nobody who has a legitimate reason for wanting to know where I am at all times. Not my employer, not the government, not my family -- nobody.

      My only real hope about the proto-Orwellian age in which we find ourselves living is that it will spark a massive backlash, and create a privacy movement comparable to the civil rights movement of the 50's and 60's, or the labor movement of the early part of the 20th c. Not just among the folks at the EFF and the ACLU, who come off as a bit fanatical to most folks, but something broad-based. (NB: I'm not calling the EFF and ACLU fanatical -- I support both organizations. But a lot of people think of them as "those nutjobs." I suspect that may be about to change ...) Because that's what it will take to keep Orwell's vision from coming true.

      I think there may be early signs of this. People may say that it's okay for the government to infringe our privacy in one way to "fight terrorism," or the RIAA to do so in another to "fight piracy," or some huge business to do so in still another for "market research," or whatever ... but if you can get people to think about it all at once, they realize what a Big Brother monstrosity our society can become, without our even noticing until it's too late.
  • See? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:02AM (#5080682)
    Now I've got a reason for advocating nudity....
  • by CrazyJoel ( 146417 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:02AM (#5080683)
    If you find a Snickers wrapper on the ground you could read its RFID and track it back to the person who bought it and fine him for littering.
  • cool (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tps12 ( 105590 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:02AM (#5080684) Homepage Journal
    This is actually just what I've been wishing for. You know when you've misplaced something in your house (my favorite pencil, for a recent example from my own life, though "house" is maybe being charitable), and you spend hours tearing everything apart and then it turns out that it's just lying there somewhere in plain sight?

    I always wish, both during and after such a quest, that I could have just whipped out a tricorder (or device of a similar form factor) and scanned for whatever I'm missing, and it would start beeping or blinking on the screen or whatever. It would save hours of time for all but the most type A people.

    It would also be a boon on the golf course. And for finding your kids when they wander off at Disneyland. Really, all I can think about is good applications of this technology, so bring it on!
  • What? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by autopr0n ( 534291 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:02AM (#5080688) Homepage Journal
    The submitter is acting like this is the first time He's heard of RFID. The idea has been around for years and they're only now getting to the point where they're going into.

    RFID tags need to be printed on paper, so unless you have something like a magazine you'll be able to get rid of the RFID tags just by removing the wrapper or sales tag. Duh. It's not like these things are going to be attached to everything permanently just while they're in the store. It's basically a replacement for the barcode.
    • Re:What? (Score:5, Informative)

      by rot26 ( 240034 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:11AM (#5080800) Homepage Journal
      RFID tags need to be printed on paper


      For one, it depends on the type of device. The ones you see embossed on paper are essentially just antennae that resonate at a certain frequency. There are other versions that are MUCH more sophisticated, though, AND active to boot, and manufacturers ARE anticipating imbedding them in a lot of products permanently (if for no other reason than to save the stores the labor costs of removing them.)

      Do you think the little mylar strips in US money are for COUNTERFEIT protection??? haha. Stack up a few 20's and it wouldn't be hard to spot them at all using the same technology (i.e. finding the resonant frequency of a passive radiator consisting of an array of mylar strips of known size stacked a known distance apart.)

      • Re:What? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by radish ( 98371 )
        Except you have to know those distances EXACTLY for it to work. And guess what? You don't. What if the note gets folded, or even crumpled? or if I stack them not-entirely-straight, or if the strip is off centre (haven't seen the US ones yet) and I stack them different ways around?

        Oh, and most countries have had metal in their notes for years now (and more than one colour too! and holograms! and see through windows! and textured ink!). It IS an anti-conterfeiting measure, and not a moment too soon, seeing as how the USD is by far the most easily copied major currency in the world.

      • Re:What? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Zathrus ( 232140 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:30AM (#5081008) Homepage
        Do you think the little mylar strips in US money are for COUNTERFEIT protection

        Do you think they're for TRACKING YOU? haha.

        Lord. My brother used to work on the theft prevention systems they use at stores -- you know, the little magnetic strips on clothing and other goods that would set off the alarm if not deactivated first. This is not considerably different from RFID or the mylar strips in bills.

        Do you have any idea how easy they are to defeat? Bend the strip and you change its resonant frequency. Put two strips up against one another. Wrap them in tinfoil. Any one of a half dozen other methods.

