1. How does RFID technology work?

Radio frequency identification technology is an automatic way to collect product, place, time or transaction data quickly and easily without human intervention or error.

An RFID system comprises a reader (or interrogator), its associated antenna and the transponders (Tags/ RFID Cards) that carry the data.

The reader transmits a low-power radio signal, through its antenna, that the tag receives via its own antenna to power an integrated circuit (chip). Using the energy it gets from the signal when it enters the radio field, the tag will briefly converse with the reader for verification and the exchange of data. Once that data is received by the reader it can be sent to a controlling computer for processing and management.

2. Are these systems new?

No, RF identification has been around since the late 60’s but it is only recently that technological advances have both brought down the cost and allowed its use for far more applications.

3. What are some of the more established uses?

Your automobile almost certainly has an immobilizer to prevent it from being stolen. It has been ten years since the Ford Motor Company first introduced an RFID immobilizer and such systems are common in vehicles manufactured by the other major manufacturers. RFID has also been used extensively in toll collection, inventory control, building security, and library systems.

4. Could I be tracked by my car keys?

No. The transponders used in the latest models have a very short reading range (typically a few inches) and use encryption between the key and the reader. During manufacture of the vehicle, the engine management computer generates a different random number (that is, the secret key for encryption) for each and every key. Unless that secret number is known, the vehicle key will not respond. In addition, the reader would have to be within inches of the key to give the key enough energy to even work.

5. What’s the typical read range for RFID devices?

The majority of RFID transponders have a read range of less than 3 feet. Some applications, limit the read range to around 6 to 8 inches. Some newer technologies (UHF systems) do have a longer read range that can be 20 to 25 feet, but these systems are intended for pallets and shipping crates. Read range depends on many factors, but the size of the transponder’s antenna, the size of the reader’s antenna and its output power are the main ones. With battery-less transponders, long read range and small size are mutually exclusive.

6. Are there any broadcast power restrictions set forth by governmental regulations?

Yes, the FCC in the US and other governing bodies worldwide restrict the output power of RFID systems. It is illegal to exceed these limits, and in most countries it is a condition of sale that the equipment meets these requirements. In addition, the frequencies themselves at which RFID systems operate are regulated.

7. What are the advantages of using RFID in retail and supply chain applications?

Retail establishments must contend with a wide variety of issues and problems when it comes to managing inventory in the supply chain. In-store, RFID can provide more accurate accountability in the supply chain, better management of in-store inventory and better demand planning. The time required to perform labor-intensive activities in the store, such as taking inventory, can be significantly reduced, even while dramatically increasing the reliability and accuracy of the data. Companies already employing RFID in their supply chain are seeing excellent benefits and a reduction in inventory costs.

8. How can consumers benefit from companies using RFID?

Systems such as Exxon/Mobil's Speedpass allow people on the move fast and easy transactions. Automobiles are protected from theft by automakers' RFID anti-theft devices. Some retailers already are using RFID to provide detailed information to valued customers on items in their stores, allowing them to be more informed about the items they are purchasing. Since RFID reduces the cost of managing inventory, consumers will benefit from the resulting lower prices. Also, shoppers will be able to buy what they want, when they want it, since retailers will be able to stock their store shelves more efficiently, thus preventing out-of-stock situations. RFID could also help reduce the counterfeiting of products, including life-saving drugs. Additionally, it could aid in the recall of products, so companies and consumers will have total confidence that all tainted products have been withdrawn from circulation. Recovery of stolen items would also benefit consumers by enabling the police to identify a TV that was stolen from a particular home.

