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The Consequences of Convenience

RFID payment devices might mean we'll spend less time in lines, but will they strengthen or weaken our privacy protections? That remains to be seen.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
If relay attacks were to become a real problem, or if hackers found a way to reverse-engineer the security protocols used to protect my account information encoded to my RFID credit card, I'd probably stop using it. But right now, I believe we have more cause for concern about database security systems that are supposed to protect personal information, such as credit card account numbers or Social Security numbers, held by credit card companies. Concerns over skimming personal data from an RFID tag without the carrier's knowledge exist mostly in theory at present, but identity theft via more traditional routes—such as through database security breaches, or just from riffling through someone's garbage cans—happens all the time.

As RFID, biometrics and other information-based technologies become incorporated into such every-day items as credit cards and passports, there will be more ways in which our privacy could be compromised. Because of this, we as consumers and citizens should be aware of how our personal information is shared and protected. It's important for retailers, banks, governments and any other entities using RFID technology to disclose exactly how and why they're using the technology.

For companies using EPC technology to track goods, EPCglobal has published a list of guidelines that users of EPC technology should follow to ensure consumers are aware of where and how the technology is being used. There's already a large and growing public awareness about the use of RFID technology in consumer products, and merchants who fail to disclose the use of RFID will likely be called out for it—in fact, they might even suffer significant blows through lost patronage.

The good news—just as with transactions made with via magnetic stripe, consumers who make payments via RFID or biometrics are not held financially responsible for purchases they have not made. Whether RFID and biometrics will make payments more or less secure, however...only time will tell.

Mary Catherine O'Connor is the associate editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below.

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