Needs for Standards, Privacy Top RFID Concerns

The technology also must become available at an affordable cost, and RFID doesn't tell officials screening for terrorist activities what's "inside the box."

Despite its large potential, RFID still faces huge hurdles. Standardization, costs and privacy are generally the steepest, said speakers at this weeks Maritime Security Expo in New York City. Another issue, particularly crucial in government anti-terrorism circles, is that RFID doesnt show with any certainty "whats inside the box."

In fact, RFID (radio frequency identification) presents different sets of obstacles depending on whos using it, according to these experts. "RFID is really nothing new. The military has been using RFID for at least 10 years now," said Dennis Groseclose, deputy vice president of homeland security systems for Lockheed Martin Integrated Systems & Solutions.

But the U.S. Department of Defense is deploying active RFID, a more accurate and secure—yet also more costly—flavor than the passive RFID now being tested by retail chains Wal-Mart, Target and Albertsons.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read about Wal-Marts RFID pilot, which has drawn criticism from some suppliers and competitors.

The successful "read rate" for active RFID is much better, said Peter Regen, vice president of the Global Visible Commerce business unit at Unisys.

Meanwhile, for retailers, privacy issues loom large, said Janiece S. Webb, senior vice president and general manager of Secure Asset Solutions at Motorola Inc.

In retail trials, companies are finding that "you have to keep peoples information private," according to Webb.

"Nobody wants other people to know what theyre buying," she said. "When I try on a garment [with an RFID tag], I want the tag to be dead by the time I leave the store."

Similarly, product suppliers taking part in the RFID trials "dont want their competition to be able to see their data."

Groseclose predicted that RFID might become a liability issue for companies, with customers expressing privacy concerns or shareholders not wanting "their data to get messed up." Some day, insurance firms might start writing up policies to protect against these RFID hazards, he added.

Like the retailers, the Defense Department now has an RFID mandate under way. Quite often, when a technology is extensively implemented by the military, standardization comes next. But experts at the maritime show said they arent counting on the same to happen with RFID.

For RFID to effectively deflect terrorism at ports and border crossings, standards need to be internationally accepted and adopted, said John Holmes, a speaker in another session at the show.

/zimages/2/28571.gifCheck out a detailed and far-reaching report on the insecure state of U.S. sea ports by clicking here.

Other nations arent necessarily about to enthusiastically embrace standards forged by the U.S. Defense Department, said Holmes, who is director of port development at SAIC (Science Applications International Corp.) and a former Coast Guard captain of the Port of Los Angeles-Long Beach.

For their part, customs officials from other countries worry that RFID isnt tamper-proof enough, said a U.S. government official attending the conference, who asked not to be identified.

"Their worst nightmare is that somebody might put the wrong [RFID] tags on whatever is really inside the box. You could describe the contents as just about anything, and then attach the tag to a bomb or something," the official told

Concern over the contents of cargo packages are particularly critical at harbor ports, where the pace can be hectic.

Still, though, RFID can be highly effective for inventory control and loss prevention, panelists said. Somewhat jokingly, Groseclose recommended a "march on Washington" to reach RFID standardization.

/zimages/2/28571.gifTo read about RFID being served 7-Eleven style, click here.

European governments are tending to wait on RFID implementation, to find out what occurs in the United States first, Groseclose said.

An audience member hailing from the United Kingdom asked how a "march on Washington" might help with international standardization.

"Then well have to make it an international march on [all] government," Groseclose said.

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