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Oh! No!...don't throw away that tin foil hat just yet...

This repost is from November 18, 2003 article on Wired News by Mark Baard
Is RFID Technology Easy to Foil?

By Mark Baard

02:00 AM Nov. 18, 2003 PT

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts -- You may need to read the following sentence twice: Aluminum foil hats will block the signals emitted by the radio tags that will replace bar-code labels on consumer goods.

That is, of course, if you place your tin-foil hat between the radio tag and the device trying to read its signal.

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Makers of RFID (or radio frequency identification) tags, along with the retailers and suppliers who plan to use them, are saying the technology they spent millions of dollars developing is too weak to threaten consumer privacy. Metals, plastics and liquids, they say, all block radio signals before they reach RFID reader devices.

"Any conductive material can shield the radio signals," said Matt Reynolds, a principal at ThingMagic, which develops RFID systems. "There are all kinds of ways to render the tags inoperable."

That means Coca-Cola, which eventually wants to put an RFID tag on every can of soda it sells, will have a hard time getting around the metals, plastics and liquids that block the radio signals from the tags.

Reynolds was speaking this weekend at MIT's RFID privacy workshop, where privacy advocates squared off with companies planning to replace bar-code labels on their goods with stamp-sized RFID tags. He was one of several speakers downplaying the threat to consumer privacy posed by the tags, which assign a unique identifying code to each item.

Engineers at the meeting also presented proposals for devices that could deny RFID readers access to a tag's information, or disable the readers by overwhelming them with useless data. They also demonstrated a device that could be used to disable, or "kill," RFID tags at store exits.

Many companies, including Wal-Mart, Metro, Tesco, Procter and Gamble and Gillette, have already started tagging items in stores in the United States and Europe. And the companies making RFID tags still plan to help their customers tag every shampoo bottle, soda can and milk bottle that rolls off the assembly line.

No company, however, has deployed devices that will kill the tags at checkout.

Wal-Mart has been especially cagey about its in-store tests. It has shunned publicity and notified shoppers only vaguely that they are being tracked. Wal-Mart, P&G and Gillette have also been discovered testing the tags on unwitting consumers outside Tulsa, Oklahoma, and in Brockton, Massachusetts.

Civil libertarians have their backs up over the prospect of retailers using RFID tags to track people in their stores, and -- by combining the radio tag data with credit and customer-loyalty-card information -- creating detailed profiles of their customers.

Government snoops could also, conceivably, use RFID-based customer profiles in an investigation, and track the radio tags in public places to keep tabs on certain individuals.

Privacy activists at the workshop also said the companies promoting the new standard for using RFID tags, called the Electronic Product Code, are exaggerating RFID's limitations in order to assuage consumers' privacy concerns.

Story continued on Page 2  http://www.wired.com/news/privacy/o,1843,64264,00.html?tw=wn_tophead_1
correction to above 19.Nov.2003 22:07

the corrector

the "o" after privacy/ in web address is really "0"...oops!, my tin foil hat was off!