9. Is it true that there are safeguards in place that protect from "eavesdropping" or intercepting data that is private?

Efforts are being made to protect consumer privacy by securing information at all levels of data exchange. Secure computer systems form the foundation of this security, leaving RFID to be deployed with similar degrees of security. A major difference between RFID and say magnetic stripe technology (as is used on bank cards) is operability over the air. The risk of eavesdropping or intercepting transmitted data is well recognized, as is the risk of someone using a concealed reader. Both of these risks are greatly reduced through the design of appropriate over-the-air protocols and data encryption methods. This protocol requires the tag to be within range of both the reader and the eavesdropper. In addition, the reader changes frequency rapidly and the eavesdropping reader must follow the main reader exactly. This is very difficult since the hopping sequence is random. Then there is the data encryption algorithm codes that must be cracked in order to use the data. A well designed system will protect consumers by implementing the proper protocol to achieve a level of security comparable and even beyond more mature technologies.

10. Can RFID Tags be duplicated?

Yes it is possible, but very unlikely. The technological hurdle is intentionally very high, making it impractical in virtually all cases. Counterfeiting of tags is also detectable by the systems used to read tags and verify authenticity through a variety of validation procedures. One such validation procedure is to check for records of copies having been previously used. More elaborate schemes involve secure challenge and response protocols involving secret numbers used as encryption keys.

11. What are RFID manufacturers within AIM doing in order to clarify the privacy issues?

Education about the capabilities and the limitations of the technology is of the utmost importance to AIM and its member companies. AIM is committed to providing information that will clarify some of the statements and myths that are being propagated by sources not familiar with RFID technology. As with any new technology, people must become comfortable with RFID and understand the many benefits of the technology for consumers. It therefore is important to ensure that consumers are educated about the technology so that a good understanding of the practical use of RFID and how it differs from the theoretical use. What’s possible is a far cry from what is practical in the use of RFID.

12. Are AIM and its member companies involved in any efforts to establish privacy standards and governmental regulations?

Yes. AIM and its members support the establishment of regulations surrounding the use of data that is transmitted and created by RFID. The AIM RFID Privacy Work Group is focusing solely on this issue.

13. What mechanisms can be used to allow consumers to “opt in” or “opt out”?

RFID manufacturers can build in a "kill" mechanism that would permanently disable the tag at the check-out counter should the consumer choose to do so. As the adoption of EPC technology moves forward it will be important to have these things standardized. In current loyalty programs, consumers that opt in enjoy benefits, while those who choose not to participate do not enjoy the benefits. Today, most loyalty programs use bar codes, which most consumers are comfortable with. The important point is that the consumer has a choice whether to join or not.

14. Can RFID tags be read by satellites in orbit?

No. That is not practical nor possible based on the short read ranges and the huge amount of power that would be required to broadcast from a satellite in order to pick up information on an RFID tag.

15. Is RFID a true threat to consumer privacy?

AIM is an advocate for responsible use of the RFID technology. AIM believes that RFID presents no more of a threat to individual privacy than the use of cell phones, toll tags, credit cards, the use of ATM machines, and access control badges. All of these examples allow consumer conveniences or provide protection for consumers.

16. Can other retailers read RFID tags on your clothing as you enter or exit a store?

Since there are no current applications of this nature in operation, the answer is "no." In the future, retailers that use RFID will build in safeguards to prevent this, not only for the protection of the consumer's privacy, but for the protection of the retailer. Even if a retailer was able to capture another retailer's data from an RFID tag, the data would be useless because of encryption and other security mechanisms retailers would build in to protect consumer privacy and the retailer's data.

17. Can or will governments implement an RFID tracking system to know where each citizen is at any time?

The infrastructure costs for a government entity to track all citizens would be astronomical, not to mention the tremendously large data base that would be generated as people pass from point to point. The practicality of such an application is well beyond any government's capability to afford the infrastructure and data management issues, let alone the thought of consumers allowing this type of tracking to take place. Currently, a court subpoena is required to use private information such as cell phone records and credit card purchases. This information is strictly for use in criminal activities investigations. The data generated from the use of RFID should be private and proprietary and include the same protections on privacy that are currently in place.

18. Are there any health concerns/dangers caused by proximity to or wearing clothing containing RFID tags?

Passive RFID tags do not actually radiate RF energy, but simply reflects it. It would not add to any RF energy already in the environment





©2003 ChainLink Research, Inc.