        As usual, they only work against the idiots, which so happens to be 90% of your criminals.

        And, of course, your rampant conspiracy theorists who don't actually have any bloody clue how reality works.
      • Re:What? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by duffbeer703 ( 177751 )
        Please put tinfoil hat back on bucko... you're starting to drool.

        The mylar strips in US currency are not RFID tags or anything similar. They are an anti-counterfeiting measure.

        As inexpensive printers got cheaper, many counterfeiters were bleaching $1 and $5 bills and printing phoney $20 and $100 bills on the paper. Most counterfeit money is detected by bank clerks who can feel the difference in paper quality.

        The mylar strip (which is not present in $1 and $5 bills) makes it easy to spot bleached counterfeits.

        The European Union addressed this problem by making each demonination of currency a different size.
    • Re:What? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by costas ( 38724 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @12:00PM (#5081323) Homepage
      I consult for very large retailers... for all the privacy rants on /., when RFIDs become widespread, I bet you you will hear practically no complaints? Why? instant checkout.

      That's what has grocers drooling over this (well, the super-automation of the supply chain and a tighter control on shrinkage too, but this is the killer app). Walk up to the register with your shopping cart, hand over your credit card and get back you receipt and a bunch of shopping bags. Wheel shopping cart to your car and pack your groceries there.

      No loading-reloading at the cashier's, almost no lines, fewer employees at the store. Even a small error rate for the RFIDs will be acceptable just due to the payroll savings involved. And for the tinfoil-hat wearing crowd: for most goods sold at retail (not currency, or expensive stuff like high-end clothes, watches, etc) RFIDs are practically not different from bar-codes. So what's the problem there?
  • Defense (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tiedyejeremy ( 559815 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:02AM (#5080690) Homepage Journal
    Topless Bars and Horsetracks will likely be the first places to devise RFID shields, offering safe havens for their customers!
  • Another way to go. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Absurd Being ( 632190 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:02AM (#5080692) Journal
    Coat yourself with hundreds of thousands of the little tags. A chaotic radio shout in reply to a sensing whisper should make the devices less than usefull. Bury these buggers in information.
  • Welcome back to The Gap...
  • by CommandNotFound ( 571326 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:03AM (#5080701)
    ...wearing my tinfoil suit, but who's laughing now?!?
  • by ksplatter ( 573000 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:03AM (#5080707)
    Just as long as they put the following warning label on the Clothes:

    WARNING!!! Hand Washing of this Material Could Cause Electrocution Resulting in Death.
    Or Even worse make your hair stand up all Funny and stuff!

  • currently the RFID industry seems to be giving 'mixed' signals about whether the tags will be disabled or left enabled by default.

    Of course they are. Why alienate either end of the market, especially retailers or other commercial interests? You know that right now it's more important to court them anyway to build interest and revenue for development. Leave all possibilities possibilities, and all kinds of parties will step forward.

    - DDT
  • Yikes (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Windcatcher ( 566458 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:04AM (#5080715)
    I'm not much of a "holy roller" (or at all for that matter), but this one made me think:

    "He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, freeman and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no-one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. This calls for wisdom, if anyone has insight, let him calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person and it's number is 666." Rev 13:16-18
  • by swordboy ( 472941 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:04AM (#5080718) Journal
    RFID Tires []

    Imagine the possibilities... There's a video on that site for anyone willing to dig. I'd rather not slashdot it (28 megs). This technology was initially used to ship and track tires as a replacement to the old bar codes, but now, the boys in the tinfoil hats are detecting RFID activity on the freeways and border crossings...

    Auto manufacturers are programming the VIN number into the tire at assembly. It is only a matter of time before this becomes a requirement.
  • Now we'll have real, techno-savvy fashion police. Geeks beware!
  • Whatever... (Score:4, Informative)

    by guido1 ( 108876 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:06AM (#5080733)
    Cost: $.50 per tag.

    Range: 15 feet "optimally oriented in front of a reader in free space."

    While the chips themselves are small (grain of pepper is mentioned), the antennas are 1/2" to 4" long.

    Sure, this is interesting news (from a technology perspective), but I for one don't fear their use by big brother just yet.
  • by ksplatter ( 573000 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:06AM (#5080741)
    I hope My New Tracking Enabled T-shirt Has a Wear Anonymously Checkbox!
  • by TheReckoning ( 638253 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:07AM (#5080750) Journal
    I can picture the conversation with my wife now:

    "Hon, do you like this dress?"

