[Dave Birch] Contactless payment technology faces adoption hurdles caused by consumers (and, I might add journalists) misunderstanding the difference between radio frequency identification (RFID) and contactless smart cards. In fact

Confusion between the two technologies could eventually impede the potential growth of the both the RFID and contactless smart cards markets

says Michelle Foong, an industry analyst at consulting firm Frost & Sullivan. The confusion is causing many consumers to worry about security. And not only consumers, but also lawmakers. Out in California,
legislation to ban RFID is being considered in Sacramento that would ban the use of RFID, including high-security contactless smart cards, in many state government agencies and programs. While the intent is to protect the security and privacy of those who have personal information stored on RFID chips, many provisions in the bills are misguided and ultimately unnecessary. In fact, as the newspaper article correctly points out, if passed in current form the bills would stifle innovation hinder technology development instead of punishing bad behaviour. The source of the problem is of course misconceptions about the technology and its many applications. In particular (my hobby horse) the word “RFID” is used for every short-range wireless technology going yet it is not the “one size fits all” technology that some privacy advocates seem to think. There is a world of difference between a magnetic ink tattoo on a cow and an American Express Expresspay chip, yet they are somehow seen as being the same.

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As I pointed out some time ago on the Digital Money Forum blog, the use of “contactless” and “RFID” as interchangeable synonyms has caused a genuine problem here. Consumers — and, again, journalists — can get very confused about technology in general, but when it is technology that is related to identity and tracking (of, for example, cows), it can make for scare stories. Now I’m not for one moment suggesting that people oughtn’t to be concerned about security and privacy, since both of these are integral to a workable digital identity infrastructure, but we ought to be clear in discussion as to where the risks actually are. They’re not the CIA tracking Paypass cards from space.

But perhaps the truth is even more shocking and terrifying: not the CIA tracking your every move from space, but divorce lawyers tracking your every move from the courthouse. I love the language of the law: so noble and reassuring. Just listen to Jacalyn Barnett, a New York divorce lawyer, talking about the RFID E-ZPass system that is used for highway tolls in a number of states.

E-ZPass is an E-ZPass to go directly to divorce court, because it’s an easy way to show you took the off-ramp to adultery.

Fantastic. Anyway, it transpires that records that show which tolls an I-Pass user traveled through can be used against the driver in divorce court or criminal cases in Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Virginia (and in criminal cases only in Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Pennsylvania). The Illinois tollway authority received more than 30 subpoenas in the first half of this year, with about half coming from civil cases, including divorces. Some worry that using those records for purposes other than recording payments is a violation of drivers’ privacy.

When you’re marketed for this new convenience, you may not realize there are these types of costs

said Nicole Ozer of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. Bob Barr, a former Republican congressman from Georgia turned Libertarian and privacy rights advocate, said people who want to protect their privacy shouldn’t use electronic toll systems which is, frankly, pretty reasonable advice!

If you Indian, it may become more difficult to sneak off. At least if you live in Delhi, where the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) will implement a new rickshaw policy by this year end. In an bid to put an end to the rickshaw mafia, the civic agency has decided to grant a license to only the owner of rickshaws. Earlier, licenses were given under three categorises and more than one person could apply for a license for the same rickshaw. Under the new scheme, rickshaw-pullers will also get health insurance and a yearly health check-up. As per the policy, chips will be installed on rickshaws through which the MCD will keep a tab on rickshaw-pullers. It will enable MCD to get all data related to a particular rickshaw — name of the licensee, the period for which the license is issued and the particular zone from where it was issued — by the help of a scanner machine. One scanner machine will be provided in each zone. Apparently a tender will be floated soon for companies interested in working along side MCD and installing the chip in rickshaws: surely a stone wall case for RFID if ever I saw one.

These opinions are my own (I think) and are presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

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