Clothing is Being Tagged With Tracking Devices


Retailers are beginning to use a new technology for inventory control, which is being characterized as anti-shoplifting protection—RFID. This technology makes it possible to use small devices that produce a numerical identifier unique to a single item.  Unfortunately the technology renders itself a significant threat to a consumer’s privacy. When paired with credit card information, RFID can be used as a tracking device. Imagine you buy a shirt, or sweat shirt, or a wallet, and each time you enter certain areas that can detect RFID’s your movements can be tracked.  What are RFID’s ?  RFID is an item tagging technology; it stands for Radio Frequency Identification.  RFID’s consist of a tiny computer chip connected to small antennas, which do not need nor use any battery power; they are activated by stationary radio readers that emit radio signals.


This technology can theoretically be used to tag and identify every man-made object on the planet. RFID’s are easily manufactured for pennies per unit.  RFID tags can be sewn into clothing, hidden in the spines of books, can be placed within electronic equipment, in suitcases, wallets, you name it, and without the knowledge of the consumer.  RFID readers, the instruments that transmit radio signals and identify each RFID tag, can be hidden behind walls, woven into carpeting, be placed underneath tiles, floor mats, even hidden in shelves or counters, making it impossible for a consumer to know when he or she is being scanned.  RFID’s in books can even transmit information on how often that book is picked up and how long it is being perused.


Once a consumer purchases an item, which contains a RFID, that item number can be paired with your credit card, debit card, or discount card, and thereby your identity could be stored along with the item you just purchased.  If you are not aware of the RFID’s location and do not destroy or remove it, your privacy is thwarted as you move about and enter any area that contains RFID readers.  Essentially the RFID chip can then be used as a tracking device. 


CASPIAN ( Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering, ), a non profit consumer rights advocacy organization, has called for  industry wide adoption of a Framework of Rights and Responsibilities on RFID use, as well as for formal technology assessment to be performed by Congress, in order to safeguard that no secret databases are amassed. The organization is also asking that all companies that use RFID technology advise their customers that RFID tags are being used.


L.M. / Contributing Correspondent

Posted  October  1, 2004

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