    "Yeah, it's really nice... WAIT DID YOU MICROWAVE IT BEFORE WE LEFT HOME!?!"

    "Micro - huh? What the hell are to talking about?"

    "RFID SAND CHIPS! THEY'RE EVERYWHERE! They've probably tracked us here. Better take off your clothes until we can get to some underground consignment shops and hook you up with some aluminized disco stuff from the '70s."

    "We're through."
  • by 13Echo ( 209846 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:07AM (#5080752) Homepage Journal
    Everyone knows that you can just wrap yourself in aluminum foil! Duh! It works against the aliens.
  • by dmccarty ( 152630 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:08AM (#5080771)
    At first glance this article reads like a Your Rights Online rant from Timothy!

    I work in the packaging industry and have seen firsthand some of the RFID application processes on folder gluers. First of all, the defect rate hovers around 10%, which makes relying on this technology a dubious proposition.

    I doubt that the practical size is approaching "half a grain of sand," which would make application a nightmare to try to control. And most importantly, RFID tags are like UPC barcodes: they're coded to a single frequency and product, not to each instance of the product! If an RFID tag is enabled on your North Face jacket and you walk in a store, they may be able to tell that you're wearing the jacket, but that doesn't tell them who you are.

    So if I've helped reduce the paranoia level a little bit, I'll now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:23AM (#5080944) Homepage
      and if they are NOT deactivated when you purchase it it will foul up all their "plans" for automated purchasing that detects what you have in your cart as you pass through.. Hmm. I see you are buying a pair of levis 1 pair of red-heart BVD's, a set of 13DDD nikes, and a 3X budwiser t-shirt with a bright yellow jacket and a gallon of milk. that will be $147.96 please...

      "I'm just buying a gallon of milk! what the hell!!!"

      if they dont deativate them at purchase... it will mess up all of their plans.

    • And most importantly, RFID tags are like UPC barcodes: they're coded to a single frequency and product, not to each instance of the product!
      Sorry, you lose. RFID tags are not like UPC barcodes. The RFID tags that are in your new car's tires return your car's VIN, not 'michelin energy mxv4'. RFID tags can currently hold up to 64kbit of data, and can be read from tens of meters away, non-line-of-sight.

      They could be used like UPC barcodes, but there's nothing that says they can't be used in far more intrusive fashions, as well.

      • You are correct in saying that each tag can have a unique ID. However, your claim that they can be read from "tens of meters away" doesn't ring true with me, and I work in the industry. If you are aware of a passive tag that can be read from 10 meters away or more I would appreciate it if you would point it out.
      • by dmccarty ( 152630 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @02:06PM (#5082194)
        Well, if you won't believe me, maybe you'll believe a few links I've posted below:

        Actually, the tags in tires include the tire type, date of manufacture and the car that they were first mounted to. But that's a very specialized application, and we were talking about the general consumer scenario--John Doe checking out of Best Buy, Sears, Gap, XYZ Grocery, etc.

        I doubt that you'll find any RFID tags with a memory size of 65,536 bits! And if you do, they certainly aren't the ones that we were talking about--disposable, cheap passive tags to be used by merchants at the point of sale. Sure they could be used in intrusive fashions, in the same way that UPC codes were going to be the mark of the beast when they debuted in the '80s, and The Net [] was going to wreck all our lives and put us under control of nefarious orgzanizations.

        But these RFID tags are going to be used for checkout purposes, and any merchant that doesn't disable them at the POS isn't going to be faced with a tricky problem down the road. For example, if a customer walks back into your store (Walmart) wearing a watch, pair of shoes, t-shirt and some candy he purchased there last week, how are you going to know whether the goods were already purchased or not?! Remember, these are read-only tags, not read/write tags. It's therefore to the merchant's advantage to disable the tags once the item has been purchased.

        At the same time, the unique coding of items is fairly useless until you get into large-ticket items that may need to be repaired or serviced. Knowing that you sold Aiwa stereo #12345 is not better than knowing that you sold an Aiwa stereo model ABC. And when a 60" TV comes back in for repair, being able to scan the RFID emitter for its serial number takes only a few seconds off reading it off of the back of the unit and typing it in.

