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Set the scanners to medium rare, Mr Sulu

Setting your mind at rest about drive-by RFID scanning: Accenture's Chief Scientist, Glover Ferguson on news.com
"People are afraid someone will drive by their house and scan everything in it. No, if they had a scanner powerful enough to do that, your fear should be being cooked in your own home."


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
14th Aug, 2005 16:24 (UTC)
There's a lot of misinformation and, I suspect, deliberate oversimplification in that interview. You don't need high power, all you need is a sufficiently high-gain antenna.

In any case, most people don't worry about drive-by scanning but walk-by scanning, and the technology for identifying every item in a shipping pallet is just fine for identifying everything you're carrying.

The 91-bit number thing is wrong, too: you may not be able to identify an individual item from that number, but you can tell what kind of a thing it is -- a passport, an item of clothing, a credit card, a DVD -- and maybe who made it.
15th Aug, 2005 15:16 (UTC)
As is usual with these things, it's all in how it's deployed. Perhaps they could have it so that when a product is scanned at the till that they also disable the RFID tag, for example?

RFID has so much potential, but if the industry aren't careful the scare stories will become conventional wisdom, and if one company subsequently misuses the technology, then that's the whole technology f***ed in the eyes of the public.
15th Aug, 2005 17:38 (UTC)
that's very much my view. I got to interview Paul Mockapetris the other year (the man behind DNS) and he was very keen on RFID as personal organising tool. Once we can blank the private section of arfids at the till or rewrite them at home, instead of wandering around looking in piles of books and DVDs we can wander around listening for the beep when we find the misfiled copy of Princess Bride. The division of data into private and public helps a bit; without Walmart's own database I don't know what the private bits mean if even if I get close enough scan your bookcase.

I'm also compeltely with Kim Cameron when he worries about putting arfids on kids at school and on passports because defaulting to broadcast rather than private isn't a good basis for a security system. Propane cylinders are one thing, people are another!
16th Aug, 2005 04:46 (UTC)
It doesn't matter whether I know what the private bits mean or not -- if I know that a person of interest is likely to be carrying a particular set of uniquely-identified items (say, a backpack, a cell phone, a wallet, a pair of shoes, and a belt) I can track them well enough without having to know where they came from or what they are.

They're going to be on passports, and even though they'll be encrypted, the encrypted IDs will still be globally unique, so they'll still be useful for tracking.

Yes, there will be a lot of amazing, useful things to be gained when everything in the world has a unique ID. And most people will almost certainly trade off the massive invasion of privacy for the extra utility, because people are like that. But it's a choice, and deserves to be debated.
16th Aug, 2005 04:36 (UTC)
Not so much the scare stories, which are really just problems we (as the public) have to watch out for, as the fact that the industry and its apologists are clearly trying to gloss over the problems rather than addressing them.

Sure, they could disable the RFID tag when a product is scanned, but will they when it involves spending a little extra money for every one of millions of scanners? Unlikely. Not unless laws are passed requiring it, and even then there's potential for abuse.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


full steam ahead
Mary Branscombe
Simon & Mary

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