Too Much Intelligence? RFID and Privacy

Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags have become increasingly popular for tracking physical objects. Each tag contains unique identification information that can be accessed by an RFID reader. The identification is then sent to the information system that can identify the product that was tagged. For example, the pharmaceutical industry tags certain drugs in large quantities, such as 100-pill bottles of Viagra and Oxycontin, in order to track them as they move through the supply chain and thus prevent counterfeits from reaching the public.
As with all electronic tracking devices, privacy advocates are concerned about misuse. Because RFID tags can be read by anyone who has an RFID reader, the tags have the potential of revealing data customers may wish to keep private. For example, if you buy a product that has an RFID tag, someone with an RFID reader could possibly identify where you bought the product and how much you paid for it, if the retailer does not have erasers that can clear data from the tags before you leave the store. The amount of data imprinted on an RFID tag is limited, however, and because few retail businesses have purchased RFID writers or readers, the likelihood of privacy abuse is currently slim.
In addition to tracking products, RFID technologies can be embedded within people. For example, Mexico’s attorney general and senior members of his staff have been implanted with security chips from a company called VeriChip that give them access to secure areas of their headquarters. VeriChip has been actively working to promote its chips to be used in older patients with Alzheimer’s or patients with diabetes to aid medical staff in tracking their care and recently announced a partnership with the National Foundation for the Investigation of Lost and Kidnapped Children to promote embedding VeriChips in children to help prevent kidnappings.

1. Using RFID implants to speed up medical assistance may be a good thing, but what if crackers manage to access a person’s medical conditions?

2. What are the ethical implications of using RFID chips to track one’s child?

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