        There are a host of applications for the technology, and I've only covered a slice of them. Anti-theft and non-line of sight ID'ing of products are two of the most beneficial, and in my opinion they far outweight the insidious uses of various organizations that paranoid people like to think up.

    • RFID tags have been used for years for identifying livestock and pets. The tags are the size of a (large) grain of rice. Each one responds with a unique number, and the defect rate hovers around zero.
  • by delcielo ( 217760 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:10AM (#5080792) Journal
    of where all the missing socks go.
  • by Wakko Warner ( 324 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:12AM (#5080810) Homepage Journal
    Wow, so someone will know I'm wearing Timberland boots, Dockers pants, Oakley sunglasses, and an Izod shirt.

    They won't know my name, address, phone number, age, social security number, sexual preference, number of pets, or marital status.

    So what the hell's the big deal? Or are we all just being slash-paranoid?

    - A.P.
    • So are there many other people in your area who wear that exact same combination of clothes and shop at the same store?

      At worst (for you) it could know exactly who you are especially if you bought all those things in that chain store. At best it would still let them know your sex (unless you're a cross dresser), and can make a good guess of your age, lifestyle, weight and dimensions.

      Now imagine a few scanners set strategically around the store and at the cash register and that you take a look around and then purchase another item of clothing with a credit card (assume you payed cash before).

      Before you walked in they knew nothing about you. Now they know your name, your credit card number, the clothes you're wearing, how long you've been in the store, what part of the store you looked at most, what part you skipped, your approximate weight, lifestyle and age. And all you've done is buy a pair of socks!

      Would any store go to the effort? Probably not until the technology improved, but I wouldn't put it past them. In fact, I can imagine that store cards of the future would employ similar technology so that the moment you walked in the door carrying the card they'd know who you were.

    • by gosand ( 234100 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @12:27PM (#5081532)
      This is Slashdot afterall, allow me to take a stab at it...

      Wow, so someone will know I'm wearing Timberland boots, Dockers pants, Oakley sunglasses, and an Izod shirt.

      You mean velcro closure Reeboks, sweatpants, prescription glasses, a Slashdot shirt, and a Members Only jacket.

      They won't know my name, address, phone number, age, social security number, sexual preference, number of pets, or marital status.

      Who cares, your parent's house, your parent's phone number, 16-40, who cares, who knows, 3 cats, and single.

    • So what the hell's the big deal? Or are we all just being slash-paranoid?

      Perhaps I'm just old fashioned, but the big deal in my book is that this sort of thing is none of their damn business!

      I would be highly offended if some clerk came up to me and asked, "Hello, Sir, welcome to S-Mart, and may I ask what brand of underwear you're wearing today?" The fact they they're trying to do so surreptitiously makes it no less inappropriate.

  • by teamhasnoi ( 554944 ) < minus author> on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:15AM (#5080846) Journal
    The more *useless* these are, the better for citizens. The more *useful* they are the better it is for government, big buisiness, and unscrupulous employers to completely misuse them.

    Like I want an 'Enron' to happen with a company that controls distribution and/or access to these.

    I suggest a hi-watt jammer to make the use of them impossible.

    The knowledge of my whereabouts is copyrighted, and I have every right to disable, interfere, block, divert, or otherwise impair the unauthorized distribution, display, storage, or reproduction of this copyrighted information.

    God, I hope they don't put these in tin foil. What will I make my hats out of?

  • Frightening (Score:4, Interesting)

    by guacamolefoo ( 577448 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:18AM (#5080881) Homepage Journal
    I can see lots of potential uses here, not just for retailers who want to stop shoplifters, but for do-gooders who want to help "the children". Once the "goody" uses become common, RFID could easily sneak into other areas. First, the "natural" uses "for the children":

    1. Megan's law reporting problems? Just put one of these in a freckle-sized tattoo on sex offenders. Then sell little sensors for paranoid soccer mommies.

    2. Prescription drugs being taken by the wrong person? Is Billy taking Johnny's Ritalin or Mommy's Oxycontin again to get high? Just run the sensor over him to see if he's bouncing the ID embedded in the pills!

    3. Is that a valid driver's license? Just run that sensor over the card to see if it replies with the right code! We don't want kids to be able to buy cigarettes, alcohol (except Listerine - 40 proof), or porn with a fake I.D.!

