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And They Shall Know You By Your Books 357

Posted by timothy
from the don't-like-the-books-of-that-one dept.
Val42K writes "People have been concerned about provisions of the Patriot Act that would grant law enforcement access to your library records. Now libraries are considering placing RFID tags into books instead of barcodes. The RFID tags will (supposedly) be turned off when you check out of the library, but could they be turned back on? What about the possibility of you being located and tracked by the books that you carry?"
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And They Shall Know You By Your Books

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  • RFID is inevitable (Score:5, Insightful)

    by seanadams.com (463190) * on Sunday October 05, 2003 @04:20PM (#7139053) Homepage
    I didn't realize RFID tags could be turned off. Are they not basically passive "reflectors", powered by the scanner's signal?

    Anyway - from a privacy perspective there is much to fear about how RFID will be misued. However, as a geek I can not overlook the incredible myriad of practical uses for them. To be pragmatic about it, I'm quite sure that such uses will override the privacy concerns in the long run, just as credit cards have done to cash, for example. The best we can do, I think, is to push for sane privacy legislation like we don't have for banking.

    I mean, how cool would it be if you ran a restaurant, for example, and you never had to keep track of what food to order? Your garbage can would just detect that your chef had thrown a tomato can, and add a new can of tomatoes to the next delivery. I can think of a thousand practical uses for RFID and I suggest that any geek with foresight should be thinking not about how to stop RFID, but how to protect our privacy in a world which will inevitably be filled with billions of the little things.
    • If I ran a resteraunt, I would only use fresh tomatoes. How would you track that? Genetic RFID tags?
    • by Zocalo (252965) on Sunday October 05, 2003 @04:37PM (#7139173) Homepage
      Exactly the way I look at it; RFID tags are just *so* cool from a practical standpoint they are simply inevitable. You say that you could think of a thousand practical uses for RFID, and while I know that's a figure of speech, if push came to shove you probably *could* think of a thousand uses. Maybe not a million though. ;)

      These things get their power through inductance, do they not? So what's wrong with, say, using a small amount of inducted power to read the data they contain, but a larget amount will induce enough power to pop an incorporated fuse? I'm sure the tinfoil hat brigade will have their doubts, but for these things to be useful, they've got to be able to transmit, and that means they can be detected.

      Trying to get the things banned outright seems a bit like trying to prevent the sun from rising in the morning. Lobbying for a requirement that the things contain a permanent off switch however might stand a chance of success, and then we get the best of both worlds for a change.

      • by Tau Zero (75868) on Sunday October 05, 2003 @05:08PM (#7139375) Journal
        These things get their power through inductance, do they not? So what's wrong with, say, using a small amount of inducted power to read the data they contain, but a larget amount will induce enough power to pop an incorporated fuse?
        That's fine if the tag is part of something that belongs to you. What do you do if the tag is part of something that belongs to the library? Are you going to "pop" the tag (with what?) before you walk out the door with the book, and then pay the library to re-enter the book in their inventory (which is probably indexed by the tag ID number) when you return it?

        Aye, there's the rub.

        • If it's something you are loaning, a library book, DVD, car or whatever, then no, you wouldn't zap the RFID. Why would you want to when your privacy is far more likely to be compromised by some script kiddie breaking into the computer that stores the loan information than someone getting within a few meters of you with a RFID scanner? The only additional thing that the library gets out of RFID tags is convenience, which to an extent, you share in when you loan the book. They can still have a computer tha
    • by jjshoe (410772)
      There are two types of rfid tags, passive and active. Active tags can be read from quite a range. Passive tags, which is what the library range would mostly likely use, are simply an antenna that pics up a certain frequency which goes through the antenna and reports back its unique number to the reader. I completely agree with you view on the use of rfid. Infact my work uses networked rfid readers and electric door strikes to control access to buildings. there are so many good uses for rfid that we should s
      • In my mind only pops up the word DOS!! Jam their frequencies and they are f...ed.
      • by drinkypoo (153816)
        I'm not against the existence of RFID. I am against the widespread unannounced distribution of RFID, without education of consumers as to what it could mean. I don't feel the government necessarily has a responsibility to tell everyone just what data they are collecting, but I do feel that if they don't do that, they have a responsibility to explain to all of us what they could be doing. After all, they're our government, right? Either tell us everything, or at least make the game fair :)

        Our own governmen

    • There was a fascinating program about RFID this evening on Radio 4, available on the web here [bbc.co.uk].

      works fine with mplayer, as well..

