Given my post on being tracked by Oyster has raised RFID in this blog, I thought I would share an unedited draft of an entry on the subject that was published in Secrets & Lies. (For those in the USA - Secrets & Lies ). As always, any comments or feedback is most welcome.
The Pentagon’s role in anti-shoplifting RFID technology
Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a method of storing and retrieving data using devices called RFID tags. The tag can be the size of a grain of rice and attached or built into to any item. The in-built transmitter allows it to broadcast data such as location information or specifics about the tagged product such as price.
It is being increasingly adopted in the retail sector as it allows stores to track a product from the moment it leaves a depot all the way through to it going on a shelf and eventually being bought by a customer. It allows for much tighter stock control and is easy way of preventing theft from a shop as product will give alarm if someone tries to steal an item.
Like the Internet and the barcode before it, RFID is a spin-off from the needs of the Pentagon. The massive investment they have made in it (more than a $100 million over the last few years) is driven by a logistical desire to track stores and equipment in fine detail. The Pentagon’s role as the largest customer in the USA for many items has allowed them to demand manufacturers use the technology and its own RFID standards leading to its rapid take-up elsewhere. Many civil liberty groups in the USA and elsewhere believe RFID will allow manufacturers and retailers to track their customers through what they buy.
When I was the chief spin-doctor for the organisation representing British retailers (the British Retail Consortium) major efforts were made to get me to publicly back RFID. I was even told by one of the PR company representing an RFID manufacturer there were no civil liberty concerns and that I should help persuade retailers to back the technology beyond the point of sale. When I pointed out this was a lie, the tack changed and ‘generous sponsorship’ was mentioned and even ‘personal financial expression of gratitude’. It was an offer declined, but it gives a good indication of how a lot of expert opinion you read, watch and hear is generated – through a combination of lies and money.