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Steve Ulfelder reports on the growing RFID controversy at Newsfactor.

The article is a good look at both the promise and the possible privacy dangers of RFID technology.

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification. RFID is a system that consists of little chips, each with a unique serial number, and readers. Chips can typically be read at a distance of 6 inches to a foot, although some chips are packaged with batteries into tags that can be read at 10 or 20 feet. The E-ZPass system in cars uses RFID.

Industry hopes to use RFID as a replacement for bar codes in grocery stores and the like. This would be a boon to inventory management: you could have readers on the shelves that would detect when items are mis-shelved, for example. Stores could conduct inventory instantly.

Ulfelder quotes Katherine Albrecht, executive director of CASPIAN (Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering), one of key leaders on the anti-RFID side. Albrecht, who calls RFID tags “spy chips,” is the person who is responsible for the boycott of Benneton and Gillette, which caused both companies to apparently pull back from their immediate RFID plans. (I’ve spoken with others, though, who says that the pull-back of Gillette had nothing to do with Catherine.)

But Ulfelder notes that RFID is not standing still. He writes that TI has developed an RFID chip that can survive dry cleaning, and Wal-Mart is moving ahead on RFID chips for palates.

All of this is interesting to me personally, because I’m hosting a Workshop on RFID Privacy at MIT on November 15th. Katherine will be speaking, but joining her will be the head of Phillips Semiconductor, one of the leading chip manufacturers, and others on both sides of the RFID debate.

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