    Of course, all of this data will be kept secure, and companies certainly won't scan your body on the way into job interviews to see if you bounce signals for things like heart medication, anti-depressants, or anything else that might increase their insurance plan costs. You'd literally be broadcasting an enormous amount of information about yourself to anyone with a sensor.

    Wasn't there just an outfit that had a bar code reader as a consumer device? Why not upgrade to an RFID reader? Learn all sorts of cool things about your coworkers, bosses, employees, enemies, etc.!! Fun for the whole family!

    It's enough to make me want to become the next unabomber, only without the goat stink and the crappy beard.

    • Re:Frightening (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @12:26PM (#5081531)
      > Is that a valid driver's license? Just run that sensor over the card to see if it replies with the right code! We don't want kids to be able to buy cigarettes, alcohol (except Listerine - 40 proof), or porn with a fake I.D.!

      Card? You're thinking inside the box.

      Cards can be stolen. Wave the sensor over the human.

      > Megan's law reporting problems? Just put one of these in a freckle-sized tattoo on sex offenders. Then sell little sensors for paranoid soccer mommies.

      And is that gonna stop an offender from going out and committing a crime? No - it'll only make him easier to find after he's committed the crime.

      You want to nail him as soon as the kid goes missing, and again, you're thinking inside the box. Don't chip the offender (well, chip him too), but to prevent the crime, you've gotta chip the kid. Paranoid pet owners chip their dogs for this reason, why wouldn't a soccer mom want her sprog chipped?

      Start by chipping kids at birth - embed it deep, so that digging it out with an Xacto will be painful and leave a scar. Embed it on the face, where any such scar will be visible to all. (If you've got something to hide, make sure you end up ugly enough that we appreciate your hiding it :)

      Suppose Congress appropriated a few billion dollars to HomeSec for phase one - chip 'em at birth or on registration to school - would that be enough to deploy a mesh of RFID scanners around schools and shopping malls. Most kids under 18 would be effectively tracked 24/7. There's a kidnapping every few days in this country - imagine the PR impact of having a "kidnapping thwarted by chip" news story every few weeks. (Sure, the media would get bored, but it'd take at least a couple of years).

      Phase two - now that you're using the chip to protect the children, extend "protection" to "if you have a chip, you must be under 18" and can't buy whatever. Scanners get added to retail outlets, marketers know who wears what and who looks at what products (data for future resale), and customers get the convenience of cashless shopping and never having to deal with annoying checkout clerks. And we never have to worry about Joey Sixpack buying beer.

      Phase three - at age of majority, a ceremonial (well, as ceremonial as you can at the doctor's office) insertion of a second chip that permits beer-buying and other activities associated with age of majority. Congratuations, Joe Sixpack, you can buy a six-pack, you're a man now!

      And no more of this "vote early, vote often" crap. One citizen , one vote! One non-citizen, no vote. (If you're an alien, your chip marks you as such - just like a green card is supposed to. When you naturalize, you get a "citizenchip". Hell, it even sounds cool! "Please present proof of citizenchip at the polling station!" :-) Voter and immigration fraud would be eliminated, enhancing the security of our democracy and our labor market.

      Yes, you could encode date-of-birth on the first chip, but you have to get widespread acceptance of the technology first, so why go whole-hog on Day One? Thinking longer-term, this gives you the option to refine the system, since every subject gets chipped not once, but twice. (At birth, and upon upgrade to adulthood, or likewise upon immigration, and upon upgrade to full citizenchip.)

  • Easily Defeat It (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mgs1000 ( 583340 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:18AM (#5080886) Journal
    Buy everything with cash.
  • by Lethyos ( 408045 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:20AM (#5080913) Journal
    Clothing tracks YOU!

    Oh, wait a minute...
  • by Lord Ender ( 156273 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:20AM (#5080916) Homepage
    This help me with an idea I have been kicking around. Suppose every Isralie citizen and tourist carried one of these with them at all times in the public. In public areas, computers with, basically, webcams use video to locate where people are, then radio recievers use these RFID tags to triangulate where people are. If the cammera sees a person where the radio does not, that is a person who is not authorized to be there. This person would then be photo'd and checked against known terrorists or questioned by the police, as he might be a suicide bomber.

