policy and technology development. By their doing so, the notion of “privacy” has become a more complex and nuanced issue and, arguably, no longer the proper name for all of the societal concerns subsumed under it. No matter which list of concerns over RFID technology is chosen, themes that arise repeatedly in the literature include privacy, trust, safety, security, fairness, accountability, accessibility, reliability, and informed consent.18 Another notion that has received little consideration is “publicity,” the flip side of privacy—the notion that emerging technologies, including RFID, be developed consistent with an obligation to contribute to the shared, public sphere. Incorporating publicity is another means, like that of widening stakeholder participation, to enhance public acceptance of and trust in systems.

In the discussion of social norms, privacy advocates seek to have protections built in so that consumers can control the exposure of their identities. But it is obvious that there are no absolute norms that can be applied in contemporary society, with its great diversity. Consider individuals willing to have an RFID chip implanted for purposes such as clubbing (a rice-sized chip embedded in the upper arm allows its wearer to jump entry queues, reserve a table, or pay for drinks).19 While some privacy advocates suggest that this type of use is undesirable over the long term, there are undoubtedly numerous closed-system contexts in which some people will wish to be “tagged.” In some cases, trust may be the result of a negotiation between the provider and the user of the technology. A technology or service provider’s reputation (regarding privacy, security, trustworthiness, and so on.) may become an important component of such negotiations.

Given the vast differences in individual preferences regarding privacy, along with a range of social norms, the establishment of public trust with respect to RFID technology will be a complicated, long-term undertaking. Indeed, it may be that trusted technology developers will hold a special corner on the market.20 If RFID systems are not designed, developed, and deployed with public trust in mind, privacy advocates may feel the need to resort to less restrained efforts—worst-case scenarios hold powerful sway in the public imagination. Moreover, because privacy for individuals is the most well-articulated societal implication of RFID, the technology may be skewed in this direction. That means that the collective benefits that RFID systems might enable—for instance, bringing down prices on consumer goods, improving security in response to terrorist threats, and enhancing health and education applications—could be secondary to individual privacy goals. Thus, it was argued at the workshop, the desirability of developing RFID systems with societal concerns in mind is clear, and developing means to do so will be an important strategy for all stakeholders as the technology moves forward.


One issue mentioned at the workshop does not seem to come up very frequently—the notion of environmental sustainability. A proposed 96-bit identity space would (conceptually) allow every person on the planet to have billions of billions of tags. Even though each tag is very small, numbers like this raise questions about reusability, reprogrammability, and recycling.


Duncan Graham-Rowe, 2004, “Clubbers Choose Chip Implants to Jump Queues,” New Scientist, May 21, available online at <http://www.newscientist.com/news/print.jsp?id=ns99995022>. See also Sherrie Gossett, 2004, “Paying for Drinks with Wave of the Hand,” WorldNet Daily, April 14, available online at <http://worldnetdaily.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=38038>, accessed December 14, 2004.


One suggested possibility is to start assigning trust ratings, like a Good Housekeeping Seal or an e-Bay “feedback score,” to RFID manufacturers, with high marks going to those that anonymize their data, demonstrate visibly that a tag is on, off, or killed, and so on.

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