RFID in Libraries

5/28/2004

Outside the Supply Chain

Filed under: — Laura @ 9:38 am

I wrote “Outside the Supply Chain” for RFID News.

Some of the nuances of my original piece were lost in the editing process. For example, it’s not clear in the paragraph regarding infringement scenarios and unauthorized data gathering that automated library systems (ALS) do not have the ability to track patrons movements. It’s the RFID readers that can potentially do the tracking. ALS only keeps patron contact info and borrowing habits. The borrowing info is rarely retained. I’ve put that section as I originally wrote it in the extended section of this post. If anybody wants to see the whole unedited piece, let me know and I’ll email you a copy.

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Original paragraphs regarding infringement scenarios:

There are several privacy problems frequently mentioned by RFID opponents. These can be categorized as tracking people, tracking library items, unauthorized access, and technology proliferation and political climate. Perhaps the biggest fear engendered by RFID tags is the potential to track people. People tracking could happen in two ways. A person carrying a tagged library item could have their movements traced or the tag could be linked to the patron record in the automated library system (ALS).

The first scenario is currently unlikely given the low frequency range of library RFID tags and the short read range of RFID antennae. Privacy advocates frequently cite Moore’s Law and believe that frequencies and read ranges could increase while the price of tags decreases. Thus the number of readers will propagate and increase the potential of people tracking. This is the technology proliferation argument.

The second scenario is the ability to link a tagged library item with a person’s patron record. This potential does indeed exist. Most libraries do not choose to use this option and put very little information on the tag – typically only a bar-code like number. In addition ALS are “closed systems.” Only staff members with a need-to-know are able to view the personal patron information and usually this is password protected. This is considered a best practice in the field. The EFF considers this “security through obscurity” and not a viable means of long term protection.

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