    I can't see how else Israel will stop suicide bombing unless they only allow their own citizens in public areas, and this method would not be too expensive. And as much as I care about privacy, the situation there is life or death, and so more important.
  • by LostCluster ( 625375 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:24AM (#5080955)
    Here's where the RFID in your sweater falls apart... Think about your family Christmas gathering, sweaters chaning hands all over the place, with nobody telling the central database what is happening.

    If you're wearing an outfit bought for you by somebody else, then the computer will falsely identify you as that gift-giving friend or realitve. Too many false-positive IDs and this system gets considered useless.

    Besides, we still use cash to buy things around here. I don't think we need to get paranoid until we see serious proposals to knock that off...
  • RFID and shoplifting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Phoenix ( 2762 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:28AM (#5080992)
    The biggest problem that I see is the simple fact that the first and most logical use of the RFID tag is in shoplifting prevention. Granted that it would be a great way of tracking and ensuring that some klepto doesn't bugger off with as much merchandice as they can get thier gurbby hands on, but if they are debating whether or not the tags should be disabled after purchase there could be problems arising here.

    Say I buy a winter coat from Walmart in the fall. Then near the end of winter I go back to buy a windbreaker for spring's warmer weather. Am I going to have to keep a recipt in my pocket to prove that I bought the jacket?

    Or I go and buy a PDA from Circuit City then come back a week later and buy a printer (using the PDA as my check register) do I prove that it is now mine and not lifted?

    Sure some of you are going to say "the security tags get removed at checkout" or "The RFID signature will be removed from the database and will not exist anymore to bother you", but consider... many times have you bought a DVD had it 'cleared' of the security tag only to get beeped at the door? ...what if you buy something, thier computer crashes and they have to pull fro ma backup from the previous day? Won't the RFID tag be in the database again?

    Good idea, but I'm too familiar about the quality and the ability of the people who try to implement it. Some of these people can't pour sand out of a boot with instructions on the heel.

  • How long (Score:3, Interesting)

    by heikkile ( 111814 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:28AM (#5080993) Homepage
    How long can it take until we geeks can buy a little scanner to locate and read those chips? Possibly find various geeky uses for them?

    Nothing's so bad that it can't be used for some good...

  • by fistynuts ( 457323 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:30AM (#5081003)
    ..that this is exactly the kind of technology currently being implementeed to make U.S. airports a 'safer place' - unique RFID tags are being attached to passenger bags at check-in so they can't get lost, be switched for other bags, get put on the wrong plane etc. At least that's the theory.
  • by rotenberry ( 3487 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:30AM (#5081017)
    Before anyone panics there are several things to consider:

    1. Unless the receiver can determine the distance to the RFID tag (and this is usually not the case), the tag's location cannot be determined with any greater accuracy that the distance to the nearest receiver. To "locate" a tag, there must be many expensive receivers no how many cheap tags there are. Remember, we live in three dimensions.

    2. The range of passively powered tags is only a few meters, and they all tend to reply at the same time when a bunch are pinged, causing interference.

    These difficulties can be solved, but not soon.
  • by Dread_ed ( 260158 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:31AM (#5081019) Homepage a totally consumer driven economy. Eventually when you walk by the "smart ad's" (like the ones in Minority Report) all the advertising companies have to do is scan your clothing, shoes, belt, etc.

    From this one can find out not only what you like to buy, but how long you have had what you are wearing and how much you paid for it, possibly even where you bought it.

    Include this with a retinal scan and a database of past product scans of the individual (not to mention other purchase profiles sold to advertisers by your supermarket/travel agent/etc.) and you start to build a fantastic database on the buying habits of the individual in question.

    The "smart ad" accesses the database, crossreferences you and your buying habits.

    Couple of instants later and *POOF* a personally tailored, computer generated ad pops up and starts calling your name using those trick directional ultrasonic sound generators...subliminals and throbbing music lulling you into a state of complete fiscal abandon...Showing you the way to the nearest store that will painlessly seperate you from the next sizable chunk of your no-longer-disposable income.

    Sounds like a corporate driven police state where every purchase you make is tracked and logged to provide clues to allow companies to exploit your weaknesses for fine fragrances, goat porn, or cheap little southeast-asian made plastic trinkets.

