Thursday, June 09, 2005

RFID: Traceless Truth

Life usually seems to me to be a series of Rorschach tests. We each interpret events and patterns through the filter of our personal history, and no two people experience the same stimulus in the exact same way.

RFID means "cutting-edge technology" to one and "the end of personal freedom" to another. "Big Brother" to one and "transportation efficiency" to another. "Professional development opportunity" to an RFID software engineer and "layoff" to a no-longer-necessary inventory clerk.

But now and then the ink blot is so obvious that it transcends individual interpretation. Or in the case of Canadian technology firm Creo, it is the absence of the ink blot that is so clear.

Creo has developed Traceless technology, an RFID tagging system which is described on their website as "visually and chemically undetectable, even by forensic trace methods".

On the same website, Creo details potential applications for Traceless as "Traceless taggant can be applied to the surface of articles during manufacturing. Or, more commonly, it can be mixed in paper or ink during the production of packaging, envelopes, and labels."


Do you want visually and chemically undetectable track-and-trace technology mixed into paper or ink during production? Paper and ink... that's magazines, personal letterhead, business cards, maps, loan applications, medical information forms, social security cards, coupons, prescriptions... U.S. currency. (Ironically, even Rorschach tests.)

Before you write and tell me that I'm overreacting, integrate the fact that Creo has already signed an agreement with label manufacturer Acucote to incorporate Traceless technology into Acucote labels. This is not a boardroom Development Objective, folks. This is a stealth tracking reality.

EPCglobal's Guidelines on EPC for Consumer Products establish the need for Consumer Notice and Consumer Choice. The guidelines are published on the EPCglobal website, and include:

1. Consumer Notice
Consumers will be given clear notice of the presence of EPC on products or their packaging. This notice will be given through the use of an EPC logo or identifier on the products or packaging.

2. Consumer Choice
Consumers will be informed of the choices that are available to discard or remove or in the future disable EPC tags from the products they acquire."

By design, Creo's Traceless taggant clearly circumvents both consumer notice and consumer choice.

I appreciate our general need for increased security and anti-counterfeiting measures. I am as concerned about the purity of my prescription and the safety of this country as any other reasonable person is. I have consistently supported the strengths of RFID technology in appropriate applications, and I will continue to do so.

But I can not interpret this particular picture with anything but alarm.

Plain, "old-fashioned" RFID tags-- visible and detectable-- offer a more sophisticated level of security than we have ever had before. They are unobtrusive, customizable, incorruptible and virtually impossible to counterfeit.

Creo's Traceless powder is not only unnerving and completely unnecessary, it is decidely counterproductive.

The nature of RFID technology inevitably raises public and personal sensitivity. In order for the collective "us" to gain from RFID, we must be partners in pursuit of transparent truth.

No matter how you look at it, transparent tags and transparent truth are mutually exclusive.

Sally Bacchetta - Freelance Writer

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

RFID: AT90RF135602- Smallest RFID Reader

The AT90RF135602 definitely needs a nickname. Even in 8-point type it's too big a title for the world's smallest RFID reader!

AT90RF135602 (see what I mean?) is the latest RFID collaboration of California-based Atmel and UK-based Innovision Research & Technology. This single chip RFID reader is a mere 12mm by 12mm by 2mm. (For those of you who like to travel ultra-light, check out the scaled down 6mm by 8mm by 1.5mm version).

The AT90RF135602 reads and writes to 13.56 MHz RFID tags and smart labels, is optimised for a 2.8V battery operation, and is compliant to ISO/IEC 14443-A parts 2 & 3, making it especially suited for small, battery-powered handheld devices.

I can see how this smaller-than-dime-sized RFID reader may be helpful for NAVI (Navigation Assistance for the Visually Impaired) and other handheld applications. Smaller readers make handheld devices less obtrusive and more comfortable to carry. Good news for those using NAVI or taking self-guided museum or walking tours.

I can see how the AT90RF135602, priced at a relatively low $3 per unit (in quantities of 10,000) may be attractive to RFID managers trying to achieve maximum efficiency at minimum expense. It's inexpensive to operate, field programmable and upgradeable, so it's an investment that will grow with your operation.

I also see that as RFID readers become smaller they become more difficult to see. Easier to forget.

RFID tags continue to shrink, and in some cases have disappeared altogether, replaced by smart labels and smart inks. Too many consumers aren't even aware of RFID tags yet, and it's becoming more and more difficult to see them.

Technology naturally trends toward more power in a smaller footprint. That's one of the ways we measure progress.

As we trend toward ever-more progress, let us also trend toward ever-more citizen awareness. Let's make sure that we can look back on the AT90RF135602 as a really cool RFID reader that advanced our culture and improved the quality of our lives. And had a great nickname.

Sally Bacchetta - Freelance Writer

Thursday, June 02, 2005

RFID: Electronic Pharmaceutical Pedigree

A growing number of U.S. states are formalizing electronic pedigree requirements in order to comply with the FDA's anti-counterfeiting initiatives.

A new two-phase RFID authentication platform introduced by Texas Instruments (TI) and VeriSign should make it easier for pharmaceutical manufacturers, suppliers, distributors and pharmacies to meet the FDA drug pedigree requirements. It may also make it easier for consumers to accept RFID technology in their prescription packaging.

Mikael Ahlund, director of RFID healthcare for TI, says that the platform is unique in providing two layers of protection against counterfeiting. The model enhances system security by digitally certifying the authenticity of 13.56 MHz RFID tags via a cryptographic Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) available through VeriSign. "The beauty of this approach is that because the elements for the private key are preprogrammed into the tag and the reader is preprogrammed for the public key, the authentication is actually done off-network," says Ahlund.

"We're using multiple layers of protection," says Graham Gillen, senior product manager for VeriSign. "Ultimately, it's about making the tag, and hence the product, hard to fake or reproduce."

The platform is non-proprietary and can be implemented by any RFID system and PKI provider. That can save drug manufacturers and suppliers the considerable infrastructure costs associated with deploying most RFID systems. The additional security may relieve some consumers' fears that their personal and private information may be intercepted by electronic hackers.

The idea of using RFID in the prescription drug pipeline has had consumers and pharmaceutical manufacturers/suppliers hotly at odds. The TI/Verisign model suggests that when used with care, RFID may indeed be protective without being invasive.

Sally Bacchetta - Freelance Writer