      $ mplayer rtsp://rmv8.bbc.net.uk/radio4/news/inbusiness/inbu siness.ra
    • by H310iSe (249662)
      I'm pretty sure you're right, they can't be turned off, without, as one poster suggested, destroying the tag (not sure that's even possible in a real-world situation). I looked into them for a project but was dissapointed in the read range (which is good news for privacy concerns) and the readers are still pretty expensive. If anyone knows about turning rfid tags on and off please post? I'm sure many people would be interested.
    • " I didn't realize RFID tags could be turned off. Are they not basically passive "reflectors", powered by the scanner's signal?"

      There's no reason you can't put information on the carrier to given the RFID command instructions. It would be nice if the started using cryptography on the chips so that the owner of the chip is the only one who could command it. In this case, the library is the only one who can turn on and off the RFID transmitter, thereby eliminating the privacy threat.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I mean, how cool would it be if you ran a restaurant, for example, and you never had to keep track of what food to order? Your garbage can would just detect that your chef had thrown a tomato can, and add a new can of tomatoes to the next delivery.

      Sadly, that day is way off. Not because of any technology issue but a social one. I work at a gourmet food distributor, less that 30% of the chefs we support (internationally) even have e-mail yet. A company not too long ago tried putting PCs with DSL etc... int
    • by LiberalApplication (570878) on Sunday October 05, 2003 @06:02PM (#7139732)
      ...because the same way your garbage can could keep track of what you're tossing out, someone else could walk by your place on trash-pick-up-day and discern from all of the RFID tags in your waste that you lare likely elderly (tags present for hearing aid batteries and Metamucil), have a cold (tags present for Tylenol Flu and Cold), have a really severe cold (tags present for four boxes of Kleenex), own decent stereo equipment (tags present from packaging for monster audio patch cables and old issues of Hi-Fi magazines), a small dog (tags present for Purina Small Dog Chow), have a visiting infant (tags present for Pampers), and isn't the fact that this information would be available not only in your trash, but on your own body as you're walking around, isn't that the least bit scary to anyone else?
      • by commodoresloat (172735) on Sunday October 05, 2003 @06:42PM (#7139962)
        Anybody that wants the above information can find it out by knocking on the door on some pretense and taking a quick peek inside. This whole thing is silly. If I wanted to track someone after they left the library I would follow them home. They're likely to leave the book at home anyway, or wherever else they read it, so it's hardly a useful tracking device. I suppose there might be something to worry about if every book was also implanted with a GPS transmitter or something.... Even then it's pretty laughable... two Homeland Security employees staring at a large screen in the war room ... "Look, over here, Bob. See that red dot? An unusual concentration of Kafka, Kierkegaard, and Kropotkin. You know what that means?" "Ummm, potential existentialist radical?" "No -- he's in the KKK! Get it? Hahaha I crack myself up. No really, though, let's have him interrogated just for the fuck of it."
        • You're right. (Score:3, Interesting)

          ...but I think I still have a point. Sure, the same could be done with a little effort and devotion and surveillance, and whatnot, but the fact that it will become exponentially easier to carry out these tasks is what bugs me. Sure, there are all sorts of criminals (and government agencies) who will take the time to sift through your refuse and follow you around, but if Ron Popeil were to release over television infomercials a Ronco Scanomatic, then any Joe who would otherwise be too lazy and stupid to be
  • Barcodes are lame (Score:3, Interesting)

    by v13inc (698324) on Sunday October 05, 2003 @04:21PM (#7139061)
    RFIDs wouldnt be bad. If they threw one in your library card too, that would be good. You could then just grab your books, and walk out the doors, with it automatically being thrown on your card.
    • RFIDs wouldnt be bad. If they threw one in your library card too, that would be good. You could then just grab your books, and walk out the doors, with it automatically being thrown on your card.

      That would be really comfortable. But don't forget: the Deathstar increases the intensity-level of its torture-ray every day you are late with returning the book. Better hurry up with this last chapter, or otherwise you won't breed.
    • Re:Barcodes are lame (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ewithrow (409712)
      My library is heading in this direction. They don't have RFID but they do have public scanners by the doors where you scan your card then your books and walk out. It works much like the self checkout lines at king soopers, only faster.