    Think I'll start making my own hemp clothes right now...gonna need some practice.
  • by ka9dgx ( 72702 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:34AM (#5081052) Homepage Journal
    I predict that a large amount of spoofing will arise before long... it'll be easy enough to detect the interregation pulse, and respond with your own info, or jam it, or listen along with the intended receiver.

    This thing is going to be hacked more than anything else before.


  • Drivers Licenses... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jhines0042 ( 184217 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:43AM (#5081133) Journal
    Imagine that your state requires you to carry a drivers license that has an RFID chip in it that returns your SSN when it is scanned by the police from a nearby police car.

    I don't think that that technology is too far fetched.

    While drivers licenses might be a bit tough for people to swallow, imagine requiring them in all US passports? Then customs/immigration would be able to track anyone while they were inside of the designated security zones inside of airports. Great for tracking terrorists!

    Anyone want to patent this to keep it from ever being used?

  • by tdrury ( 49462 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:45AM (#5081158) Homepage
    It sounds like the RFID technology is similar a []
    famous Russian listening device.

    This device was totally passive, but when hit with a specific RF frequency (via a very directional beam) it would reflect the beam back but modulated by the sound in the room. The Russians could demodulate the signal and get the audio back. They hid the device in a carved wooden Seal of the United States that they presented to the US Embassador to Russia who proudly hung it above his desk. The Russian were privy to all conversations that took place in his office.

    After a while the American figured his room was bugged so they sent in technicians to find the bug. The Russians weren't stupid - they knew when technicians arrived and simply turned off the directional RF carrier beam. They would turn it back on when the technicians left. Finally the Americans got smarter and all left but one who hid in the office with RF listening gear. When the Russians turned the RF carrier on, he detected it and figured it out it was embedded in the Seal. It was quite a scandal.
  • by dpilot ( 134227 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:46AM (#5081175) Homepage Journal
    Back around the time of the Oklahoma bombing, there was talk of requiring taggants in all explosive, and that some had them, already. Of course Oklahoma would have required taggants in fertilizer, as well. I don't know if they were seriously proposing that.

    But with the amount of fireworks and roadwork going on, wind dispersal and all, it seemed to me at the time that we'd rapidly get to the point where *every* environmental sample would include some background level of taggants. At that point, tracing explosives would become a statistical process, and certainty would be long gone.

    IMHO, the problem with RFID in everything would be the sheer data volume. Assume each and every RFID had a unique number, and then imagine the size of the database to track all of that, not to mention the monitoring infrastructure. Then remember that they can't even track election results.
  • FUD Alert (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:48AM (#5081181)
    Working for a rather large corporation that is working heavily with RFID technology, I can atest that this article is entirely FUD (and misinformed FUD at that).

    RFID tags are not the size of "grains of sand" but rather the size of an oversized stamp. They are based on passive RF technology. When probed, they absorb a little of the energy and use it to respond. Outside an RFID scanners range, they are just circuits and have no function.

    The price point the article quotes is also very wrong. Costs are much lower but still 2x - 3x what they need to be.

    So what is this technology being developed for? To replace UPC labels! Instead of having to scan a bar code, you bombared an RFID with energy. An RFID is just as useless as a bar code in the absence of a scanner. The only difference it's a lot harder to mess up scanning an RFID than a bar code (not to mention that bar codes can degrade much easier than RFIDs).

    This article was absolutely FUD. Just someone trying to cause a ruckus over nothing.
  • *sigh* (Score:3, Insightful)

    by seangw ( 454819 ) <seangw.seangw@com> on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @11:55AM (#5081263) Homepage
    One of the requirements of the RFID technology is that you logically need a receiver within X distance of it, to determine within an area at least 2piX^2 where you are.

    If we are worried "they" will know where we are, "they" will need a sensor wherever we are. A very unrealistic concept.

    More likely will be sensors on toll booths on interstates, and things of that sort. Whereas using license plates from those cameras that are everywhere would still suffice to do that type of tracking.

  • Difficult (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pclminion ( 145572 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @12:00PM (#5081314)
    This is a difficult matter, and it's not unique to this particular case.

    All technology (hell, even nuclear technology) can be used for good and bad purposes. I can imagine many uses for RF tags that I would actually appreciate. For example, as I walk to my car, it automatically unlocks and starts the engine. Or, the front door of my home automatically unlocks for me as I grasp the doorknob. When I enter a room, the lights automatically adjust to my preferred lighting level. Provided the tag is embedded within my body, there's not much risk of it being stolen.

