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Computer Chip

Hitachi has developed a new RFID chip, one that is much smaller than existing chips. This new chip is not that much bigger than the size of a grain of sand.

RFID stands for “radio frequency identification.” RFID chips are tiny computer chips embedded into products and animals (and sometimes people) to identify and track them. The chips send a signal that can be read by a decoder.

RFID chips have increasingly become cheaper and smaller, but this new development is rather significant. These new chips are small enough to secretly implant into nearly anything. The potential future uses of the technology are quite vast, and they obviously raise many privacy issues. One of the primary dangers is that one day RFID tags will be used to track people’s movements like a GPS homing device.

When it comes to businesses or people who might use RFID to track others, there isn’t much that current law has to say about what they can or cannot do. When it comes to law enforcement officials, the Supreme Court has held that the Fourth Amendment does not apply when an electronic device tracks a person’s movement in public. In United States v. Knotts, 460 U.S. 276 (1983), a beeper was attached to an item placed in a person’s car, and the police tracked the car’s movements. The Supreme Court held that it was not a Fourth Amendment violation. However, the Court has held that such tracking within the home is covered by the Fourth Amendment. United States v. Karo, 468 U.S. 705 (1984). Thus, in many places outside the home, a person might have no reasonable expectation of privacy according to the Court, and hence no Fourth Amendment protection against location tracking.

Some of the primary limitations on RFID have been size and detection distance. Size appears to no longer be much of an limitation anymore. As it becomes possible to detect RFID chips at greater distances, I believe they’ll increasingly be used to track people. Despite what appears to be an increasingly likely future possibility, the law doesn’t appear quite ready to address the privacy implications of RFID.

Hat tip: BoingBoing

Related Post: The RFID Tag You Carry With You (July, 2005)

Originally Posted at Concurring Opinions

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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy training, data security training, HIPAA training, and many other forms of awareness training on privacy and security topics. Professor Solove also posts at his blog at LinkedIn. His blog has more than 1 million followers.

Professor Solove is the organizer, along with Paul Schwartz, of the Privacy + Security Forum and International Privacy + Security Forum, annual events designed for seasoned professionals.

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