There are going to be some very strange privacy implications once everything you buy has an RFID transciever in it, enabling it to be remotely identified from several feet away. Especially once these tags make their way into currency, making cash no longer be anonymous and untrackable. This Register article has a history of the barcode and of RFID, and lots of links to more info.
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15 Responses:

  1. supersat says:

    How are RFID tags in currency any worse than the serial numbers already printed on currency? All it'd do is make reading of the serial numbers more efficient.

    • jwz says:

      Not only more efficient (which is a big, big deal) but also remote. Do you want someone to be able to tell, from across the street, how many bills and which denominations are in your wallet?

      • supersat says:

        I'd be impressed if someone developed an RFID reader with that kind of range.

        Anyway, I imagine an RFID-zapper device will be developed that will allow anyone to zap their RFID chips. RFID tags get their power from an RF field, and if the field is too powerful, I imagine it'd zap the internal electronics.

        Some existing anti-theft systems use a similar technique to deactivate tags.

        • jwz says:

          I'd be impressed if someone developed an RFID reader with that kind of range.

          I don't know how feasable it is, but a number of the articles I've read have said that it's only a matter of time. Anyway, the same threat still exists even if the range stays to only a couple feet.

      • xenofalcon says:

        It wouldn't be hard to start to use a wallet made of some radio-frequency absorbing material, though.

        • Eel skin wallets will demagnitize your credit cards. So maybe something like that.

          • flipzagging says:

            The eelskin wallet thing is supposedly an urban myth, BTW.

            But you gave me an idea. These RFIDs are tiny, powered by passive signals. Can't we just sweep for them and FRY them with a small intense burst of radio energy? Or degauss them, or whatever one would do?

            Of course doing so is going to draw suspicion... in an ideal world, the Wal-Mart checkout device would fry the RFID after it finished reading it.

            • valdelane says:

              Mobile business opportunity: a backpack containing scanners, a folding multi-beam tunable emf pulse emitter (think a miniaturized version of stereotactic radiosurgery equipment used for deep brain tumors), and a placard: Anything debugged while you wait.

  2. m4dh4tt3r says:

    it's time to start carrying radio jammers at all times.

    RFID chips put fear in my heart. maybe it will be an even bigger incentive to develop digital cash. not sure.

  3. billemon says:

    The fun will come once the used tags start accumulating in household dust, waste etc and confusing the scanners. How many people will be overcharged in supermarkets because they have leftover tags from last week's shopping stuck in their clothes, or whatever?

    • freiheit says:

      The RFID chips have 128 bits, which should allow for every single chip to have a unique ID.

      In other words, if they bother to implement it properly, overcharging shouldn't be a problem, since the leftover tags will either not be available to be charged by that store (out of range or not in the inventory DB) or will already be marked as purchased in the database.

  4. flipzagging says:

    If the technology to detect and read these things, discreetly and remotely, ever comes into being, forget the privacy concerns. It's going to be more of a nightmare for stores that implemented all those whizzy cashierless checkout systems they promise.

    If a thief can read an RFID remotely, and maybe write their own at home, they could steal just about anything. Inside job theft would be totally trivial.

  5. anonymous says:

    The more serious problem is that over time the rfid chip will have
    the capacity to keep a running log of it's travels. The
    "authorities" will merely have to examine a peice of currency to
    see who's used it *and* what they've used it for. The simple
    serial number system doesn't allow that.

    Let's suppose I run a candy store. You come in and buy some gum.
    The rfid tag in your ID will be scanned and your identity stored
    on your change along with the time/date and the items bought.
    This is "for your protection, ah- in case your wallet is stolen.
    Yea, that's what its for..."

    Now suppose you buy some sex on a streetcorner. The prostitute
    goes and buys some liquor. From the date and timestamps, the
    government will not have much trouble figuring out what you did
    and who you did it with.