"Unauthorized" Images of Item-Level RFID Tagging


  • See the original Checkpoint clothing label photos   [Link to mirror]
  • See Mead Westvaco's CVS drug store / Kimberly Clark displays

  • Advanstar's censorship letter (below)
  • Katherine Albrecht's response to Advanstar (below)

  • Silicon.com censorship writeup (Wow, that was fast!)
  • Silicom.com original article on RFID clothing labels
    Apparently, the photos I took at the Frontline conference hit a nerve, as now there has been a request (see the Advanstar letter below) not to share them with anyone.

    These photos depict item-level RFID tagging of consumer items including: Calvin Klein, Champion, and Abercrombie & Fitch clothing, Huggies baby wipes, Kimberly Clark diapers, Nyquil cold medicine, CVS vitamins, Similac baby formula, and Lanacane cream. (Click for photos)

    The RFID tagging of these items is quite shocking from a consumer privacy standpoint, since the RFID industry has been telling lawmakers and the press that they are interested in only "supply side" inventory tracking on crates and pallets. They have claimed that item-level tagging of consumer goods is not feasible for the near term, thus there is no need to worry about its consumer privacy implications.

    Over 40 consumer groups (including CASPIAN) came out against item-level RFID tagging of consumer goods in a position statement issued last November. Since that time, the RFID industry has carefully kept any item-level tagging far from public view. The fact that vendors were openly promoting item-level tagging among themselves at this "private conference" is huge news -- news that I am sure they would prefer not be discovered by the public.

    The RFID industry's desire to keep these images hidden underscores the dangers the public faces from this powerful and insidious surveillance technology and the companies that would deploy it in secrecy.

    Advanstar's Censorship Letter

    September 27, 2004

    Ms. Katherine Albrecht
    CASPIAN Consumer Advocacy

    Dear Katherine:

    It has come to my attention that you falsely represented yourself as a member of the press at the recently-concluded Frontline Solutions Conference & Expo in Chicago.  In addition to attending the event under false pretenses, you surreptitiously took pictures of the exhibitors  booths and products and posted those photographs on your websites without obtaining the permission of the exhibitors.

    Advanstar Technology Group accommodated you and invited you in to the Frontline Solutions Conference & Expo, a private event, as a member of the press representing [name redacted*]. It is disappointing that you abused our generosity by taking unauthorized photos at our event, thereby violating established protocol for press at our events.

    I am writing to request that you remove all unauthorized photos that you obtained at Frontline Solutions Conference & Expo from your websites, www.spychips.com, www.spychips.org, www.nocards.com, www.nocards.org and any other websites under your management and that you refrain from making the photos available to anyone else.   If these photos are not promptly removed from your websites, then Advanstar will not allow you access to Frontline or any RFID-related Advanstar exhibitions or conferences in the future.  

    I hope that you find Frontline Solutions Conference & Expo a valuable source of information for your business and that you will want to continue attending our events.


    Mary LaSelva
    Group Director
    Frontline and RFID Systems events
    Advanstar Technology Group
    70 Walnut Street
    Wellesley Hills, MA 02481

    *This is a well-respected computer industry publication that contracted with me to write an article on RFID.   -Katherine Albrecht

    Katherine Albrecht's Response to Advanstar

    September 29, 2004

    Ms. Mary LaSelva
    Group Director
    Frontline and RFID Systems Events
    Advanstar Technology Group

    Dear Ms. LaSelva:

    As you are aware, I had your company's full authorization to
    attend Frontline Solutions Conference & Expo in Chicago as a member of the press. Your claim that I falsely represented myself as such is perplexing in light of the fact that your company itself gave me that designation. I provided documentation to meet your guidelines for press/analysts, checked in with your staff, was issued a press badge, and was encouraged by your staffers to speak with vendors exhibiting at the event.

    A Frontline sign at the exhibit hall entrance made it clear that  members of the press were authorized to use cameras and recording devices. At no point was I told, either in writing or verbally, of any restrictions whatsoever on my taking or disseminating photographs or recordings from the event. Your use of the terms "permission" and "protocol" imply the existence of guidelines. However, I was never informed of these. It would seem unreasonable to implement restrictions after an event and expect to enforce them retroactively.

    The notion that I somehow "surreptitiously" photographed the displays at your event is also baffling. As evidenced from the signage and lighting that accompanied the displays, the items I photographed were far from hidden. The reality was just the opposite -- vendors at your event made every effort to attract attention to their wares. The Checkpoint display I photographed was quite prominent, and the Checkpoint's RFID-enabled clothing labels were in plain sight for all to see.

    I myself was hardly inconspicuous. I wore a bright red jacket and a badge with my name and the word "Press" prominently displayed. I held the camera openly to my eye as I took over 200 photographs. I was very obvious with the camera (people even stepped aside and moved from my path to facilitate my taking photos) and I was explicitly encouraged to take photos at many of the booths I visited.

    There was no secrecy involved at any point. Staffers at both Checkpoint and Mead Westvaco's booths greeted me by name, and used my name in speaking to others. Checkpoint and Mead Westvaco staffers stood by and chatted with me the entire time I was taking photos of their displays. I asked a constant stream of questions as I picked up and positioned their RFID-tagged items to better photograph them. I requested and was given the business cards of each staffer I spoke with while taking the pictures.

    The photographs I took -- of RFID tags hidden in clothing labels and other consumer items -- document an issue of great public concern. These photographs fairly and accurately depict the activities that took place at your conference. It is unfortunate that Advanstar Technology Group would feel a need to make inaccurate statements about its dealings with me in an attempt to censor these images.

    I regret that I am unable to comply with your request to remove the photographs from the web.

    With best wishes for continued freedom,
    Katherine Albrecht

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