RFID Jargon Watch


Forget you ever heard of radio-frequency identification chips–the feds and chip makers are trying to rebrand them as "contactless chips."

This Wired.com story reports this is in order to "dodge the privacy debate raging over RFID tags, which will eventually replace bar-code labels on consumer goods, said privacy rights advocates this week."

This seems dubious–general consumer and citizen awareness of the term "RFID chip" is still pretty low, and I suspect it's the concept more than the name that will alarm. Or, even more likely, for the most part if they decide it makes anything more convenient for them, neither the concept nor the name will bother most people a bit.

[Link via Rational Review.]

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  1. “We’d prefer,” said Joseph Broghamer, Homeland Security’s director of authentication technologies, “that the terms ‘RFID,’ or even ‘RF,’ not be used at all (when referring to the RFID-tagged smartcards). Let’s get ‘RF’ out of it altogether.”

    Can I please, PLEASE call this Orwellian without it being labeled hyperbole?

    They’re just spin-doctoring something they want you to swallow hook, line and sinker.

    RFID is a wonderful way for a government to track your every move. So they can arrest you for doing something legally in another country, that isn’t legal here. But they can fuck themselves if they thinking I’m going a full minute with a functioning “chip.”

  2. What’s to stop one from carrying an item with RFI…I mean, contactless chips…in a small metal container? Would that not completely block its transmissions?

  3. We’d prefer that the term “small metal container” not be used, and that instead such objects be referred to by the more accurate term “passive jamming device”. The employment of passive jamming devices to prevent the authorized reading of contactless chips that have been embedded in passports for reasons of national security is strictly prohibited.

  4. DHS,

    Of course, I as a loyal subj… I mean, citizen… would NEVER use such a perfidious device. But I wonder if those nasty terrorists might try… 😉

  5. If you tell ’em it’s “for the kids” they’ll have RFIDs implanted in their babies at birth.

  6. All small metal containers will also have RFIDs attached to them; that will solve the accidentally-left-your-ID-in-a-small-metal-container problem without any additional difficulty.

  7. This appears to be the product of the same brain-trust which claimed that a National ID card is not “national” nor “ID” nor “card”.

  8. It’s a good thing I have this tinfoil hat to use to craft an appropriate carrying case for my contactless chip.

    They’re already doing that in Mexico. It’s for the cops and the children.

  9. The term “RFID” is actually too narrow for many applications, since these chips can transmit information which isn’t an ID as such. But the change in branding likely has at least as much to do with public image as with technical accuracy.

  10. I’ve got your contactless ID right here.


    When I first encountered this link it was posted under the heading: Please tell me this is a joke.

  11. Contactless chips and RFID chips are different things. This is a distinction that has been made long before political types ever heard of it.

    They are based on similar technology in that they are both chips that are charged, queried, and respond using radio frequency (RF). While RFID does nothing more than bark out its little ID when it’s queried, contactless chips are full fledged computers with up to 72k of nonvolatile memory.

    RFID chips are write once, as I understand it. Contactless chips can be written and read indefinitely. Many support a command that tells the chip to physically burn the connection that allows additional writes.

    All are built with some form of access control for both reading and writing. Many are built with encryption coprocessors to handle more sophisticated access control. Java Cards actually have a java runtime based operating system that supports multiple application and data spaces. This allows some fairly sophisticated compartmentalization and various levels of security.

    One analogy would be that RFID is to contactless chip as hand calculator is to PC.



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