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Privacy Technology

An ID Number for Everything 391

jon323456 writes "Put this in your privacy pipe and smoke it. According to, MIT researchers have cooked up a new barcode that has enough dataspace to include a unique serial number for everything. And in combination with RFID tags...."
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An ID Number for Everything

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  • by FileNotFound ( 85933 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:38AM (#6824029) Homepage Journal
    Maybe I'm the only one confused here, but why would anyone want to invest absurd ammounts of money into upgrading an id system when the current is good enough.

    I don't remember anyone complaing about not having enough barcodes etc...
  • Re:Barcode? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cdrudge ( 68377 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:41AM (#6824058) Homepage
    And why isn't a DSL 'modem' not a 'modem'? Does it modulate and demodulate? Yes. Ok then, I guess it fits the definition of a modem. Same thing applies to cable 'modems'.
  • by GeckoFood ( 585211 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `doofokceg'> on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:42AM (#6824075) Journal
    Actually, having a unique bar code could be very beneficial when recovering lost and stolen property. If everything is uniquely identified, and you have somehow recorded your id codes for certain things that are of some value (either real value or sentimental), this could potentially aid in goods recovery. Granted, it could be taken to absurd extremes, but for more important items (artwork, computers, rare books, etc), this could be invaluable.
  • IPv6? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by achurch ( 201270 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:43AM (#6824088) Homepage
    Why not just give every item an IPv6 address? Assign the UCC a /16 for merchandise and you've got 2^112 == 5e33 possible codes. The IPv6 folks are going on and on about giving everything an IP address--wouldn't this be a perfect application?
  • by jaxle ( 193331 ) * on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:47AM (#6824148)
    A lot of products already have this don't they? Like computers have unique serial numbers etc. Besides, whats to stop the criminal from removing it?
  • by avalys ( 221114 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:50AM (#6824168)
    There will be a huge fight against these in terms of the privacy issues -- tracking cars, for example.

    Yeah, imagine how awful it would be if every car had a unique identifier associated with it. You could be identified wherever you go by anyone with access to the right equipment.

    Ever heard of a license plate?
  • by Population ( 687281 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:52AM (#6824186)
    We're talking some heavy crunching power.

    To have any useful application, those codes would have to be linked to transactions and locations.

    Imagine trying to update the transactions and locations of just every can of Coke sold every day.

    Shipped from the manufacturing plant
    Received at the warehouse
    Shipped to the store
    Sold to the customer
  • by musterion ( 305824 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:53AM (#6824206)
    barcodes for every thing, even cash. It could be well nigh impossible to have an anonymous transaction, unless you resort to barter, but make sure that you have removed the RFID (if it is legal to do so). So you microwave you dollars to fry the RFID, this could be illegal and no business would accept your cash. The possibilities are endless, and very scary.

    But if you are not doing anything illegal you have nothing to worry about
    Tell that to the Cubans who simply want to loan books to their friends---oops Animal Farm, 1984, the Bible are illegal in Cuba.
  • by putaro ( 235078 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:54AM (#6824213) Journal
    Pieces of fine art and rare books are not enhanced by slapping a bar code label on them.
  • by globalar ( 669767 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:55AM (#6824227) Homepage
    "No more inventory counts. No more lost or misdirected shipments. No more guessing how much material is in the supply chain--or how much product is on the store shelves."

    Wrong. Completely wrong. If you have ever worked for a major retailer, you will come to understand this reality.

    ID's are not a panacea. You have to have a system of control and accountability over your inventory that makes use of a unique ID and checks itself constantly, forcing correction.

  • by csimicah ( 592121 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:55AM (#6824231)
    The shift here is that instead of identifying the _type_ of item like a traditional bar code, these will identify the _specific item_.

    That might not sound very significant but it is.
  • by putaro ( 235078 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:58AM (#6824261) Journal
    When some doofus screws up the "next ID" field and a bunch of items get duplicate ID numbers? Creation of unique ID's is a PITA problem and I don't think that the average manufacturer is going to get it right for some time.
  • by tomzyk ( 158497 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @10:59AM (#6824283) Journal
    this could potentially aid in goods recovery.

