Travel Anxieties On the Rise

Concerns about the use of RFID in passports are small compared to the concerns travelers have about being the victim of terrorism.
Published: August 15, 2006

As I write this, I’m in a hotel in New York City getting ready for the Journal-AAFA Apparel & Footwear Summit, an event we are hosting with the American Apparel and Footwear Association. People are arriving from all over the country. Some attendees, including several speakers, are coming in from overseas. I’m worried about how much hassle they will need to go through just to attend this event. Long lines at the airport, rigorous security searches, delayed or canceled flights—I fear that some might not even make it at all.

To me, technology is something that we deploy to make our lives easier and better. To others, technology is a tool that the powerful use to take advantage of the weak. There is a strong sense among those that oppose RFID that they are standing up for the weak. I feel neither strong nor weak, just informed. I don’t have the power to stop the government from spying on me or a retailer from using technology to invade my privacy. But I do have the power to vote—both at the ballot box and with my wallet.

When I look at the debate over passports and the use of RFID for security purposes, I understand that there are some trade-offs between privacy and security. I’ve had my bags searched thoroughly at the airport several times since 9/11. I’ve been called out for secondary screening. I don’t like it. I feel a little like a criminal and wonder if the people around me aren’t wondering why I, of all people, got picked out. If these measures were effective in preventing terrorism, it would be worth it.

Technologies can help make our lives better, smoother, easier and even happier. But all technologies can also be abused. A car can be used as a murder weapon. Fire can be used for arson. This is obvious. The issue is how to develop new technologies such as RFID with safeguards against abuses while using them in positive ways to improve our lives. The struggle the RFID industry is dealing with now is that people are not educated enough about the technology to know how it can be used to help them and how it can be limited to prevent abuses. All they hear is people raising alarms about potential problems with e-passports.

Technologies such as RFID will never prevent terrorism. But used wisely, I believe e-passports can reduce the hassles travelers go through and decrease the number of people who sneak into a country with forged documents. I hope we can get to the point in the e-passport debate where we talk about how to use the technology wisely, rather than whether to use it at all. And I hope all of the participants in our event today make it to New York without too many hassles.