I Just Wirelessly Scanned Your Identity: With a Laptop

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Get your tin-foil hats on. No, it’s not the X-Files. This is real, and it may one day happen to you.

RFID (radio frequency identification) is an emerging location and identification technology that has many upsides, but some significant downsides as well. Though not quite in the mainstream at present, government and industry are working on numerous RFID projects that will likely come to fruition somewhere between the years 2013-2020.

RFID technology is based on tiny silicon RFID chips that in small numbers are already being inserted into product packaging, uniforms, smart cards, pets, shoes, and even people. The chips are passive, meaning they do not transmit data but rather must be scanned to retrieve data stored on the RFID chip. This wireless scanning makes location of products easy, and paying via these RFID chips is as easy as a wave of the hand.

The downside to RFID technology comes in the form of personal security issues. With the right tools, it is easy for identity thieves to scan smart cards in briefcases, purses, and wallets. This is why so many privacy advocates are alarmed at the prospect of industry- and government-wide implementation of RFID technology. So if you have a smart card, passport, or other identifying information on your person, how do you protect yourself?

It may sound conspiratorial or paranoid, but protecting your personal information from identity thieves is very important. Just a person sitting on a park bench with a laptop watching passers-by can electronically scan and capture data from RFID devices. Beyond that, it’s not difficult for the perpetrator to completely assume your identity and make charges on your RFID smart card. Because of this immediate need for increased security, some companies now sell RFID-blocking wallets that protect against unwanted electronic surveillance intrusions.

Two substances block RFID signals: metal and water. Of course, metal is the more sensible choice and is often used in the form of aluminum foil to impede RFID signals. Some have made their own wallets out of duct tape and aluminum foil to block RFID signals; but most prefer the look and feel of a real (leather) wallet. Companies including Kena Kai , Travelon , and Mobile Edge all offer RFID-blocking wallets in a variety of traditional styles.

In today’s world of identity theft and electronic surveillance, purchasing an RFID-blocking wallet is a smart move if you have any cards or anything else that contains an RFID chip.

Helpful Tips:

  • You can purchase RFID-blocking wallets online: see Amazon.com , Buy.com , Shop.com , and of course, eBay
  • For more information on RFID technology, refer to the book, Spychips , by Liz McIntyre and Katherine Albrecht.
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