RFID Standards And Regulation

RFID Standards And Regulation

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While the potential benefits of RFID technology are clear and abundant, there is a definite need to regulate the development and implementation of the RFID technology. Not only must standards of regulation and operation be developed, but RFID technology raises privacy and security issues because of the passive and open nature of the technology.

In order for the RFID tag industry to be successful in implementation there needs to be uniform standards and regulation so that tags and readers from different manufactures will be able to communicate with each other. The Internationals Organization Standardization in partnership with the International Electronics Commission has begun to ratify standards surrounding the RFID technology. There are three ISO standards that are currently adopted, each focusing on one area of the technology.

The first ISO standard focuses on the management and implementation guideline of the RFID tag. The RFID tag will be the part of the technology that is most versatile in its role and ability to communicate information with the reader or antenna assembly. Because tags broadcast RF signals across airwaves, dedicated frequency ranges have been reserved for RFID communication. The tags themselves have also been broken down into classes based on the performance and ability of the tag.

There are currently 5 classes of RFID tags. The tags are organized in a hierarchy, Class 0 through Class IV. Each class becomes more complex in the tags ability as you move up the scale. Class zero tags are passive "read only" passive tags that are programmed in the manufacturing process. Class I tags are "write-once, read many" tags that are programmable by the customer and then locked. Class II though class IV tags can be programmed many times and the ability of the tag to generate it's own RF signal increases with class to active tags in class IV which constantly broadcast a signal. (Matrix RFID Standards)

The Third ISO standard describes the technology and implementation guidelines for RFID readers and antennas. Because RFID technology relies of radio frequency, regulatory commissions around the world have reserved bandwidth for RFID purposes. Most RFID tags operate in the Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) bands designated by the International Telecommunications Union. (ITU)

The most common use of RF bandwidth is predicted to be in the High Frequency (HF) ISM band in Europe and America that will be centered around the 13.56Mhz band. (ITU Resources) There is also an Ultra High Frequency (UHF) band in the US and that has been set at 902-928 MHz.

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(FCC Regulations) Each frequency band has its own set of advantages and disadvantages surrounding signal strength, content, and physical distance that the RFID tag can be read. Currently there are ISO standardizations being developed regarding the RFID tag readers and interrogators. However, each manufacture is left to ultimately left to decide the capabilities of their machines as long as current FCC and ITU regulations are met.

As technology develops new and improved RFID tag communication methods additional standards will also be devised Many RFID research companies are creating consortiums to standardized RFI tag manufacturing and equipment development in order to bring the industry to the marketplace in a more uniform technology. The ultimate success of the RFID tag will fall to the compatibility and standardization of the technology, or it will not be implemented on a global level.

Security and Privacy Issues

Just as any other wireless technology RFID tags are susceptible to external risks. In terms of the RFID tag, security measures must be developed that protect the integrity of the information contained within the tag. The tags message content needs to be secure or even encrypted so that reading devices receive a valid signal from the tag. The area of greatest security concern stems from communication between the interrogators and the RFID tags. The RFID tags currently in use have serious security concerns. Avi Rubin, the technical director of the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute comments on the current tag security "millions of tags that are currently in use by consumers have an encryption function that can be cracked without requiring direct contact. An attacker who cracks the RFID tag security key could then bypass security measure and fool tag readers." (Atkinson, 2005) The radio frequencies emitted from the tags are exposed to eavesdropping. Large numbers of tags or the information contained in those tags could be read and analyzed by a third party

Business and Vendors of RFID technology alike will have to deploy security measures to prevent Tag information from being read or altered by parties outside of their intended use. Tags could have varying levels of security from basic encoding to complicated encryption algorithms. Security concerns need to address by the ISO just as the have created security standards for bankcard authorizations and money access systems. The catch comes with improved security. As the functionality of the tag increases, so does the cost of its production. A Balance between security and cost will have to be determined.

Civil liberty and personal privacy concerns will pose the greatest threat to RFID deployment and implementation. RFID tags could potentially be used as an individual personal tracking system. Because RFID tags can be embedded into virtually any object, individuals who posses that object may not know that they are in possession of a device that will identify itself when interrogated by and RFID signal. RFID tags have a unique identifier that is associated with that tag and the product or device in which that tag is embedded. RFID tag deployment requires the creation of databases that contain information relating to each unique tag. Those records could and would most likely be linked with personal information that could be used to identify the owner. This mass of data aggregation associated with RFID readers that essentially could be tracking the owner physically along with identifying the consumer habits of the individual.

Obviously the potential of the system to track and identify individuals seriously violates the privacy and liberty of the public. In order to mitigate the potential harmful consequences of RFID to individuals and society, there needs to be a formal assessment of the technology. Governments must protect the rights of the individual while also assisting corporations and manufactures practice ethical information sharing. Perhaps an impartial, neutral entity needs to establish RFID guidelines and conduct codes that benefit and protect all the stakeholders of RFID technology including consumers. Such a grandiose consortium will require cooperation throughout all levels of society and it is likely that RFID privacy debate will be lengthy.

Global Implications of RFID

As RFID grows in popularity and use of the technology proliferates, the effects of the technology, both positive and negative will have a global impact. Although predictions state that it is highly unlikely that RFID will replace the bar code label, RFID ability and application continues to grow and develop. Business operations will benefit as the technology helps in asset tracking, inventory control and product location. Commerce and retail trends may also change as RFID tags are integrated in to the sales process. Tags can be embedded into the functionality of cash, credit cards, government issued ID's, and virtually any other medium or device. Monetary transactions could be conducted without any of the above-mentioned mediums, because global banking and money exchanges could be tendered by a RFID authorization from tags implanted in the human body.

These technologies of course would have to be standardized by a global consortium and new methods of the economy would have to be expounded. No international standardization or implementations of RFID technology will take place though until the popularity of RFID deems necessary, and there are several issues that are standing squarely in the way. The main problem to their widespread adoption is the cost of tag production. Currently it is too expensive to replace every barcode with an RFID tag, and until the tag price can be lowered, large-scale adoption of the technology will be long coming. Money and resources must be dedicated on an international level to improving the manufacturing cost of the RFID tags and to overcome the technical obstacles of implementation.

Although science may overcome the technical and monetary restraints holding back RFID, societal proponents will be more difficult to placate. There are many opponents to RFID technology, and it is both the simplicity of operation and the effective ability of RFID tag technology to respond with its location that make RFID attractive, while creating the security and privacy concerns.

FCC - Federal Communications Commission (2003), FCC Regulations, Title 47 Section 15. Retrived April 14, 2005. < http://wireless.fcc.gov/rules.html >

ITU – International Telecommunication Union, RFID Resources. Retrieved April 14, 2005

Matrix White Paper, EPC and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Standards.(2004) Retrieved April 12, 2005 < http://www.ebusinessforum.gr/content/downloads/EPC_RFID_Standards.pdf>

Atkinson, J. Some RFID Tags Easy to Hack, RFID Gazette, January 31, 2005.
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