“The blocker tags work by emitting radio frequencies designed to trick RFID readers into believing that they are being presented with unwanted data, or spam, causing the information collection devices to shun the incoming transmission. RSA claims that by placing an RFID-loaded product into a parcel bearing one of the blocker tags, the system would cause RFID readers to miss any information carried by the product in the bag, thereby protecting consumers.
When a product is taken out of a bag armed with the blocking system, readers would again be able to scan the RFID tag accurately, the company said. Using the pharmacy example, RSA said a prescription bottle could not be scanned when protected but when unshielded could provide useful prescription information.”
Blocker tags solve a number of issues relating to RFID privacy. They do not deactivate tags, allowing returned items to enter back into the supply chain, pharmaceuticals to be refilled and items to be matched at the POS. They also provide wary consumers with a tangible mechanism to prevent being surreptitiously tracked.
RFID News editors believe that blocker tags are a red herring of sorts. They solve a problem that does not exist, that is, involuntary tracking of a person through consume r goods he or she may have purchased. Yet they fail to address biometric identification methods, in-store tracking, and the social inequity frequent buyer programs promote.
Further, RSA has admitted that the interference emitted by the device does not guarantee tracking will not occur. A consumer equipped with such a device may find his information at the mercy of the very parties he seeks to escape.
As always, the News editors encourage industry and government to wait and see what privacy and data protection issues arise. Unfortunately, California State Senator Bowen is proactively legislating:
“The bill proposes that businesses and agencies be required to notify people that they’re using an RFID system that can track and collect information about them. It would also require consumers to give express consent before businesses or agencies could track and collect information about them via RFID. Lastly, the legislation requires retailers to detach or destroy RFID “tags” on merchandize before consumers leave the store with it.
“The privacy impact of letting manufacturers and stores put RFID chips in the clothes, groceries and everything else you buy is enormous,” Bowen said in a statement. “There’s no reason to let RFID sneak up on us when we have the ability to put some privacy protections in place before the genie’s out of the bottle.” “
Like the storied genie, RFID privacy issues are fiction. While industry, academia and Americans at large should educate themselves on this emerging technology, it is simply not a threat in the near future.