Monday, June 16, 2008

Surveillance Society and the RFID Menace

While looking into whether or not there are any tires left that do not have RFID tags, I found this little gem. The far-reaching ramifications are astounding and horrifying. Below is just the abstract of the patent application:

USPTO Application #: 20060180647
Title: Rfid applications
Abstract: Applications of RFID technology include: RFID Tags on Automobiles in Parking Garages; RFID w/Toothbrushes; RFID Tags For Laundry Settings; RFID Tags Or Labels to Find a Mate; RFID To Identify The Value Of Coins; RFID Tags In The Doctors Office; RFID Tags Or Labels In Game Arcades; RFID With Prisoners; RFID Tags To Identify Soldiers; RFID Labels As Tags To Label Particular Components Of Aircraft or Other Structures; Car, Snowmobile, Boat, Etc. Ignition That Won't Start Without RFID Card; Car seats with RFID reader and memory; Air bags that adjust based on information on RFID; Car that keeps track of GPS info and knows whos driving based on RFID; RFID Smart Closet; Method of taking attendance; RFID on networked desks to monitor the location of individuals; Personal computer reads RFID to log you in and take you to favorite web page, load favorites list, etc.; RFID labels on Files; RFID address label versions of all label and sheet inventions; RFID sports tickets; Combination function invitation and RFID chip to allow admittance; Roll of tape with RFID built in; Schoolbus reads which kids getting on, keeps record; RFID on each car wheel; RFID key to operate common-area laundry; RFID to automatically adjust weights/treadmill settings in gym; RFID w/clothes measurements, save shelf space at store, get proper size; RFID keyring w/car information; Keep track of who's driving around neighborhood; RFID dental implant; RFID Thumbtack; RFID Doorstop; RFID identification of boats or ships at docks; RFID on cups w/specifics of favorite coffee drinks; RFID on bridges with RFID tanks on top of cars, to detect speeding; RFID on studs in a wall and RFID reader that acts as a stud finder; RFID tags or labels inside tires; RFID cards supplied with newspapers or magazines; RFID card that lights up a when the user reaches a particular location; RFID sports ticket w/automatic map generation to seat; RFID card to tell school cafeteria what lunch to prepare for particular student; student desk with slot to receive RFID card, desks on networks together, Central computing system can tell where any particular student is sitting at any given moment within the school; RFID readers on outdoor play equipment; Authentication of Expensive Items With RFID; Paintings or other art work with RFID label to be used to verify the number in a limited series; RFID on sports helmet or uniform; RFID chips in paint; RFID cards issued to airline passengers to identify type of drinks and meals for a particular passenger, etc.; Greeting Cards With RFID; Decorative Tiles With RFID Tags; RFID in Car Washes; and Adaptive Advertising Based on RFID Information. (end of abstract)
Agent: Scott R. Hansen - Irvine, CA, US
Inventor: Scott Robert Hansen
USPTO Applicaton #: 20060180647 - Class: 235375000 (USPTO)
Related Patent Categories: Registers, Systems Controlled By Data Bearing Records
The Patent Description & Claims data below is from USPTO Patent Application 20060180647.

According to high-level managers and CEOs
Organizers of the EPCglobal conference noted that RFID is already pervasive in some industries, including the automotive industry, where many cars and most tires have RFID chips, said Mike Meranda, president of EPCglobal U.S. The retail and pharmaceutical industries are good fits for RFID as well, he said, because both industries want to keep close tabs on their products moving through the supply chain.

It immediately strikes me that a) there are no tires that are manufactured without RFID, and b) we are surrounded with RFID tags and readers. It's really just a quick jump to install reader devices along exits on the highways (soon to become toll roads) to track our movements. And with our new, spiffy National ID (with accompanying RFID tag installed), we'll be tracked that way, too.

Heck, they plan to keep track of "who's driving around the neighborhood" and even put one in my dental implant!

And, according to the rather sterilized and bland description on,

Currently RFID tags are somewhat expensive - as much as 60 cents each, too much to justify widespread use. That cost is expected to drop dramatically, however - perhaps to fractions of a cent once mass production really takes off. This will allow manufacturers to place tags in everything they make even as it is created. Everything that is made will then be capable of being tracked and monitored.

What this means is that pretty soon, you will walk into a store to buy RFID-tagged chicken with RFID-cash while wearing your RFID-tagged jeans. You will then travel in a car with RFID-tagged tires to a picnic with an RFID-tagged grill and eat potato salad made with RFID-tagged vegetables. The government will know every step of your movement - and so will anyone else with an RFID scanner and an interest in what you do with your day.

Lest you think this is just a paranoid delusion, consider what former Federal Reserve Board member and current vice president and general manager of Texas Instruments’ RFID business Julie England has to say about the "internet of things" in an interview for the Federal Reserve Board of Dallas, Texas :

Q: What future applications do you feel have significant possibilities?

A: Once you identify an item, you want to know more about it. We’re convinced that RFID plus sensors for temperature, pressure, time and even location will be the next big thing in little things. Right now, the most broadly used application involving sensors is measuring pressure in tires.

RFID combined with sensors often requires a tag that’s active or semipassive, which means batteries are present. Those applications are going to be slightly more expensive than a passive tag on a box or pallet. When active, RFID tags can relay in real time the pertinent information to a central database, and the benefit for companies is access to that data.

Another combination we’re seeing is RFID plus biometrics, which involves measurements of the human body. That’s already happening in electronic passports in countries outside the U.S.

We need to think about an Internet of things. Just like we’re all connected with our handy cell phones and BlackBerrys, ultimately we’re going to be able to connect things. That’s got a lot of appeal for significant breakthroughs in how companies do business and how they reduce costs.

A big idea being kicked around in the industry is near-field communications, which combines cell phones with the electronic payment systems the credit card companies are now rolling out. If we put that same chip and antenna in the cell phone, the phone becomes an electronic payment device. It’s already being done in Japan. It’s being discussed in the U.S. and Europe.

Q: What’s the holdup in the U.S.?

A: There are two main barriers to adoption. One is working out the business model between the credit card issuer, the telecom operator and the handset maker. The second is deciding who owns the customer when there’s a service issue on a payment application. Is it the telecom operator who owns the wireless network? Or is it the credit card company?

Um, excuse me... "who OWNS the customer"??? Oh, that's right, she's on the Federal Reserve Board. I forgot, silly me! Masters of the universe and all.
What was I thinking?

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