RealTime IT News

RFID as Big Brother? Please.

A prominent Washington IT trade group is taking exception to a new government draft report raising privacy concerns over the use of RFID for human tracking.

The Department of Homeland Security's Emerging Applications and Technology Subcommittee said in a 15-page report that the use of RFID in identification cards or tokens could lead to illegal tracking of Americans.

"Without formidable safeguards, the use of RFID in identification cards and tokens will tend to enable the tracking of individuals' movements, profiling of their activities and subsequent, non-security-related use of identification and derived information," the DHS draft report states.

But the American Electronics Association (AeA) isn't buying it, saying the report contains "sweeping, unsubstantiated and incorrect generalizations."

The AeA said the issue was bad behavior, not bad technology.

"[The draft report] misstates the fact that 'tracking of human beings' is endemic to RFID," the AeA said in a statement. "In fact, technology by itself is neutral -- only those who control data may track people."

RFID technology uses computer chips containing information that can be transmitted and read from a remote reader. The most widespread use of the technology is for inventory tracking and biometric passports, the latter of which contains encrypted information.

RFID is also being explored in the public and private sectors for use with various types of identification cards, encrypted and unencrypted.

According to the DHS draft report, there are "specific, narrowly defined" uses of RFID in human tracking.

"Miners or firefighters might be appropriately identified using RFID because speed of identification is at a premium in dangerous situations, and the need to verify the connection between a card and bearer is low," the report states.

"But for other applications related to human beings, RFID appears to offer little benefit when compared to the consequences it brings for privacy and data integrity."

In comments filed with the DHS last week, the AeA said personal privacy could be preserved with the use of RFID.

The AeA suggested the DHS "develop polices that protect personal privacy first, and then empower agency implementers to choose the technologies that will fulfill those policies."

The AeA also said the DHS draft report is flawed since other ID technologies, including contact-based chips and bar codes, could be used for human tracking.

"It is the intent and practice of the technology user that determines how the data culled from the technology itself will be used," the AeA said.

"Because all of these systems are machine-readable, they are all capable of tracking the credential holder if it is the intent and desire of the implementing agency to do so by collecting and saving the information of all those who pass through the system."