RFID product tags are transmitting more than you know - AmericaNowNews.com

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RFID product tags are transmitting more than you know

Have you ever noticed those squiggly, square-shaped labels on packages or clothing you purchase? They're called RFID tags, and they are basically intelligent bar codes that were originally used on assembly lines or to identify cattle.

In the near future, the barcode -- those vertical row of lines most of us are more familiar with -- will likely become obsolete and replaced with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips. 

These tiny RFID tags are capable of transmitting data to computers. For years, they have been used by manufacturers to track products as they move through production lines, or on vehicles to automatically collect toll fees from drivers on the highway.

RFIDs can even contain personal identification and be embedded in passports. 

"It has worlds of potential, keeping track of just about anything," said Kim Gilmore, Vice President of Technologies Plus located in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Most of us have seen what's known as the 'passive' RFID. These tags cost just a few cents to make.

"What that means is that they can produce large quantities of them and keep track of lots of things without it costing an arm and a leg," Gilmore said.

Instead of a Universal Product Code (UPC), Gilmore predicts most of our products will soon be stamped with an RFID.

When the tag is within about 20 feet of a reader, the RFID transmits information to a computer.

It is possible in the future, for example, you may never have to stand in a check-out aisle again. A shopper will be able to fill up their cart, and the charges will be automatically deducted from their banking account.

Of course, tracking technology brings up questions about privacy protection, or yet another possible high-tech invasion of it.

"Our privacy is more important than certain efficiencies," said Clare Gastanaga with the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Some states are now considering using RFID tags on license plates that will allow law enforcement officers to determine if your license plate and vehicle inspection are up-to-date, and perhaps, take a peak at your driving record. 

Gilmore said this wouldn't be any different than the technology currently in use where an officer types into their laptop a driver's license or plate number to search for this information. The RFID tag would just make the process faster.

Could the technology be used to track cars or people over any kind of distance?

"Poppycock. It's much ado about nothing. To do that, we'd have to have antennas every 30 feet all around the country," Gilmore said.

So while he says this is not likely to happen, with more and more of us having chips placed in our cats and dogs, using badges to swipe in and out of the office, and purchasing RFID-labeled products, whether you realize it or not, there's likely a computer paying close attention to nearly everything you do.

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Additional Information:

The following information is from HowStuffWorks.com (Source: http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/gadgets/high-tech-gadgets/rfid.htm)

  • Radio frequency identification tags (RFID) may one day replace the UPC (Universal Product Code).
  • RFID are intelligent bar codes that can "talk" to a networked system to track products.
  • Manufacturers use the tags to track the location of products (through the grocery store or through a plant, for example).
  • RFID tags can track vehicles, airline passengers, Alzheimer's patients and pets.
  • Barcodes (machine-readable parallel bars that store binary code) were created in the 1970s to speed up the checkout process.
  • Companies must scan each bar code on every box in order to keep up inventories, clerks must scan each bar code at checkout.
  • Bar code is "read-only," it cannot send out information.
  • RFID has read and write capabilities.
  • Data on RFID tags can be changed, updated and locked.
  • RFID is used in highway toll passcards and on subway passes. 
  • RFID tags tabulate the cost of tolls and fares and deduct the cost electronically from money held on a card.
  • RFID has been around since 1970 but was too expensive to use on large scale. Originally, it was used to track large items (cows, railroad cars, luggage shipped over long distances).
  • Modern RFIDs include active, semi-active and passive RFID tags. These can store up to 2 kilobytes of data and are made of a microchip, antenna and sometimes a battery. The components are enclosed within plastic, silicon or glass.
  • Data stored in an RFID tag's microchip waits to be read. The tag's antenna receives electromagnetic energy from an RFID reader's antenna. Using power from it's internal battery or power from the electromagnetic field, the tag sends radio waves back to the reader. The reader picks up the tag's radio waves and interprets the frequencies as meaningful data.
  • Passive RFID tags rely on the reader as their power source. These tags are read up to 20 feet away. They are less costly to produce so they can be applied to less expensive merchandise and are manufactured to be disposable.
  • Most pass­ive RFID tags cost between seven and 20 cents each.
  • Walmart and Best Buy are just two of the major merchandisers using RFID tags for stocking and marketing.
  • Advertisers can make "smart" posters with RFID tags that add a new level of interaction with customers. Tap an NFC phone against a "smart" poster equipped with an RFID tag, and you may get a 10 percent off coupon for those jeans at Macy's. Passive RFID tags are cheap enough to be used in promotional materials just to engage customers.
  • On Aug. 14, 2006, the US Department of State began issuing electronic passports or "e-passports." After Sept. 11, 2001, the Department of Homeland Security proposed e-passport as a security measure for air travel, border control and customs. The e-passport is embedded with RFID microchips making it impossible to forge.
  • The chip contains personal information, raising concerns about potential identity theft from skimming (someone using an RFIUD reader to scan data from the chip) or eavesdropping (someone reading frequencies from the RFID chip as it is scanned by an official reader).
  • Homeland Security says they protect against skimming with an anti-skimming device, a radio shield inserted between the passport's cover and first page. When open, it can only be read when the scanner is less than 3.9 inches away.
  • Homeland Security says they guard against eaves dropping by mandating that all areas where it is scanned be thoroughly covered and enclosed so signals cannot be picked up.
  • RFID is used for pet recovery. Tiny microchips the size of a grain of rice that contain the pet owner's contact information are implanted into the animal. Veterinarians can scan lost pets with an RFID reader.
  • Many different recovery systems and different microchips make readings hard. The system needs to be standardized to work universally.
  • Research has shown these implants can cause cancerous tumors in lab rats and mice.
  • VeriChip Corp is the leading human chipping business. Microchips with unique ID numbers linked to a medical database include emergency contact information and medical information. Alzheimer's patients are ideal candidates.
  • One-time implantation fee plus annual fees.
  • Not every hospital has a reader and doctor's might not scan every patient to check for a chip. So the chip may be useless.
  • People can control human and pet chipping, but not tags placed on the commercial products they buy. Concerns have risen over RFID tags being used to gauge spending habits and bank accounts to determine prices. Hackers have been able to tamper with chips so better encryption is needed.

The following information is from Wired.com. (Source: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/09/rfid-chip-student-monitoring/)

  • A Texas school district has used RFID chips on student ID cards to monitor pupils' movement on campus.
  • The decision was a solution to a funding issue, since state-financed schools have budgets tied to average daily attendance, a student not in their chairs but somewhere else on campus could compromise ADA funding.
  • The decision was criticized as treating kids like "cattle."
  • The chips can only monitor a student on campus. Once they leave, the chips no longer communicate with the district's sensors.
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