      Their website is great too. Just enter your card number and name and it will show you which books are checkout out and when they are due, and you can push a button to automatically renew every one for another 2 weeks. It sure beats taking a trip down to the library becaus
    • Yes. I will do so but first I will wrap them in aluminium foil and put them in my bag. That way I will never be late bringing the books back. ;)
  • The library here in San Francisco is considering doing just that. The point was made that privacy really depends on how they do the RFID tags: do they contain only the ISBN code or do they contain a serial number? Of course, any library could switch from the ISBN system to a serial number system at the bequest of Ashcroft and his thugs.
    • by YouHaveSnail (202852) on Sunday October 05, 2003 @04:39PM (#7139190)
      Seems to me that a serial number would actually be better in terms of securing your privacy. If the RFID sends back an ISBN, any knucklehead with a scanner can tell what books you've got in your bag. If it sends back a serial number, then they need access to the library's database in order to map serial numbers to titles. At least with serial numbers, you have some chance at privacy so long as the libary does the right thing in terms of protecting the database.
      • You're thinking about this wrong. They don't need to identify that the rfid belongs to a book; they need to identify that the rfid is attached to you. If the rfid is unique, then a match from that rfid number anywhere can only be you (or the object that they assume tracks you.) If it is non-unique, then they have to expend additional effort to discard matches which could not possibly be you. ISBN is the same for all copies of that printing, but if they scan you leaving the library, and take a picture, they
      • by Klaruz (734) on Sunday October 05, 2003 @05:08PM (#7139377)
        At least with serial numbers, you have some chance at privacy so long as the libary does the right thing in terms of protecting the database.

        Thanks to the patriot act, it's easy for authorities to get your library records. It's also illegal for the librarians to tell you they took your records, or that the authorities were even asking for records in general.

        Welcome to the new America.
    • Of course, any library could switch from the ISBN system to a serial number system at the bequest of Ashcroft and his thugs.

      This is complete FUD and a cheap shot. There's nothing in the Patriot act that would anyone to turn on any kind of system like that on the library as a whole.

      If there is, by all means, point it out.

    • I haven't seen any microwave comments yet... so hear I go:

      Just slap the books in the microwave for a few seconds. The energy carried by microwaves is very powerful - more than enough to destroy any electronics. It will induce a charge in the circuits that shorts them out - why do you think putting metal in a microwave is bad?

      On a side note, you can remove the front cover of a microwave than use it as a electronics-destroying machine....

      -Colin
  • by cscx (541332) on Sunday October 05, 2003 @04:23PM (#7139079) Homepage
    Oh yeah, black helicopters!

    Seriously, Slashdot seems to have no problem stifling technology when it gives rise to insane, improbable conspiracy theories.
    • Well, on the other hand we do have a strong libertarian minded audience. The Patriot Act gives the government power to strip citizenship based on the Attourney General's whims, and hold secret trials where one can't face the accuser. Honestly, a healthy bit of skepticism is important, and if the government signs a law that sucks, I at least am concerned with any kind of technology that can be used in scary ways given the fact that this kind of McCarthyism actually is going on.

      • The Patriot Act gives the government power to strip citizenship based on the Attourney General's whims, and hold secret trials where one can't face the accuser.

        This sounds like complete FUD to me, because in looking in the Patriot Act itself, I can't seem to find it. Sounds like you've been listening to other people's idea of what it is, rather than getting the facts for yourself.

        http://www.epic.org/privacy/terrorism/hr3162.htm l
  • Well (Score:3, Funny)

    by Eudial (590661) on Sunday October 05, 2003 @04:24PM (#7139086)
    Why won't they just attatch a big sign saying "Hey! My name is foo bar, i'm working at foo doing bar, my homephone is +0160003960132, my political oppinions are foobar" to your back?
  • A book to read: (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JessLeah (625838) on Sunday October 05, 2003 @04:25PM (#7139094)
    Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.
  • Alternatives... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ikari Gendou (93109) on Sunday October 05, 2003 @04:26PM (#7139104)
    • Read the book at the library
    • Photocopy the pages requires
    • Get someone *else* to check the book out for you
    • If it's recent enough, order/buy the book at a bookstore, use cash.
    Any other suggestions?
  • Complete nonsense (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 05, 2003 @04:26PM (#7139107)
    The idea that your RFID tag can be tracked and monitored over a great distance is complete nonsense. The guy who submitted this needs to get a refund on that tinfoil hat of his.

    Nothing like a really dumb conspiracy theory to hold back progress. People, these tags are readable up to a few inches. Maybe a foot at most. They are nothing but glorified bar codes. Good for tracking inventory at most.

    Do you use credit? Do you have a license? SIN? Bank card? Trust me, you have more things to worry about being tracked by than your stupid library purchases.

