Homeland Security RFID Declaration Means Little

Opinion: Is the Homeland Security secretary's comment that the department is abandoning RFID somewhat of an overstatement?

For retail RFID observers, the comment Feb. 9 from U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff that his department was abandoning radio-frequency identification for one aspect of border protection should have been big news. Upon closer examination, its really not.

The saga started Feb. 9 when a major wire service reported that Homeland Security was abandoning RFID across the entire department. On Feb. 12, Homeland Security clarified that the comments were limited to the exit portion of its VISIT border control effort. Even so, if Homeland Security is abandoning RFID for that important program because of "unsuccessful" tests, those results should give pause to others.

One key official with the VISIT program, however, said the reasons for stepping back from RFID for the program shouldnt concern others.

One concern, for example, was that people are supposed to hold the card up to seen by a reader, which was considered too much of a hassle for many. But that was a program requirement from the beginning, so its not an RFID fault. Another concern was a language problem in the Southwest border, which was also nothing that RFID had much to do with.

The only technological concern was that the tags being used were running Gen1 RFID, when the industry standard is now Gen2. That was because Gen1 was state-of-the-art when the tests began in 2005.

Asked why the department hadnt instead simply upgraded to Gen2, the official said that might indeed happen. Given that, we asked if Chertoffs comment that the department was "abandoning" RFID for VISIT was somewhat of an overstatement. The official paused and promised to get back to us. Were still waiting.

Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman can be reached at Evan_Schuman@ziffdavis.com.


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