RFID in Libraries

4/9/2004

Privacy Invasion Scenario

Filed under: — Laura @ 9:41 am

I’ve been thinking that the privacy invasion implications of library RFID use were minimal given the current state of technology. What harm could be caused with low frequency readers and only item number information on the tag, right? Well, David Alexander Molnar from Berkeley has made me reconsider. He posits the following scenario [reposted with permission]:

Suppose we put RFID readers in the metal detector (and x-ray machines) at
the airport. The range issues with RFID are not much of an issue here,
since the metal detector is closer than the exit sensors of library RFID
deployments – if they work, placing them in the metal detector should
work as well (ignoring interference between reader and detector).

Now suppose we are interested only in seeing if a person is carrying a
copy of the Qur’an. We don’t care about other books, just this one. We go
to all the libraries near the airport, check out all their copies of the
Qur’an, read the RFID tag and record the bar code on the tag. Now if
someone walks through the metal detector with a copy of the Qur’an from
the area, we know.

This works *even if we don’t have the library database*. All we need is
for the number on the tag to be static.

I think David’s concept is plausible. Copying the id numbers from the tags of books from local libraries would take footwork, to be sure. But as David says, “The thing is, the footwork can be incremental. The bar codes don’t expire.”

1 Comment »

  1. Simpler scenario: airport security sees Koran in the passenger’s backpack (they see all, that’s a given).

    Now the RFID tag serves as a persistent identifier - allowing trackers to see where its bearer goes and what s/he does.

    Mary Minow

    Comment by Mary Minow — 4/9/2004 @ 12:46 pm

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