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IBM Develops Technology To Ease RFID Privacy Fears

SAN FRANCISCO — Responding to RFID privacy concerns, IBM has developed a "clipped tag" technology, offering consumers the ability to tear or scratch off RFID antennae, eliminating the threat of an un-authorized reading of the tag.

According to Paul Moskowitz, a research scientist at IBM's Watson Research Center, some RFID tags with intact antennae can conceivably be read from up to 30 feet away. With RFID tags finding their way into more and more products, including pharmaceuticals, privacy advocates worry about the potential for RFID to compromise privacy.

Moskowitz said the EPCglobal Inc., which drives standards for the electronic product codes used with RFID, has created a standard that includes a "kill" command to make RFID tags inoperable altogether. But that action, once taken, cannot be reversed. This would present a problem when consumers return items to the store — the RFID tag could not be read at all.

With the clipped tag technology, though the antennae would be inoperable, the tag could still be read if held directly to an RFID reader, according to Moskowitz, who has 13 years of research experience in the area of RFID.

"What this process does is puts the choice of privacy in the hands of consumers," Moskowitz said. It provides visual evidence that the tags have been modified, important psychologically to those concerned about RFID privacy, but does not totally destroy the tag.

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