    • Re:Complete nonsense (Score:2, Interesting)

      by drinkypoo (153816)
      It is not necessary to track you over a great distance. All they have to do is put the scanners nearly everywhere. First they'll install them in the doorways of every building the federal government is involved with. That means every train and train station, bus and bus station (bus stop!), gun store, public utility office, government office, garbage dump, freeway emergency phone. Then they'll install them everywhere else - payphones, commonly-traversed areas of streets starting with those with the most foo
      • It is not necessary to track you over a great distance. All they have to do is put the scanners nearly everywhere. First they'll install them in the doorways of every building the federal government is involved with. That means every train and train station, bus and bus station (bus stop!), gun store, public utility office, government office, garbage dump, freeway emergency phone.
        Most of those things you list are not managed or handled by the federal government at all.

        Then they'll install them everywher
        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Most of those things you list are not managed or handled by the federal government at all.

          But most of them receive some federal funding, so it seems to me that they have some say on what is installed where. Or, they are federally regulated; same thing.

          Way too expensive. Tracking you simply by the forms you fill out is cheaper and eaiser.

          That is much slower than realtime. At least it involves some lag behind you.

          You clearly have no clue about how this works. Even if the transmitter was made

    • People, these tags are readable up to a few inches. Maybe a foot at most. They are nothing but glorified bar codes. Good for tracking inventory at most.

      That's not entirely correct. Depending on the design of the RFID and the sensitivity of the receiver, they can be read from a few meters away. But certainly you wouldn't need to worry about someone driving by your home and reading your RFIDs... the key component of RFID's economic feasibility is that they're passive. Which gives the power-curve law a
      • by gidds (56397) <slashdot@@@gidds...me...uk> on Sunday October 05, 2003 @05:38PM (#7139573) Homepage
        Which gives the power-curve law a whole new spin; power doesn't drop as the square of the distance, but as the square of double the distance

        I hate to spoil such a powerful bit of writing with some mundane maths, but there's no difference between the two. If one quantity is inversely proportional to the square of another, then it's also inversely proportional to the square of any multiple of that other; the only effect is to change the constant of proportionality.

        Of course, neither is terribly friendly to a technological implementation, but the wide spread of mobile phones (especially here in the UK) shows that such problems aren't insurmountable.

    • The idea that your RFID tag can be tracked and monitored over a great distance is complete nonsense. The guy who submitted this needs to get a refund on that tinfoil hat of his. Nothing like a really dumb conspiracy theory to hold back progress. People, these tags are readable up to a few inches. Maybe a foot at most. They are nothing but glorified bar codes. Good for tracking inventory at most.

      The RF radiation is hardly "undetectable" more than a foot away. While the range of inductive systems is def
  • Range (Score:4, Informative)

    by CaptBubba (696284) on Sunday October 05, 2003 @04:26PM (#7139109)
    The range of RFID tags is not long enough to make tracking you by them possible.

    This will just make checking out books a bit easier. Walk through the RFID scanner, swipe you library card, and walk out. The "man" can track your book useage by your library card anyway.

    Also, every library I've been in has had those theft prevention devices that beep like crazy if you pass one of the books through them. This could make it a bit easier for the library to figure out just what book got taken.

    This seems like an actual good use for RFID. It should be carefully eyed, but not just dismissed because RFID is somehow involved.

    • Re:Range (Score:2, Informative)

      by 7*6 (258602)
      In fact, most library tags have very early generation RFID tags in them. basically there's only one switch inside them (one = not checked, zero = checked out).

      You mentioned that there really isn't much of a range on RFID tags, and this is very true. the infrastructure that would be needed to effectively "track" someone using a library book tag would be MASSIVE. first of all, long range readers are hugely expensive, and often require active tags which can cost $5 to who knows what each (an probably only
  • I fail to see (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nuclear305 (674185) on Sunday October 05, 2003 @04:28PM (#7139114)
    the big deal behind these things. What exactly are people doing that they are so paranoid that people are watching/tracking them? If you're just another regular Joe who is going to take the time to abuse this technology and use it against you?

    If you've attracted enough attention to yourself that someone is trying to track/stalk/gather information about you...chances are they'll do it any way they can and not say "Oh poo, I wish I could use RFID tags against this person!" and give up.
    • What exactly are people doing that they are so paranoid that people are watching/tracking them? If you're just another regular Joe who is going to take the time to abuse this technology and use it against you?

      The same thing could be said about generalized, anytime, anywhere, wiretapping.
      If you're not doing anything, you have nothing to worry about.

      BS. It's nunya dam bidness what books I check out, or whom I have a telephone conversation with.

      With these things, it just makes it easier to monitor who
    • > What exactly are people doing that they are so
      > paranoid that people are watching/tracking them?

