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Trashcan Surveillance - Halt! Who Throws There?

Garbage cans all over England are under surveillance tonight. And not by sleepy, fallible humans, either. At least 500,000 "wheelie bins" now use technology worthy of James Bond's fabled electronics genius "Q" (or at least a competent villain from SPECTRE).

Electronic devices (passive RFID tags) about the size of a one-pence piece are screwed into a hole in the lip of the bin. As the bin is hoisted up for emptying, an RFID reader on the refuse truck interrogates the chip, which divulges a serial number identifying the property owner. The weight of the bin is recorded by the truck's sensors and is registered in a database entry along with the serial number. The database entries for the day are downloaded at the dump (now, that's a data dump!) and stored in a vast central databank of property owner behavior.

Although this is frankly a story that is difficult to take seriously, please note the following.

First, any bureauocracy that believes it would be useful to have a vast database of the precise weight of every household garbage bin (every week!) in England is either stupid, dangerous or both, and should be stopped. Who knows what other information will be collected?

You should remember that many of the articles you buy (and sooner or later throw away) are now equipped with passive RFID tags that detail the item's brand name and product name. If it's possible to scan the tag on the trash can with an ID, it's possible to use similar equipment to quickly scan your can (TM Technovelgy.com) to uncover your purchasing habits.

Contactless credit cards using tiny RFID chips are now being widely tested for use as credit cards and other applications. You can cut up the number portion of a credit card to discourage thieves when you toss it in the trash. But what if you don't cut the tiny chip in the credit card? All of the old information in the card is available (encrypted, but still available).

This might be a good time to insist on zombie RFID tags on consumer products; they can be turned off when you take them from the store. See Zombie RFID Tags Arise To Face Privacy Advocates for more information.

If only they can combine the talking trash cans of Berlin with these spy cans - they'll just blab everything to the garbageman.

Now that you're feeling slightly paranoid about your garbage can, take a look at these surveillance technologies:

Read more about wheelie bin spys.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 8/30/2006)

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Index of related articles:

What is RFID?
How RFID Works
How is RFID used inside a living body?
What can RFID be used for?
Is RFID Technology Secure and Private?
Are There Concerns About How RFID Will Be Used? (Update)
Next-Generation Uses of RFID?
What Are Zombie RFID Tags?
Problems With RFID
RFID Information Technology Articles
Advantages of RFID Versus Barcodes
RFID Glossary
Contactless Credit Card Advantages
Contactless Credit Card Disadvantages

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