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As a self-confessed tin-hatter and someone who has worked with asset management and inventory controls, I’ve got a lot of interest in RFID technology. Why the tin-hatter bit? I’ll get to that in a few paragraphs. First off, you need to know what RFID is an initialization of – Radio Frequency Identification Tag. The initialization is pronounced ARE-FID.

So what are these things for? Well, they are a way of assigning unique data to whatever they are applied to. Like a barcode or an ISBN number in some ways. The problem with things like bar codes is that they can get damaged or even switched. Some people do that to try to get expensive things cheaper – highly illegal. An RFID tag can be as small as a grain of black pepper and be embedded right into a product’s packaging, or the product itself. So you can start to see some of the benefits here.

Most RFID’s do not have an internal power source, like a battery, but some do. I’m going to cover the ones that don’t, as they are the ones that are most popular.

The RFID technology has two components – the reader and the tag. The reader has two parts – a transceiver and an antenna. The transceiver generates a weak radio signal that may have a range from a few feet to a few yards. The signal is necessary to wake or activate the tag and is transmitted through the antenna. The signal itself is a form of energy that can be used to power the tag.

The transponder is the part of the RFID tag that converts that radio frequency into usable power, as well as sends and receives messages. When the transponder is hit by the radio waves, the waves go up and down the length of the transceiver, oscillating. You might know that when a wire passes through any sort of magnetic or electric field, it can convert and conduct that field down its length. Like those flashlights, where you shake them and a magnet goes back and forth through a copper coil, creating electromotive force.

Now that the RFID has some power to work with, it wakes up the transponder. The transponder immediately upon being woken up, spews out all the information it has stored on it. This whole process can take as little as a few milliseconds. Imagine having friend who was hypnotized to wake up upon hearing a code word, tell you his name and phone number, and then fall immediately back to sleep. Yet he wouldn’t do this no matter what else you said. Funny, yes it is. That’s pretty much what RFID technology does.

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The amount of information that the tag stores can vary. Passive tags, like we’re talking about only store about 1024 bytes of information, or 1 kilobyte. That might not seem like a lot. However, my full name, address, phone number, birthday, social insurance number, place of birth and mother’s maiden name is only 130 bytes of information in plain text. That’s enough information to steal my identity and ruin my life. Now, are you seeing the tin-hatter applications here? Add to that, some people are for implanting these things in your body. Now imagine this RFID technology is embedded in your household items. How hard would it be to hack your own reader and walk around a person or their home and get a full inventory on them? These passive tags have an unspecified lifetime, anticipated to be at least a few decades.

I’m not saying that they are going to be used for nefarious purposes, but the potential is certainly there. Consider that Hitachi can make RFID tags that will hold 128 bits of information, enough for an identification number, like a SIN number, that is small enough to possibly be inhaled. Certainly, it could be put on you, or anything else, without you noticing.

In the picture, all those dots are the Hitachi Powder RFID’sand the black line is a human hair. To me, that’s scary.

What do you think? Do you think RFID’s have their place, or would you rather we just stuck to barcodes and such? Would you allow yourself to be ‘chipped’ with an RFID? Why? Or, why not? Let’s chat it up in the comments, shall we?

  1. Wes
    May 6, 2016 at 9:56 pm

    Government paranoia! Is there no end to it. You're probably in more danger from your next door neighbor than big-brother government. We elect or government leaders. Who decides whether or not your next door neighbor is a danger?

    • Guy McDowell
      May 20, 2016 at 7:47 pm

      What if your next-door neighbour is in the government???
      Very few individuals are likely to be in danger from gov't activities like this. It's what a gov't does to a population that is dangerous. Maybe not physically, or immediately obviously, but the erosion of rights is real and does happen.

  2. Patrick Sweeney
    September 28, 2009 at 8:31 am

    RFID (pronounced correctly "ARE-F-I-D") is one of the most transformational business technologies of the century. It is saving lives and saving businesses billions of dollars because humans are no longer needed to count and record data on everything from airplane parts to jeans.

    RFID systems are making our world safer by preventing counterfeit parts from going into airplane repair facilities (MRO) or keeping surgical sponges from being mistakenly left inside a patient.

    The Hitachi Mu chips referenced, like all passive RFID tags, are bound by the laws of physics and the inverse square law of RF propagation. Essentially the smaller the tag the smaller the read range. The Mu chip has a read range of under a centimeter.

    Don't fall for Hollywood conspiracy theories, a passive UHF tag can not be inhaled, injected or implanted and read outside the body at great distances. It's simply impossible. Worry more about the phone company's GPS capability in your mobile phone and their data mining of your behavior.

    • Guy McDowell
      September 28, 2009 at 7:19 pm

      I'd say you had a vested interest in promoting them so much. However, whether these things can be inhaled or not is not the point. The point is that they are not the panacea that a lot of people think they are.

      As you said, they save companies money by not having to have people to do inventory. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Depends which side of the coin you are on.

      Could they be used for nefarious purposes? Of course they can - all things can.

      How great a distance is a great distance? How close does the offender need to be to get the data? As seen in the video, proximity isn't an issue. How about the doorways that are set up to scan RFID tags as a person takes tagged items through? Could that not be used to scan tags in personal items as a person is entering, say, a sporting event?

      It's not one technology in particular to consider - there are so many that make it easier for someone to be invasive in your life. These same technologies can all be very beneficial as well, and I urge everyone to consider both sides before drinking the marketing Kool-Aid.

  3. Charles
    September 27, 2009 at 11:26 am

    Great article! What alarms me the most about things like the RFID chip, H1N1 vaccine and other "tin hat" theories is how easily they can be implemented by a simple govt. regulation and there's not much we can do about it.

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