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."

What?!

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

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