    Um, I'm gonna say "not bloody well likely" to that. A few years ago when my car got broken into, my cellphone, digital camera, PDA and CD player were all stolen. They all had serial numbers, which I had documented, and I gave the info to the police. What happened? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Just because it has a unique ID labelled on it (whether it's a number or a barcode or a hologram or anything else!), doesn't mean you can recover it any easier.

    Hell, doesn't pretty much everything have a serial number now anyways? Yeah, so what if my couch might have the same serial number as my computer monitor; I'm still not going to confuse the two.
  • by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <> on Friday August 29, 2003 @11:08AM (#6824373) Journal
    Article states:
    "No more inventory counts. No more lost or misdirected shipments. No more guessing how much material is in the supply chain--or how much product is on the store shelves."
    Boy, these guys need to get into the real world. Stuff gets spoiled, damaged/dropped/spilled, eaten by rats, misfiled/misplaced, etc. Sure, you query the rdif tags, and they report back that you've got 6 cans of #2345 white paint in stock. Now you go to ship all 6, and find that 3 cans are leaking, 2 of the other cans are mislabeled, and the last one, someone's opened and "borrowed" the contents to repaint the john..

    You'll always have a need to do a physical audit.

  • by DickBreath ( 207180 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @11:14AM (#6824427) Homepage
    While reading another article about those nasty RIFD tags the other day, I suddenly had a thought....

    Why not just attach the RFID tags to the product packaging rather than permanently to the product itself. The packaging gets thrown away, not the product. Most of the privacy issues simply disappear. (Other than that someone could run your trash through an RFID scanner, but would still need access to a database in order to determine that that number is a particular subversive book that you should not be reading.)

    I'm not saying it's a total solution to the problem of RFID tag privacy. But if tags were affixed to packaging rather than products, most / many privacy issued just go away. (Some remain.) Or have I overlooked something major?
  • by hattig ( 47930 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @11:23AM (#6824525) Journal
    12 digits != 12 bits

    Moving to 14 digits will mean 100x more possible barcodes.
    Moving to 14 bits from 12 would mean 4x as many!

    I'm unimpressed with this invention because in the 70's barcodes encoded around 40 bits of information at near zero cost apart from using some space on the label ... all they've managed to double the number of bits at significantly higher cost.

    and in the article is says that the cost is currently in the 5c to 10c range per device ... I expect that they'd need to get the cost into the .1c to .5c range for items that cost less than a dollar.
  • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @11:24AM (#6824529) Journal
    Well, the advantages do not outweigh the scary possibilities of this scheme. Imagine receiving the following in the post:

    You, person #825765.983.9782.2987634 have hereby been fined $500 for littering. Coke can #178246.886.1235.783553 was found on 29-8-2005 in an area not sanctioned for waste disposal. Bank and customer records show that you purchased the aforementioned can, therefor the fine is yours. This fine can not be contested as our Object Tracking Database is infallible. Have a nice day.

    Never mind that some homeless guy fished your can out of the trash and dropped it later.
  • by reiggin ( 646111 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @11:24AM (#6824530)
    On the upside, tracing individual packages of products means more precise recalls. Also, companies will be able to track all the steps a product went through, from manufacturing, to storage, to delivery, to shelf life, to consumer. Yes, it has got its privacy issues but the benefits exist as well.
  • Re:96 bits??? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by chasan ( 702732 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @11:36AM (#6824659)
    The PDF417 [] bar codes can hold up to 8864 bits of data.
  • by randyest ( 589159 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @11:48AM (#6824782) Homepage
    You'll always have a need to do a physical audit.

    Of course, but it's faster and easier to have your physical auditors just running around looking for damaged goods than it is to have them walking around with clipboards counting everything.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 29, 2003 @11:56AM (#6824856)
    This is really nothing compared to RFID.

    Y'see, if a policeman asks to scan my barcode every time I get on a bus or train, I know that I'm being monitored, and I can avoid it if I really want. If shop owners want to scan my barcode before I enter a store I can refuse, or go to another store. Or remove the barcodes from all my things.

    However, if the RFID in my shoes is logged by the government owned scanner on every street corner, I'll have no idea about it. I can try removing the chips from all my clothes, but the chances are I'll miss one.

