Saturday, May 28, 2005

RFID And Your Privacy

Federal report warns of RFID misuses | CNET

Ga. credit-card holders 'blink' cards

Radio Frequency Identification or RFID is a very promising technology. RFID consists of a very small, usually flat, radio transmitter which emits a signal that can be received by a special receiver. The receiver displays the data transmitted by the card, and that data can be used to update a package-tracking database, track inventory, open a door, or complete a credit card transaction. RFID has much potential to make our lives a more convenient.

Privacy advocates, however, should be very vocal in their opposition to using RFID technology as "official" or government identification or as credit or debit cards. Among other potential misuses of RFID, such as tracking people's movements, the same technology which merchants or other entities use to "read" the RFID device could be duplicated by criminals to gather information for fraud or ID theft.

Think about this: you lose your purse or wallet through carelessness or theft. It ends up in the hands of a dishonest person who uses your credit or debit card for a shopping spree. You know your cards are missing so you can call your bank and have the card "turned off" rather quickly Your card is as safe and secure as you care to make it.

Your new RFID credit and debit cards will transmit their data outside your purse or wallet. Now, you won't have to physically lose your cards to lose the cards' information. A thief could walk around with a reader in a brief case or backpack and read the data off any cards which stray within RFID range (usually a few inches). Then, the thief could "clone" your cards or devices and you would be none the wiser until you get your next statement, bounce some checks, or (in the case of good banks which take extra care for their customers) get a call asking about unusual activity on your account.

Though the companies who promote RFID assure the public their devices are fraud-proof, given the technical prowess of many of today's criminals, it probably won't be long after these cards come into common use that thieves will devise ways of snatching card and ID information right out of the air.

For now, I'm sticking with the "swipe" card. If forced to use RFID, I'm lining my wallet with aluminum foil!