      We aren't the paranoid ones: that's Ashcroft & Co. These are the bunglers who ban anyone whose name matches a "terrorist" Soundex pattern from flying. The next step might be to ban anyone engaging in such "terroristic activities" as checking out certain books.
  • Hmm.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by adeyadey (678765) on Sunday October 05, 2003 @04:28PM (#7139121) Journal
    Better return that copy of 1984 I took out the other day. Now wheres that bottle of Victory Gin I had?
  • Tinfoil (Score:5, Informative)

    by motyl (4452) on Sunday October 05, 2003 @04:29PM (#7139125)
    Simply pack the books you borrow into tinfoil, or an aluminium case. It is really very easy to cut radio waves around small objects.

    You could just shield the inside of your bag with any metal foil.
  • A lot of libraries do something like this already - at the University that I attended, and the one that I now work at, they just slide the book past some sort of detector to check it in/out. And of course there are detectors by the exits to check if you're trying to steal books. Irritatingly it's set off by books from my local public library as well, which is a bit of a bugger when you're carrying books from one and trying to leave the other.

    The obvious difference here is that there will allegedly soon be

    • They're like the things that stores use. I believe they're just magnetic strips of some kind (I've pulled a few apart and not been able to find any electronics in them). The 'detector' just de-magnetises the strip.
  • by mistermund (605799) on Sunday October 05, 2003 @04:38PM (#7139174)
    I've been researching RFID quite a bit in the past few days - we're planning to use it for an application to greet visitors in our building. The problem is that so called "passsive" tags (without batteries, powered by RF from the antenna) have a maximum range of 1.5 to 2 meters - and that's with the big gate type antennas used for most store theft prevention.

    Active RFID contains a battery and can be tracked much further away, from 6 to 100ft, but it's impractical b/c the tags are expensive ($10+) and somewhat large. Many automated toll collection systems use active RFID.

    Also, not all RFID systems are compatible. So unless the guv'mnt decides to install those big gate antennas all over your local neighborhood, this whole passive RFID paranoia is mainly just FUD.
    • >unless the guv'mnt decides to install those big gate antennas all over your local neighborhood,

      Post Offices first, because mumble, anti-terrorism, antrax mutter. Then banks, because blah critical infrastructure waffle war on drugs something. Then mall entrances, because, well, we damn well can. We can stop there, because anyone that doesn't get snared by those at least once a week probably lives with their sister-momma in a shack in the bayou, and the Feds can pretty much whack them whenever they [totse.com]

  • I think that the poster makes a misconnection regarding the new privileges in the patriot act (as much as I hate it) and this theory about book spying. The library record clause of the patriot act is scary in and of itself, and as far as I'm concerned, provides much more to be worried about than this new issue because it gives the government a much easier way of quickly determining "terrorist sudpects" (why clandestinly scan the books in people's hands as they walk out the library door or as they're hangin
  • by SenatorTreason (640653) <senatortreason@nOspAM.gmail.com> on Sunday October 05, 2003 @04:43PM (#7139215)
    Sheesh. Now I have to microwave my library books as well? I wonder if they'll mind the books coming back smelling like hot dogs?
    StopRFID FAQ [stoprfid.org]
  • if tracking by rfid will save me on $40 late fees, i'm cool
  • by mblase (200735) on Sunday October 05, 2003 @04:44PM (#7139227)
    Date: the not-so-distant future
    Time: 9:37 PM
    Location: Chicago, unspecified subway stop

    A student gets off the train onto a semi-darkened platform, the only one there. He checks his watch, tries not to panic. He needs to get back to his apartment, and fast. He has a term paper to write and only thirty-three hours left to do it.

    As he heads for the revolving gate, he's blocked by a stranger in a dark suit, dark glasses, and a hat. The hat obscures whatever features the glasses leave visible. He speaks. His tone tells the student that he is very, very serious about what he has to say.

    "Roger Thomas Richardson." The stranger adjusts his posture, hands in his pockets, features still obscured. "Age twenty-two, unmarried. Profession: university student. Major: Far Eastern religion. GPA: 3.8 and dropping, but your advisor believes you have a chance to change that." He pauses, takes a slow breath. "Am I correct?"

    "Who... who are you?" says Roger, trying badly to hold his ground. "What do you want from me?"

    "What do I want?" The stranger takes a piece of folded paper from his pocket, unfolds it, makes a gesture of reading it. "I want a book, Mister Richardson. Specifically the book A Contemporary Analysis of World Religions by Chang A. Yin, ISBN number 079236139X, published 1982. Copy number one of one held by the Chicago Public Library." He refolded the paper, stuck it back in his pocket, straightened his coat. "You're overdue, Mister Richardson."

