What’s Next in Privacy Concerns: RFID?

10/30/2003

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RFID: Radio Frequency Identification. It is an electronic tracking system that will revolutionize the way manufacturers ship items to retailers…and retailers track purchases by consumers.

RFID involves the placement of a tiny electronic chip with an antenna, the size of a fleck of confetti, onto any item so that a computer can process its unique identification signal. An item with a RFID chip can be located wherever it is. For retailers, if an item leaves the store it can be deducted from inventory, triggering a re-order. Connected to a credit card, an item marked with RFID can make an automatic debit to your account.

Hundreds of items tagged with RFID can be scanned and processed simultaneously. Instead of waiting for a basketful of groceries to be hand scanned, RFID technology can scan the contents of an entire cart at once, saving you time while cutting expenses at the store. This technology is not just for consumer goods. RIFD technology has a wide array of applications ranging from retail, to commercial inventory control, collecting fees from vehicles on toll roads, to the tracking of military supplies, deployed equipment and even personnel.

RFID sounds like a wonderful addition to the way we live our lives. But it has the ability to track the people in possession of goods with RFID tags as easily as the goods themselves. Your habits could become part of an integrated data base containing an intimate profile of who you are, what you do and what you might like to buy in the future. The great potential for enhancing our lives with Radio Frequency Identification technology is balanced with a need to guard the privacy of citizens. Consider issues such as these:

  • Should people be notified in advance of what information is being collected by RFID technology and allowed to “opt in” to contributing to the databases?
  • Should individuals be allowed to turn the technology off when they no longer want to participate?
  • Should participants be notified of who wants to have access to their information and be allowed to approve access in advance, and for what period of time?
  • Should people be allowed access to their files so they can review it periodically for accuracy, updating it to reflect what they want to be known?
  • How will the databases be protected so confidential information can not be stolen or hacked?
There are many, many issues to address. But the potential for RFID technology is exciting! RFID technology is now on the radar screen of the Better Business Bureau system for consideration of how it can be applied ethically, accurately and responsibly for consumers and businesses alike. As we tackle the issues, and consider taking a leadership role in the roll out of this technology, we will keep both businesses and consumers informed.
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