RFID stands for ‘radio frequency identification.’ WalMart wants its suppliers to use RFID technology so that it can keep track of inventory better. RFID is ‘better’ because the inventory would be not simply ‘scannable’ but instead would ‘transmit’ computer readable data. Scanning, as anyone who visits the grocery store knows, is a really crummy way of keeping track of data that is passing by. RFID will be much better.
And that’s why the government is interested in using RFID technology for U.S. Passports (see Businessweek article; subscription required). Is this a good thing? Depends on who you ask. Some security experts have their doubts, especially the eminently reasonable Bruce Schneier, who was quoted in the aforementioned article:
"We do need passports with more data," says computer security expert Bruce Schneier. "But [the government] chose a chip [for the passport system] that can be queried remotely and surreptitiously. I can’t think of any reason why the government would do that, other than that they want surreptitious access." And if airport and border security guards can read everyone’s passports on the sly, so could anyone with a radio-chip reader, from terrorists to identity thieves.
I’m in favor of making the job of Customs Officials easier, but at the same time I’d like to know what the full ramifications of this new system would be. And I’m not counting on the government to make me fully aware of those ramifications.