    RFID is scary because it allows you to be identified or monitored without your permission and without your knowledge. People dislike RFID because they aren't disabled when you leave the store from which you bought your item, and the only uses of an active RFID chip on something you have legitemately bought are privacy invading.

    (And just to prempt some replies, I really don't buy this 40cm range crap. 40cm max now, on consumer tech maybe. 40cm max in 5 years time, on equipment owned by the government, I highly doubt it.)
  • by pmz ( 462998 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @12:04PM (#6824903) Homepage
    When our whole lives are encoded in a database, what is to stop future legislation that punishes people for crimes they never knew they commited? What about people who make mistakes in their young adult years and want to reinvent themselves somewhere else but can't due to their digital legacy? What about people whose business isn't our own but who have access to this data and use it against us?

    Databases of this scale are immensely dangerous regardless of what trivial conveniences they allow. These databases can take our lives out of their social context and make us vulnerable to blackmail and extortion by public officials.

    These databases also violate the Fourth Amendment. What about a future where law enforcement officials don't even need to step on a person's property to execute a search?

    Simply, privacy is fundamentally important and is a fundamental human right. Only when citizens can control their own information, can a proper balance of power be mainained in a representative democracy like the USA. Remember, those who hold the information are those who are truly in power.
  • Re:96 bits??? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 29, 2003 @12:09PM (#6824972)
    Thank heavens you aren't allocating bit-space then. Part of the power of what you think are excessively large address spaces comes from the fact that they stay sparsely populated (and the resultant ease with which you can perform classifications due to that sparseness).

    Example: IIRC there are less than 256 countries in the world. One possible IPv6 allocation is an 8-bit country code field embedded in the 128-bit address, leaving 120 bits for each country to address devices. And then in the US, for instance: 6 bits for the state field, 8 bits for the county field, 8 bits for the city field, still leaving 98 bits for addressing *per city*. A similar example holds for 96-bit barcodes.

  • Confusing article. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AlecC ( 512609 ) <> on Friday August 29, 2003 @12:10PM (#6824975)
    The article is pretty confusing. This is not a barcode at all: it is just setting up the number space that will be used for RFID tags. All that has been decided, AFAICS, is that it will be a 96 bit code in the RFID chip, MIT will hold the central registgry, and many interested manufacturers are meeting to agree on how to divide up and administer that 96 bit space.

    Bit of a "Duh" if you ask me. Of course it has to be done, but this is pure implementation territory: it doiesn't affect the privacy issues on bit.

    Mind you, I do wonder what the delta cost on the RFID chip of moving from 96 bit to (say) 128 bit - or even 256-bit. While I agree that these things are going to be produced in trillions and therefore millionths of a cent add up, I would have thought that most of the cost was constant per unit - slicing, packaging, testing etc.
  • Reality is that the likelihood of extortion and blackmail over previous events in life becomes far less likely if everyone is held accountable. Currently the system is built more around how much money one can throw to make things go away.

    The sad state of affairs, particularly in the US, is that everyone is expected to live up to a high level of morality, because everyone hides what they've done wrong. When no one can hide what they've done wrong, the system as a whole becomes far less black and white.

    The real issue of privacy is whether or not we can build a system by which equal accountability will be maintained, not whether or not being able to hide one's past is a right.

  • by pmz ( 462998 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @12:37PM (#6825256) Homepage
    Yeah, imagine how awful it would be if every car had a unique identifier associated with it.

    If your car's whereabouts were tracked and stored in a database, there's the chance the employere could find that their employees are interviewing, which customers are shopping around and where, etc. What if you were recorded simply driving down a street within minutes of a crime committed by someone else? What's your alibi? There were no witnesses to the crime other than the database, of course.
  • Re:96 bits??? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fiannaFailMan ( 702447 ) on Friday August 29, 2003 @01:46PM (#6826008) Journal
    But what happens when Quebec, British Columbia, the Yukon and Newfoundland & Labrador leave Canada, Scotland and Wales break away from England, more Balkan regions declare their independance, the Spanish regions break Spain into four, Iraq gets partitioned, and Texas secedes from the USA? Is 256 always going to be enough for all the countries?

egrep -n '^[a-z].*\(' $ | sort -t':' +2.0