GCN Tech Blog

By GCN Staff

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RFID: paralysis by analysis

So we're sitting in the Hart Senate Building in Washington yesterday, where Senators John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) just finished introducing the new Senate RFID Caucus, when it hits us: 'Haven't we been here before?'

And we don't just mean in suite 902 of the Hart Building. We mean in suite 902 of the Hart Building, at a congressional caucus event, with tables of vendors all around, listening to a panel discuss RFID 101 and the technology's potential (and why detractors are, well, mistaken). 'Yes,' we think to ourselves in recognition. 'There's the DOD speaker (DOD knows RFID); there are the RFID industry reps; and, oh my, did we just hear the token reference to Wal-Mart?'

After the panel, we ask one of the assembled industry reps if we're experiencing d'j' vu? Didn't we do this more than a year ago? 'No, you're right,' he says. 'It was the Congressional Internet Caucus last February.'

It was actually March, but that's beyond the point. The point is RFID, which is indeed a useful, well-documented technology, seems almost paralyzed by politics and privacy activists. We know that's an oversimplification. There are great pilots out there for tracking cattle through RFID, for example. And DHS has deployed RFID at the borders (though that's now steeped in controversy).

But when panelist Michael Liard, an analyst for ABI Research in Oyster Bay, N.Y., says he thinks the RFID industry needs to spend more money on education than on technology development, we cringe. Especially since Dan Engels, currently at the University of Texas Arlington, formerly at the Auto-ID Labs at MIT, and arguably among the fathers of current RFID standards, just finished saying today's RFID readers were more like 'lab equipment.'

There's still good technology development to be done. No one should let up because people feel they need to go door-to-door explaining why RFID is not evil.

Idealism? Maybe.

'Sometimes we wish another technology would come along,' says the industry guy. He means it would be nice if there were some other new technology to debate so the rest of the world could get on with building good, secure RFID solutions. After all RFID has been around for years and many of us already use it (that speech is another standard of absolutely every RFID panel, conference, caucus, high tea, etc. of the last two years).

We ask an executive something like, 'Is it possible all the publicity around DOD and Wal-Mart using RFID was actually a bad thing? If we could, should we shove the cat back in the bag and get on with RFID programs like EZ-Pass, and Washington Metro's SmarTrip, and just about anything FDA wants to do with RFID to ensure we don't end up taking counterfeit drugs made of concrete?' He just smiles.

Are there security issues surrounding RFID? Of course. There are security issues with this Windows PC we're typing on. Security issues can be addressed. RFID itself isn't really evil.

As the same RFID executive put it, "We read the [DHS IG's)] U.S. Visit report as anti-database, not anti-RFID. We were always worried that RFID would become synonymous with database security.'

They are not, in fact, the same.

Posted by Brad Grimes

Posted by Brad Grimes, Joab Jackson on Jul 14, 2006 at 9:39 AM


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