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Cisco's RFID Asset Tracker Raises Questions

A new product from Cisco uses active RFID and wireless LAN technology to help provide device tracking that can be used across a number of industries and environments.
Tags: Privacy
May 08, 2005This article was originally published by RFID Update.

May 8, 2005—A new product from Cisco called the Wireless Location Appliance 2700 uses active RFID and wireless LAN technology to provide device tracking that can be used across a number of industries and environments. Devices as varied as wireless-enabled laptops, forklifts, wheelchairs, and EKG equipment can all be watched remotely via a graphical layout of the organization's premises. Cisco is initially targeting the product at the healthcare industry for the hospital and clinic environment, in which the monitoring and maintenance of expensive medical equipment is key.

For many enterprises, keeping track of physical assets is costly and imperfect. The Wireless Location Appliance will enable these enterprises to locate tagged assets precisely in the moment they are required, saving the time that is currently spent hunting them down. The parallel with RFID in the supply chain is obvious: total realtime visibility will streamline business processes, open up new opportunities for innovative applications, and curb theft, loss, and other sources of shrinkage.

One of the product's touted benefits -- the ability to "rapidly locate key people" -- raised the hackles of some privacy advocates. Dr. Caoilfhionn Gallagher, policy officer at privacy group Liberty, was quoted in vnunet.com as saying, "This latest product undermines employee privacy even further and reinforces the slur that workers cannot be trusted." While some might write this off as an overreaction, it is interesting to note that Japanese company Omron recently enjoyed a big ROI from an internal initiative in which employees were tracked by the use of mandated RFID-tagged cards.

The prospect of employee tracking raises difficult questions about the use of RFID to tag humans. On the one hand, most people would chafe at the notion of employers knowing their precise whereabouts throughout the workday. On the other hand, an employer arguably has the right to monitor the action of its employees while those employees are on the job. With the introduction of the Wireless Location Appliance, Cisco may have unwittingly placed itself center-stage in what is sure to become an increasingly debated issue.

More on the Wireless Location Appliance at Cisco Systems
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