    "What? I... I thought I had three weeks... I called, they said...."

    "You called to renew, Mister Richardson, but you have been denied that renewal. There is another student in your class who needs that book just as badly as you do. More badly, in fact. If he does not complete his paper in time with a spectacular passing grade, there are...certain people who will be very disappointed. Very disappointed indeed, Mister Richardson."

    The stranger reached inside his coat, took something from the breast pocket. It was a pair of scissors. They gleamed in the fluorescent lights of the subway. Two men, unheard, grabbed Richard's arms from behind and twisted them around his back. Richard could feel his shoulder try to dislocate under the pressure. He winced, tried not to scream in pain, and failed.

    "We want that book now, Mister Richardson. We know you have it on you. And when we have the book, we want you to give us..." he snipped the scissors once, the metallic snip echoing again and again down the subway tunnels. He grinned, and his perfect white teeth were reflected perfectly for Richard in the blades of the scissors.

    "...we want your library card."
  • by Disco Stew (703497) on Sunday October 05, 2003 @04:49PM (#7139258)

    SELECT RFID FROM tLibrary WHERE Gender = 'Female' AND Married = 0 AND BookCat = 'RomanceNovels'

    Address = GetGPSLoc(RFID)

    "Well hello there, lonely lady. My name is Quagmire. He Heh, Alllll right!"

  • RMS wrote about something similar [stallman.org] last year.

    Now, if you excuse me, I'll have to go buy a copy of Catcher in the rye...
  • Borrow the books and scan them and take them right back. They can't RFID a jpeg in my laptop.
  • Probably I would not be able to take from library the book "How to build a nuke in your garage in 2 hours" withouth having the FBI allover me.
  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday October 05, 2003 @05:07PM (#7139373) Homepage
    Once saw a student at Stanford go charging out of the library through a turnstile, unaware that the turnstile was connected to the uncharged-book detector. The turnstile locked and he was bent double over the turnstile bar.
  • This isn't that big a privacy issue. A library needs to identify individual copies of a book, not just title information. If a library system has three branches and each branch has a copy of a book, the library needs to know that the copy from branch A was checked out but that branches B and C still have copies on-shelf. If the RFID returned something like an ISBN, that wouldn't be possible since the ISBN is tied to the title and edition, but not the specific copy.

    Right now, there are dozens of major sy
    • Not quite. Most RFID tags I've worked with have a unique hardware ID encoded in them. If you need to track individual items seperately, the easy way is to just use that hardware ID and tie it to the item's record via an ID-code column in the database.

      Also, if the government was interested in tracking someone via this, the first thing they'd subpoena would be the library's patron record and database of tag-to-title information. Once they have that they can find which tags belong to the books you currently h

  • My local library (Colchester, UK) is already doing this. To check out books, I now have to place the books on the counter and swipe my library card through the computer. The titles of the books pop up on the screen, a recipt is printed and then I can go. My only concern is that someone (government, police) could set up a scanner elswhere to scan for "dangerous" books such as "Why people hate America."

    I bought a second hand book from them recently. The first thing I did was rip out the label from the ba
  • You have been found guilty of reading Forbidden Book #8143. Please remain seated and put down any objects you may have in your hands. An enforcement team will arrive to arrest you shortly.

  • RFID? Cool! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Madcapjack (635982) on Sunday October 05, 2003 @05:44PM (#7139616)
    So, everyone is worried about privacy. I am too. But maybe, just maybe the real solution is not to secure privacy, but to completely eliminate privacy from the top to the bottom. No privacy for me. No privacy for you. And no privacy for Bush either. No privacy for CEO's, secretaries, geeks, diplomats, even private detectives. Not for the cops, certainly, and not for the FBI either. Its all there for everyone to see, anytime. So, if they can track my reading habits, I sure as hell should be able to track theirs. Just maybe it would work. Sounds crazy, but maybe. What scares me about privacy violations is not so much that my privacy is violated, but that the footing between me and the snoop are not equal...that they have power and authority to spy on me, but I do not have the power and authority to spy on them.
  • Didnt Ray Bradbury right a book about this?
  • by annielaurie (257735) <annekmadison&hotmail,com> on Sunday October 05, 2003 @06:40PM (#7139946) Journal
    I use something called an EZ-Pass, a device that lets me drive on toll roads in the Middle Atlantic, debiting a pre-paid account. It's cheap, convenient, and I don't have to experience panic each time I approach an exact-change lane. I had the interesting experience a year ago of using it to drive all the way from Maryland to the Peace Bridge between Buffalo and Canada; never had to shell out a dime, and each toll was about half the posted price. Most places have dedicated lanes, too.

