FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

RFID Tags: Big Advantage or Big Brother?

The use of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to tag products is controversial enough -- Wal-Mart is mandating that its largest suppliers begin tagging large shipments by 2006 to expedite tracking and inventory control. But the discussion has now shifted to the wisdom of tagging individuals. Proponents say that implantable RFID tags can help track missing children, identify disaster victims, and alert healthcare professionals to patients with special medical needs. Tagging people is currently being done in prisons, as well as in some Central American countries where the fear of kidnapping is high. For pets, the American Kennel Club sponsors the Companion Animal Recovery initiative to insert tags into pets so they can be identified if lost or stolen.

C|Net has posted a comprehensive article on the issue, discussing the pros and cons of personal RFID tagging. The primary argument against tagging is potential invasion of privacy and identity theft. Others point out that the technology could become obsolete so quickly as to make tags useless within a few years. Objections on religious grounds ("the mark of the beast") are also anticipated.

RFID tagging is an intriguing and potentially disruptive technology that offers as many benefits as it does risks. But it's still in its early stages, and it's too early to talk seriously about widespread tagging initiatives (we're still arguing about the merits of tagging packages, so how can we even begin to tackle humans??). RFID is a rapidly advancing technology, so emerging technologists will be watching developments in the field very carefully.