RFID Dust for Tracking

Posted by Keith McMillan

March 13, 2008 | 2 Comments

The expanding use of RFID chips, and their ever-decreasing size, has led to what sounds like science fiction to me. A company called Nox Defense has created RFID tags so small that they are calling it “RFID dust”, and saying these tags can be scattered on the ground and then, per the original article on HelpNet:

People pick up the ID-Dust on their shoes, which covert RFID readers track, triggering video surveillance and alerting security personnel on hand-held devices. The Nox software creates a complete history of exactly where the person travels and when, and combines a facility map with real-time video surveillance.

It’s pretty incredible to me that we can now make these chips so small that they are 1) unnoticable and 2) small enough to stick to your shoes yet still have the ability to transmit radio signals any significant distance. Add to that doing so with any sort of encryption, which they also claim. I’d say it sounds like witchcraft, but the world moves on, and perhaps it’s true.

Years ago, Xerox developed active badges that would track your presence in the PARC as you moved around. Doors would unlock for you as you approached if you had access. The phones were also hooked into the system: if the phone rang, it was for someone in the room at the time.

So what’s the point of that story? The employees at Xerox were aware that they were being tracked, and being the type of people who worked at PARC, they had in some sense signed up for that sort of treatment. But even Xerox didn’t track you in the bathroom.

The creation of RFID tags that are now embedded in passports, computer equipment, and now even small enough to be scattered on the ground is enabling a culture of surveillance that’s deeply troubling to me. I don’t have enough faith left to believe that people won’t abuse that power, and the continuing abuse of National Surveillance Letters doesn’t do much to convince me that I’m being overly suspicious.

I don’t dispute that employers should be able to protect their equipment, that they should put up with employees stealing from them. This leaves me conflicted: I don’t support theft, I don’t support a culture of surveillance either. There has to be a way to balance these things out, but it’s gonna take someone smarter than me.


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Comment by Daniel Markham
2008-03-15 10:01:16

Yeah — smarter than you and me both.

I’m very concerned what kind of world we are building, but like you, it beats me how you stop progress so that we can all take a breath and think these things through. In fact, it would probably be immoral to do so. Geesh. Tough stuff!

It’s interesting to notice that it used to be in places like science fiction we would ask these questions. Now we are living them.

Things _do_ change, don’t they?

Comment by michaela
2008-04-13 08:42:05

It would be an interesting addition to fighting crime.

For example, spread this dust in a store if you suspect after-hours theft. you’d need to have a way to sweep it up before the store opens to avoid contaminating the crime-scene.

You could chip Huber inmates to ensure that they comply with their work restrictions.

But, i agree, once you take steps in this direction, any illusion of freedom in our society is completely gone. If it isn’t already.

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