    But as everyone here points out, there are many possible nefarious uses for such a device. And indeed, there are nefarious uses for any technology. I could use wall current to electrocute you, blind you with a laser, or carve an "anarchy" symbol into your forehead with the sharp edge of a broken silicon wafer (ok, that's a little facetious, but you get the point).

    My question for everyone is, how much are we willing to limit our technological advancements because of possible risks?

    Let me give another example that might sound silly. Scientists are, right now, dreaming up technology to move asteroids around. One day we might use this to bring them closer, and mine them for materials. We could also use it to push an incoming asteroid out of a collision course with Earth.

    A sufficiently funded terrorist, however, could also use this technology to take the world hostage. Or, if he's having a bad day, he could endanger the survival of the human race by actually doing it, and flinging a huge rock toward Earth. Should we stop developing this asteroid-moving technology because of this risk?

    When does scientific and technological advancement become irresponsible?

  • by Migraineman ( 632203 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @12:01PM (#5081329)
    RFID technology has been around for years. Have you purchased a CD or DVD in the last few years? Remember the check-out guy "beeping" it before you left? That's an RFID tag at work. In this instance, it's just a proximity tag that will alert the store if you (ahem) neglect to purchase the product. (The official term for this is "inventory shrinkage.")

    Checkpoint Systems [] makes RF Electronic Article Surveilance (RF-EAS) tags (the US site is not responding, but the Japanese one [] is, showing the bulk tags.) And here's a company that sells machines to auto-insert the RF-EAS tag into DVD carriers. []

    An amazing amount of effort has gone into reducing the cost of the RFID anti-theft tags. They're typically screen printed, and usually are destroyed when you purchase the product. It's not cost effective to make it re-programmable, as the retailers are playing a statistical game - they're weighing the probability of someone stealing a returned (or defective) unit against the reprogrammable cost that burdens EVERY unit going out the door.

    One step up from this application is the ubiquitous personnel badge that most of us drones are required to wear at the orifice. Here's one from TI (PDF datasheet.) [] This costs a little more, and is definitley capable of identifying who you are.
  • by greygent ( 523713 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @12:03PM (#5081345) Homepage
    I hope the RFID tags can survive the ESD (Electrostatic Discharge) nightmare that is my clunky old dryer. It would be kind of humor to see this come to fruition, only to be wiped out en masse by clothes dryers.

    Maybe I should call Maytag and see if they have some type of gauss gun add-on.
  • by Jaywalk ( 94910 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @12:07PM (#5081376) Homepage
    The author completely misses the point of the technology. Retailers love these things because they're a big step up from scanning. You walk through the store throwing stuff into your cart, then you walk through a checkout scanner that scans the whole cart and gives you a total. Swipe your credit card or feed a few dead presidents into the slot and your gone. No lines, no cashiers.

    But if that's the case, you can't use the system to track the RFID chips after the sale is complete. You don't want the scanners telling you about the pants the customer bought last week, just the stuff he's buying now.

  • by Ogerman ( 136333 ) on Tuesday January 14, 2003 @02:43PM (#5082308)
    Actually, I wouldn't want my grocer to disable the RFID tags on purchased food items. If I had my own RFID reader, it would make for a quite convenient way to update an inventory of what food I have on hand. This, in turn, would allow me to do many neat things:

    - automatically generate shopping lists
    - compare food inventory against a recipe database to see what meal options I have
    - automatically track food expiration
    - optimize food usage (ie. less waste) by planning meals a week in advance

    Of course, this would also require tracking of inventory depletion. However, with recipe planning and perhaps a touchscreen interface, this would be pretty simple and would allow you to track your nutrition at the same time.

    As a side-note, these things are nowhere near a threat to privacy:

    1.) They are trivially easy to destroy
    2.) Regardless of how small the chip is, you still need an antenna matching the wavelength of the RFID detector's transceiver. Simple physics guarantees that the antenna will be plainly visible or else highly inefficient and narrow-banded. (not much use if you're trying to power a chip with it). Sure, these limitations may be slowly overcome by advances in nanotech and ultra-low-power design, but it'll also make the chips more fragile.

The moon may be smaller than Earth, but it's further away.