    Yeah. I know they could use it to track me. They could somehow link it back to my bank account. They could probably even watch and bust me for speeding.

    My brother in law thinks I'm crazy to allow one of these devices of the Devil into my automobile. He no longer uses his home computer because he's convinced that his ISP (Verizon) has nothing better to do than to track his every move online. He pays cash for all but the largest purchases, won't use an affinity card for his groceries, and doesn't visit ATM's (jeeze, remember standing in line at the bank to get a check cashed?). He has no spare or leisure time because the very housekeeping of life takes him twice or three times as long as it does the rest of us. He makes my particular life miserable on every visit because I merrily use credit cards, ATM's, discount cards, an EZ-Pass, and my computer.

    Yeah, I could probably have lots more privacy than I do. But you know what? Life's short. There are big things to worry about and there are little things. Worry about too many of the little things and you become as miserable as my brother in law. For some reason, I place sneaky library books squarely in the "don't sweat this" category. At least for now.

    Anne

    • I use something called an EZ-Pass,...Yeah. I know they could use it to track me. They could somehow link it back to my bank account.

      As a general rule I don't worry as much about the government. If the government is out to get me, I'm boned.

      However, consider the ramifications of an individual out to get you. If the government has the information, you have to consider that a dirty government agent might sell it [slashdot.org]

      Of course, who might attack you? Now, maybe you live the boring life and have no potential e

      • Freedom to read is an essential element for democracy. To ensure that everyone has this freedom, we have public libraries to help ensure that everyone, no matter how poor, can learn on their own. To really have freedom to read, you need freedom to read anonymously. If you're afraid of the ramifications of reading something, you are effectively censoring it. Another wave of McCarthyism might drum up another irrational wave of hatred of communism. Suddenly a list of who has checked out and read Karl Marx's bo
  • by Whiskey Jack (167243) on Sunday October 05, 2003 @07:06PM (#7140081) Homepage
    If you'd like to discard some of the paranoia now, Librarians are probably geeks best friends when it comes to championing personal liberty, privacy and free speech.

    The ALA didn't simply back down at the records seizure provisions in the PATRIOT act, they have fought it every way they can: from petitioning local congressional reps, to finding technological solutions to the privacy issues raised.

    Hell, one library here in Iowa has a sign by the circulation desk that says "The FBI has not been here today." (The PATRIOT act says they cannot tell you that the FBI has visited a library asking for circulation records. It does not, however, say that the library is prohibited from saying the FBI hasn't been there.) If government agents ever do visit, the sign will disappear.
  • by akmolloy (686919) on Sunday October 05, 2003 @07:06PM (#7140083)
    We've been using RFID tags at the University of Connecticut Library for the past year. It's more of a theft deterrent than anything else right now, but has the potential for much more.

    At the exit station, patrons must walk through a barrier that reads the RFID tag, and looks up the tag in the database of all books currently checked out. If it fails the test, an alarm sounds (and the little exit bar locks)and the patron is asked if they might have something in their bag that they forgot to check out.

    The greatest thing about these is the ability to do inventory of a huge amount of books at one using a portable wand/PDA type device. You can rpogram it to beep when a book is found, etc.

    Anyway... the RFID tags are not "turned off" at all, and this is not even an option on the types of tags we buy to put in the books. It seems rather silly to me that anyone would even be worried about it. So what if someone "reads" the tag as you walk by on the street? It's just a sequence of numbers that means nothing to anyone but the Library.

  • RFID 101 (Score:3, Informative)

    by john.r.strohm (586791) on Sunday October 05, 2003 @07:29PM (#7140210)
    Sometimes, people panic when there is no reason to do so.

    Background: Texas Instruments invented RFID tags, as TIRIS (Texas Instruments RF Identification System, or some such). I was working at TI at the time, and TI is *VERY* good about blowing their own horn internally on new unclassified gadgets, in the hopes that other TIers will come up with interesting new applications for the new gadgets.

    The RFID transponder is a fairly clever device. You put in a fairly strong low-frequency RF field, and it rectifies enough power from the field to power a very limited microcontroller and transmitter, just enough to transmit a unique serial number that is burned into the transponder at manufacture time.

    The transponder has a VERY limited range, because of the power limitations.

    The serial number is NOT customer-programmable, for very good reasons. This lets them guarantee that every transponder is UNIQUE, and makes it IMPOSSIBLE to confuse your car keys with someone's missing prize bull when you go to the rodeo.

