Frequently Asked Questions About RFID
Q. What is RFID?
IDentification is an automatic data capture technology that uses
tiny tracking chips affixed to products. These tiny chips can be used
to track items at a distance--right through someone's purse, backpack,
or wallet. Many of the world's largest manufacturing companies would like
to replace the bar code with these "spy chips," meaning that virtually
every item on the planet--and the people wearing and carrying those items--could
be remotely tracked. There is currently NO
REGULATION protecting consumers from abuse of this technology.
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Q. What do RFID chips and tags look like?
A. RFID chips are usually attached to antennas.
The chip and antenna combination is called a "tag." RFID tags vary widely
in size, shape and color. We have pictures of several of these chips online:
Click here for images of RFID tags
Click here for images of an RFID tag used
in a Gillette Mach 3 Razor package
Q. What companies make or use RFID devices?
have a list of 103 companies that were sponsors of the MIT Auto-ID Center
as of June 25, 2003. The MIT Auto-ID Center is the organization that
developed the infrastructure for RFID with the help of global businesses
like Gillette, Unilever and Procter & Gamble. We expect that these companies
will be among the first to adopt the technology.
Q: How can I tell if there's an RFID chip
in my ____?
A: Since no law requires manufacturers to tell
you when they've put an RFID chip into a product or its packaging, the
only way for an average consumer to know if a product contains a chip
is to see it with his or her own eyes. (Or you can invest in an electronics
lab and costly RFID readers.) The good news is that most RFID devices
in commercial use today have a fairly conspicuous antenna, ranging from
the size of a fingernail to the size of a full-sized sheet of paper. If
you suspect that an item contains a hidden RFID chip, here are a few search
tips: Look closely at any paper labels or stickers on the object. Peel
them off and hold them up to the light. Do you see flat, dark or metallic
lines converging on a central point? If so, you may be looking at the
antenna of an RFID chip. The least invasive ways to check for RFID chips
in shoes is to pull back the inner pads and look around or have the shoes
X-rayed. The problem with RFID chips is that they can be embedded in plastic,
foam, rubber or other materials at the manufacturing plant. Short of destroying
the shoes or having them X-rayed, it would be hard to find deeply embedded
chips. We are still researching the use of RFID chips in shoes to determine
the extent of any chipping. (See the Q & A on shoes below for more information.)
If the item is made of cardboard, first scan its surface. Do you see a
small, clear, flat plastic housing the size of a match head stuck anywhere
onto the cardboard? If so, is it hooked up to a flat, metallic antenna
or to matte grey spray-on ink? If so, you are most likely looking at an
RFID tag. Pull the cardboard layers apart and look for a tell-tale antenna
embedded inside. It is rumored that International Paper, an Auto-ID Center
sponsor that makes packages for consumer goods, among other things, may
be devising ways to embed RFID tags directly into paper and cardboard
packaging. If you have access to an X-ray machine (say, if you're a veterinarian
or a chiropractor) you can X-ray the item to see if it contains an RFID
tag. Since most antennas are metal-based, you should be able to spot an
RFID tag in this way.* Again, you are looking for an antenna converging
on a central dot-sized chip. If you find something unusual and would like
us to take a look, drop us an email. *Note that some highly advanced defense
department and academic research chips do not have a "tell-tale antenna"
since they combine the antenna within the chip itself. These devices can
be so small they would be nearly impossible to find.
Q: What do I do if I find an RFID chip?
Can I kill or disable it?
A: You can disable a chip for all practical purposes
by disconnecting it from its antenna. It is usually pretty obvious where
the chip is located in an RFID tag (all the antennas will run to it).
Once you find the tiny black square you can use a pair of scissors or
a knife to cut it off. To ensure that the tiny chip cannot later be read
(assuming anyone could even find a device so small), you can puncture
it with a straight pin, crush it, or pulverize it. (Note: While burning
or microwaving can destroy a chip, we do not recommend these methods because
of fire risk. See the Q & A below.) Do not try to "drown" it, since water
does not generally destroy RFID chips. Running a magnet over the chip
will not work, either.
Q: Can I microwave products to kill any
hidden RFID tags they might contain?
A: While microwaving an RFID tag will destroy
it (a microwave emits high frequency electromagnetic energy that overloads
the antenna, eventually blowing out the chip), there is a good chance
the the tag will burst into flames first. The difficulty of destroying
a hidden RFID chip is one reason we need legislation making it illegal
to hide a chip in an item in the first place.
Q: Are there some products that can't be
A: Items containing LIQUID or METAL are especially
hard to chip. Liquids tend to absorb the electromagnetic energy needed
to power the chip, while metal tends to reflect it and bounce it around
in unpredictable ways. Both problems can cause interference in the RFID
signal sent by a chip to the reader. These bugs are still being worked
on. You can use this information about metal to your advantage. Has your
store recently remodeled, replacing traditional metal shelving with new-fangled
plastic shelves, to prevent interference with RFID transmission?
Q: Will a magnet erase an RFID chip?
A: No, the chips are not magnetically encoded.
Running a magnet over the chip or using a tape eraser will not affect
Q: Can chips in clothing survive the washer
A: Yes. Many RFID tags are designed to withstand
years of normal wear and tear, including washing and drying. In fact,
we know of at least one uniform rental company that uses RFID chips to
keep track of its inventory. The chips hold up under the rough handling
and commercial washings.
Q: Is it true there are plans to put RFID
chips in Euro banknotes?
A: Hitachi has been working with the European
Central Bank on the idea of putting RFID chips into Euro banknotes. This
would eliminate the anonymity of cash by making it trackable. In essence,
it would "register" your cash to you when you get it from the teller or
take it out of the ATM. Euro banknotes could be RFID tagged as early as
2005. See: "Euro Notes May be Radio Tagged" at http://news.zdnet.co.uk/story/0,,t295-s2135074,00.html
Q: Does U.S. currency contain RFID chips?
A: To the best of our knowledge, US currency
does NOT currently contain RFID chips.
Q: What's the read range of these chips?
Can they be tracked by satellite?
A: There are two types of tags: "passive" (no
independent power source) and "active" (containing a battery or attached
to one). Depending on a number of factors (antenna size, RF frequency,
environmental conditions etc.) a passive tag can have a range of anywhere
from 1 inch to 40 feet. Active tags can have a read range of miles or
more. Most tags being considered for use in consumer products are passive.
Q: Is CASPIAN aware of any RFID tags in
A: We are aware of at least one company that
uses embedded RFID technology in shoes for security purposes. According
to the shoe company, the RFID labels they use do not contain unique product
information. Rather, the RFID labels reportedly serve only to trigger
an alarm if a consumer leaves the store without paying for the shoes.
(Note that at a June 2003 RFID conference in Chicago, Alien Technology
displayed a Wal-Mart Athletic Works® running shoe with an Alien RFID tag
inserted under the insole. Alien said that the shoe was for display purposes
only and that there were no planned/current trials or applications in
those shoes. However, there was much excitement at the conference over
the possibilities for RFID chips in shoes. Their stated reason for wanting
to chip shoes was to keep shoe sizes together and match pairs. In our
opinion, pervasive RFID chipping of shoes will become a frightening reality
unless we tell companies that we will not buy products with chips!)