Saturday, August 04, 2007

RFID: She Wore An Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny ID Chip In Her Bikini

In her July 26, 2007, RFID Journal article
, Mary Catherine O'Connor reports that the New Jersey community of Ocean City plans to replace their current system of inert plastic access cards with "waterproof, plastic wristbands containing passive RFID inlays" by the summer of 2009, with the goal of making "a trip to the beach more pleasant and convenient for the many vacationers who spend much of their summer there."

If these RFID wristbands will be so pleasant and convenient for beach visitors, why do Ocean City administrators (or is it MRI, the consultancy helping the city develop the wristband system) falsely water down the capabilities of the proposed RFID system?

According to O'Connor's report, “Fixed-position RFID interrogators mounted at entrance and exit points throughout the beach and boardwalk will read the visitors' wristbands, then use the Wi-Fi connection to transmit the RFID data over the wireless network to city administrators. The officials will then be able to maintain rough estimates of the number of people on the beach and boardwalk throughout each day, and to determine security and clean-up staffing levels accordingly.”

In reality, tagging visitors with RFID wristbands will provide much more than “rough estimates of the number of people on the beach and boardwalk”. The Ocean City plan to link “a payment account, such as a credit or debit card, to the number encoded to each wristband” (in order to simplify transactions with food and parking vendors) means that city administrators will know exactly how many people are on the beach and boardwalk each day and – more importantly - exactly who those people are. They will know where you park, what food and drinks you purchase, who you socialize with (and where and for how long), when and for how long you are in the bathroom, and exactly when you leave the beach.

I realize that we're not dealing with deep, dark secrets here, but do you really want strangers spying on you like this?

I doubt that anyone at the Ocean City visitor's bureau will explain the RFID wristbands to you that way.