Should we be afraid of RFID?

RFID or (Radio Frequency Identification) technology is all over the news nowadays due to its impending implementation to tag vehicles with microchips using RFID technology by the Land Transportation Office (LTO).

LTO said such technology would enhance registration process and will assist authorities in providing information about the vehicle. So what’s the big fuzz about the technology? Two things – cost and privacy.

I will touch the privacy issue, I will leave the cost angle to the economists.

RFID is a term used to describe technologies that transmit the identity of a person, animal or object in the form of a unique serial number wirelessly, using radio waves.

Conceptually, RFID is something similar to a barcode. Barcodes are used to automatically identify an object, by using a machine known as a barcode scanner. The bar code scanner machine, scans such bar codes and then sends this scanned code number to a computer which decodes it and tells us what the object is.

Instead of the visual pattern of thick and thin black lines, RFID has a data chip (containing a unique code number) and an antenna, in the form of a “tag”, which is affixed to the object, which needs to be identified. If the object is held near an RFID “scanner”, it will communicate with the RFID tag wirelessly and read its “code number”. The RFID scanner now sends this code number to a computer, which again looks it up in the database, finds that the number belongs to a certain item.

RFID, to the uninformed public, might seem some sinister new technology, that big corporations might use to gather personal data about consumers. Just like the LTO RFID project, people are afraid that their privacy would be compromised.

In reality, the read range of these RFID tags is very less, typically in the range of a few fractions of an inch to a few inches. So there is no way for authorities to know where you are going once you’re out of the range. If this is something users are afraid of, here’s something to think about:

The real threat to privacy is not from RFID but from other ubiquitous technologies available freely like mobile phone cameras. It is now very simple for anybody, to secretly monitor your movements, snap your pictures or video, MMS them to your husband/wife or boyfriend/girlfriend or political rivals or even upload it to YouTube or similar video sharing sites. Now that’s invasion of privacy.

RFID technology, by its very nature, is highly unlikely to be misused to infringe on an individual’s privacy. The real threat to individual privacy will not come from RFID or other “business or industrial type” technologies, but from ubiquitous “consumer oriented” technologies. Something that we are all already using but have not raised any privacy concerns.

For the next concern which is cost, I will leave it up to you to analyze. Is P 350.00 expensive or reasonable? Why implement now?

My advice to Stradcom (technology partner of LTO) and LTO – implement this to government vehicles first, give it for free even. This will allow you to test-run the system, train the traffic authorities how to use the system and polish whatever errors it might have and improve on it. I am sure government officials would welcome this idea. Anything for the country right?

God Bless us all!

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