Technology Tracking You

By Geoffrey M. Gluckman

By now, most of us are aware that retailers track our purchases and interests. For the sake of convenience, our credit cards come imbedded with hi-tech chips to further that end and ease your ability to buy. But technology is raising the bar and allowing more detailed tracking of your assets and you.

Welcome to the twenty first century, where your credit card knows more than you do.

The hi-tech chips on credit cards and even some passports are an advancement of old technology, a transponder or electronic tag, originally developed to track planes in WWII under the Friend or Foe operation.

Now, as businesses become more mobile, both in personnel and services, employers desire to monitor their assets. Whether a package, an employee, or a shipment of goods, the game of intelligent tracking has arrived.

That microchip is known as a Radio Frequency Identification Device or RFID. It makes the process of location and identification of almost any object readily available, even down to mere centimeters, whether in transit or in storage.

RFID chips have tiny antennae and are capable of broadcasting their data wirelessly to anyone with a RFID reader. In effect, it is poised to replace the older, more limited system of barcodes, though that may take some time.

Today, these devices fall into two categories: active and passive. Passive RFID requires an external power supply, as it is not contained within the tag. Usually a signal is sent from the reader, which powers the transponder, enabling communication back to the reader. This type of RFID can come with a chip or without. Active RFID contains an inherent power source, a larger memory capacity, and increased transmittal distance. Until recently the most common usage for active RFID was for tollbooth speed passes, such as on the Dulles Toll Road near Washington, D.C.

Passive RFID systems are the most prevalent, but both employ three types of frequencies. These are: ultra high (300MHz to 3GHz), high (10-15 MHz), and low (125-500 kHz). Active RFID systems are on the rise as technology continues to advance.

According to Bob Moroz, President of the RMoroz Company, a switch to “contact-less” credit cards has begun. This technology embeds a RFID chip into a card, thus protecting it from the external environment, increasing security, and allowing for greater memory storage for data, such as biometric information.

“[RFIDs] take away the form factor,” states Bob Moroz. “For instance, data can be stored on a chip in a cellphone, a watch, or a wristband. It is not limited to a plastic card.”

While most companies focus on tracking products, federal and state governments will soon be tracking their residents. Though the state of Virginia has delayed an initiative to imbed RFIDs into state driver’s licenses, it is still on the books. As with other security measures, these chips will store important identification data, such as date of birth, social security number, a digital fingerprint copy, and even 3-D facial information. This has drawn much criticism from privacy advocacy groups, especially the American Civil Liberties Union. Nevertheless, June 2006 saw the Department of State imbedding RFID in U.S. passports. This follows on the heels of an identical program completed by Australia.

Going a step further, as early as 2002, Applied Digital Solutions of Palm Beach, Florida unveiled a syringe-injectable RFID chip, the size of a grain of rice, called “Verichip”. Company documents state it is a transceiver “that sends and receives data and can be continuously tracked by GPS”, which they successfully demonstrated in 2000 at an investor launch. Each chip carries a unique ID number and can be activated by an external scanner, which causes a signal to transmit the data to a telephone number, the Internet, or a storage device. The electromagnetics of muscular contraction power the device, which body tissue surrounds after insertion. In addition, the company claims that this chip is superior to other biometric security measures because it is impervious to tampering.

More recently,, a Cincinnati, Ohio company, implanted two employees with such a device. However, according to Sean Darks, company CEO, the chip was not intended for tracking, rather to control access to restricted areas.

And so begins the age of tracking humans.

(previously published Credit Union Business, January 2010)

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The Business of Asset Tracking  (Law Enforcement Technology, June 2006)

Profiling the Future (Law Enforcement Technology, August 2005)

Tracking Vehicle Speed (Iron Horse Magazine, September 2004)

Controlled Remote Viewing: The Future of Surveillance (Law Enforcement Technology, March 2004)