Wednesday, 7 November 2007

RFID in libraries

I've been thinking recently about RFID in libraries and have had some interesting ideas. Radio frequency chips inserted into books would make life so much easier for library staff charged with the task of yearly summer stock-taking. Inventory would be accomplished more efficiently and effectively.
And yet, as I delved deeper into this mystery, things began to take a more sinister turn. It turns out that anyone can get hold of an RFID scanner, so when you leave the library with all your books in your bag anyone with said scanner can pull up details of your reading habits in seconds. If they felt so inclined. Airports too could use the same method when you travel. The answer is simple according to some: make sure that the RFID chip contains no bibliographic data. Easier said than done when a library catalogue is on open access and is, quite rightly, available to check against scanned barcodes. On their own they would be meaningless, but it is fairly easy to find the bibliographic detail with a little detective work.
So Sherlock, what's the answer? Encryption would be a good start. Perhaps another idea would be to forego the convenience RFID brings in terms of inventory control in order to fully safeguard the privacy rights of our readers.
When one looks at the new technology in the light of passports and even human ingestion of chips, a new picture emerges of people viewed as things and the monitoring and tracking of humans themselves. The old adage goes, if you have nothing to hide then why are you worried?
I would answer that, as I have not acted out of turn, please leave me my thoughts and let me keep my movements to myself. Perhaps 2007 is the new 1984. Let's hope not.

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