Balancing Privacy Concerns and RFID Technology

Mass data capture, tracking technology and privacy are much in the news these days thanks to recent revelations concerning the National Security Agency’s mass-surveillance programs, prompting, once again, heated debate over where we should draw the line that distinguishes permissible data capture and mining from prohibited snooping.  Similar debates have also arisen with regard to

I don’t pretend to have easy answers to either privacy controversy.  Indeed, I, like many of you, am torn.  On one hand, I want to provide those to whom we entrust our collective safety all of the tools they need to meet the extreme challenges that come with that responsibility, especially when it comes to protection of our children.  On the other hand, I know that within any group of people, including government agencies, there may be a few who would abuse their authority.  Safeguards are needed against potential abuse.

I welcome every calm, reasoned analysis that contributes to honest, fruitful discussions and, hopefully, even to solutions.  When it comes to RFID technology and privacy, it will come as no surprise that one such resource is Zebra Technologies.  Given the context of recent controversies, I decided to reread its white paper, RFID and Your Privacy – Myths and Facts, today and am glad I did.  Although it predates current headlines by several years, its analysis remains pertinent and is also reassuringly calm, reasoned and measured.

The white paper with an informative overview of the capabilities and limitations of both passive and active RFID technologies, providing real-world examples of the remote-readability capacities of both classes of tags together with strategies for disabling those capabilities via kill codes.  The paper then discusses technical solutions to safeguarding against potential abuse of RFID technology as well as legislative initiatives intended to guide those solutions.

Zebra is a global leader in the barcode, RFID, GPS and sensor marking and printing technologies that enable enterprises to know with real-time certainty the condition, location, timing and accuracy of events that impact their value chains.  That’s a very good thing.  That Zebra also takes direct responsibility for evaluating and addressing the privacy concerns associated with these technologies is also a very good thing.