    The transponder has NO intelligence, beyond the ability to squeak out the burned-in serial number when it finds itself in a power field. That's it. The host computer has to convert that serial number into something useful.

    The specific design goal was for something that could be read WITHOUT CONTACT, as it walked (or drove) past a sensing point. The original goal was an implantable device, for livestock ID. One of the early applications was a drive-by tolltag.

    The only way you are going to be tracked in real-time by your RFID-equipped library books is if the government literally blankets the country in tolltag gates.
  • by riptalon (595997) on Sunday October 05, 2003 @08:29PM (#7140489)

    RFID tags only have a range of a few inches to a foot
    In fact companies have announced passive RFID tags with advertised ranges of 9 meters [commerce.net] or more. Active tags can have ranges of miles. The very first RFID tags had very short ranges but the technology has improved and will no doubt continue to improve. The greater the range the more useful tags are (and the fewer recievers you need), even if they are not being used for surveilence. It is therefore highly likely that RFIDs will become even more surveilence friendly as time goes by. Directional receivers specially constructed for surveilence (similar to parabolic microphones) could no doubt increase the range at which tags could be scanned by at least an order of magnitude.

    RFID tags are fundamentally no different from barcodes
    RFID tags can be invisible and impossible to remove from a product. Barcodes by definition have to be visible and even if they are integeral to a product can covered or scratched out. Barcodes need a clear line of sight to work whereas RFIDs can work though significant amounts of covering depending on the material. It is impossible to use barcodes to track people in any meaningfully way (unless you force everyone to have one tatooed on their forehead), but RFIDs can make such tracking trivially easy and totally invisible.

    Surveilence using RFIDs will be too expensive and difficult
    If RFIDs are widely deployed then the receivers will have to be cheap. If every shop is going to have may of them, like they now have barcode reader, then they are not going to be extortionally expensive. Economies of scale mean that the police will be able to afford large numbers of receivers. It is also the case that you do not need to cover even a small fraction of a country to make surveilence work. All you need to do is place receivers at strategic high volume choke points where large numbers people pass by (entrances to buildings, traffic intersections etc.). Also the usefulness of handheld receivers, especially in crowds, cannot be underplayed.

    People exchanging tagged items will make surveilence impossible
    This is only true if very few (presumably expensive) items are tagged and so the average person only carries one or two tags around with them. Once RFIDs are unbiquitous most people will have a dozen or more tags on them so it will not matter if you bought your PDA on ebay or your shoes were a gift from you cousin. The majority of the tags will be traceable to you. If fact at this point this effect becomes a positive advantage surveilencewise, since it will make it possible to track associations between people without seeing them meet. If you are carrying a cheap ball point pen that was bought by someone living twenty miles from you then there is a high probabilty that you know each other (or have a mutual friend).

    Tags will really come into their own once they are are in a large fraction of products. At this point most people will have at least a dozen tags on them most of the time and the majority of these tags will be traceable to them through the initial purchase. In fact even if such purchase records were not kept (which they certainly will be) or the government didn't have access to them (which seems unlikely given the present climate) it wouldn't really matter.

    RFIDs are like having a dozen or so unique ID numbers stamped on you as you walk around. The numbers may vary as you swap clothes, shoes, and items like pens, wallets, PDAs, keyrings etc., but all that is needed is one instance where they scan all your RFIDs and know who you are. Such situations might include security checks at airports, being stopped by the police or any number of other situations.

    Once the govenment has a list of RFIDs you were carrying at one particular time it will be trivial to correlate that against previous scans of unknown individuals to work out all the RFIDs that you routinely carry arou

  • by waldoj (8229) * <waldoNO@SPAMjaquith.org> on Sunday October 05, 2003 @09:03PM (#7140675) Homepage Journal
    Remember that many librarians are hard-core civil libertarians. The ALA should be every geek's new best friend. Having served on a library board, I can tell you that most libraries as entities are quite concerned about privacy issues, doing all that they can to ensure that patrons leave as short of a data trail as is possible. (That is, they don't retain records of books that people have checked out [once they're returned], schedule their data backup system such that the trail of patron data is as short as possible, etc.)

    As both a geek/privacy nut and a library advocate, I am excited at the prospect of library books using RFID tags. The benefits to libraries will be enormous -- checkout and return will be greatly simplified, to say nothing of the ease of sorting and confirming placement of shelved books.

    I, for one, welcome my new library RFID overlords.

    -Waldo Jaquith

I am here by the will of the people and I won't leave until I get my raincoat back. - a slogan of the anarchists in Richard Kadrey's "Metrophage"

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