Radio-frequency Identification (RFID) is a form of wireless tracking and identification technology used to tag and transmit data, and it is used in a variety of objects and locations. The chips are small and can store large amounts of data. The application of RFID chips range from agriculture, to manufacturing, to security. This new technology brings with it a range of security concerns such as data security/privacy, use in humans, and ability to discreetly track people or objects.
The idea behind RFID dates back to the World War II era, where Germans would purposely roll their planes while flying back to their base so that the radio signals would be altered and could be identified on radar from their base as their own aircraft and not an enemy plane. In 1973, Mario W. Cardullo claims to have the first American patent of an active RFID tag and later paved the development of automated payment in toll systems around the world. With further development of RFID, companies started to raise the frequencies to a higher level, which had a greater range and faster data transfer.
RFIDs are composed of two parts: the chips (or tags) and the receiver (or reader). These RFID chips are miniature electronic devices with antennas that, when signaled by a receiver, will stimulate and wake up, and either reflect the passive signal back, or broadcast an active signal. The receiver is the device that sets off the chips, and then receives and interprets data from them. The RFID system makes it very useful to keep track of stock, and transmit small amounts of data wirelessly. Designed to improve the average barcode, RFIDs are much more advanced and more useful, but can store similar information and can be used for similar purposes.
RFID chip technology is simple and small enough to manufacture at a low price, so it is priced very reasonably, which is another selling point to these chips. Over the years, the price of RFID chips has gone down with increased production. Depending on the volume of chips purchased, the amount of memory storage, and packaging of the tags, the price per passive tag varies between five cents and fifteen cents, while active tags typically cost more than 25 dollars each. Passive chips are more commonly used due to its cheaper pricing, miniature size, and simple functionality. They typically store 2,000 bytes of data or less, and can be as small as .05mm by .05mm in size, a record size currently held by Hitachi. RFIDs raise ethical issues concerning privacy and monitoring.
RFID tags can be affixed to almost any objects and have a wide range of uses for tracking object or maintaining inventory. These tags can be read even when not directly touching a sensor meaning that users can scan large numbers of objects at one time such as packages in a truck or cattle entering a pen. Some uses of RFID tags include:
- Access management (door access cards, toll booth payment cards)
- Anti Theft devices
- Package tracking (store goods, logistics, airline baggage)
- Animal tracking (pets, livestock, or zoos)
- Human tracking
- Library systems
- Sports timing
One concern of RFID chip use is personal privacy and information security. These concerns stem from the use of RFIDs in government issued documents and the ability to place chips in human.
There is no request of consent when private data from the RFID chip is sent to the receiver. By turning on the receiver, it can wirelessly activate the chip and receive any information stored on the chip that can even include names, addresses, credit card numbers, identification numbers, and other private data. For example, if an RFID receiver fell into the wrong hands, they could easily gather private information of unsuspecting people around them. The moral responsibility of such incidents would be unclear, as the lack of secure design in RFID technology can be attributed to the designers and engineers of RFID, even though they may not have intended to cause these security flaws.
Government Issued Identification
Many are concerned that government-issued identification cards and passports are susceptible to immoral use by the government themselves. Currently, there is no way to opt-out of the inclusion of RFID technology in these forms of identification. The fear of "Big Brother" tracking the public's every move has driven many to form preventive measures to block out RFID signals with aluminum shielding.
Furthermore, with RFID chips having the potential to be as small as a speck of dust, it raises further concern over how easily they can be planted on a person without their knowledge or consent. Some compare the tagging of people to the tagging of livestock, arguing that it is dehumanizing to be tracked like animals. A public high school in Texas has started requiring students to wear RFID wristbands to track attendance and whereabouts of students. Although they are only activated within school grounds, it has raised outrage in parents and the online community, claiming that it is morally opaque to track the location of students.
Exploitation of Personal Information
Another ethical concern with RFID chip usages is seen in retail chains such as Walmart, where what people purchase and where they spend their time in a given store will be stored as data contained in RFID chips. Privacy organizations said that RFID tags remain active after shoppers took them home and disposed of them, and could be used by marketers or criminals to find out what a person recently bought - including purchases buyers prefer to keep private. Privacy advocates worry about how retailers themselves might use the information and about the possibility of cross-referencing data from costumers' loyalty cards and RFID-equipped purchases that could effectively identify and track how often shoppers go into the store and where they spend their time.  For example, if you buy a lot of pizza or spend a lot of time in the alcohol aisle , this may be information that you do not want to reach your employer, etc.
Some doctors have acknowledged the usefulness in RFID chips in the medical field as far as patient safety is concerned, but also state that there is a physical risk that comes with implanting RFID chips in humans.
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