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Security Engineering

Electronic items and privacy

Talking about electronic items and privacy of their users are quite common subjects in nowadays. Most of the users think that when they purchase an item or a service they own it. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that anymore. In many opportunities we heard or said that “Knowledge is power” and big corporations like knowing; who use their products, where they use it, how often its been used, what other products those people use, how often they buy etc.

RFID is identified as “Big Brother in small packages” (McCullagh D, 2003) by Declan McCullagh of CNET back in 2003. Clothing giant Benetton is one of the RFID started tagging their sister company Sisley’s products in 2003. According to Boycott Benetton campaign group, now companies can tag every single item that they sell. These are different than “Barcodes” as barcodes are unique to each single product group (same model t-shirt would have same barcode number on each product), with ePC (Electronic Product Code), each individual item could be given unique identification number on a very small tag (which could be sized in between a sand and dust!!) (, 2003) and could be used on any items, from clothing to foods.

According to European Digital Rights Organisation data from RFID’s could be both personal and non-personal. For example if the data being received from RFID is used to track data from production line to companies warehouses – classified as non personal data. But if its used to track movements of delivery person from warehouse to any retail stores it is personal data as its used to reveal information on natural persons. Therefore any information that will be sent about consumers’ movement will be personal information (EDRI.ORG, nd).

Many supermarkets or stores in the UK (and probably rest of the world) have their own membership / benefits cards and they give better prices when you use those cards on your shopping. This information is enough to violate our privacy as they could be used in many different ways.

There are different ways to protect privacy of consumers. For example there are some security tags on some products which gives alert on security doors if its not been taken off by shop clerk. Same method could be used for RFID tags, with a magnetic reader it could be taken off from the product unless its being stolen. Instead of tagging every product, product boxes could be tagged. Meanwhile every single customer who buys any products with RFID should be informed about the tag, information being collected by tags and purpose of the information.


Boycott Benetton, (nd), [Online], Available from viewed 9 June 2012

European Digital Rights Organisation (nd), [Online], Available from  viewed 9 June 2012

‘McCullagh D’ ‘2003’, ‘Perspective: RFID tags: Big Brother in small packages’, ‘Cnet’ [Online], Available from viewed 9 June 2012


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