- Open Access
A systematic review of RFID applications and diffusion: key areas and public policy issues
© Jung and Lee. 2015
- Received: 7 July 2015
- Accepted: 11 August 2015
- Published: 4 September 2015
RFID applicants called as e-ID, smart tag, and contactless smart card are being applied to numerous areas in our daily life, including tracking manufactured goods, currency, and patients to payments systems. To review these various applications of RFID is important to exploring not only ongoing e-governance issues such as digital identification, delivery process, and governance but also business oriented application areas like supply chain. Through a systematic review methodology from 111 previous studies about RFID technology for public sector, we found six key areas of RFID applications: defense and security, identification, environmental applications, transportation, healthcare and welfare, and agriculture-livestock. We also suggest that the diffusion and applications of RFID can involve unexpected disadvantages including technological deficiency, uncertain benefits, dubious transparency, uncomfortable privacy issue, and unequal distribution of digital power and literacy. Further research on RFID impact includes not only various theoretical issues of but also legal and managerial problems. Rigorous research is required to explore what factors are critical to adopt and implement new RFID applications in terms of technology governance and digital literacy. Massive data driven research is also expected to identify RFID performance in government agencies and various industry sectors.
- Digital identification
- Digital delivery
- Smart tag
- Contactless smart card
RFID technology has been widely implemented all over the world and its impact on our daily life is very diverse and massive (Li et al., 2006; Wyld, 2005). Those diverse areas of RFID application include logistical tracking, monitoring and maintenance of products, product safety and information, and payment process. Today many governments around the world in both developed1 and developing2 countries are trying to apply it for various areas from tracking manufactured goods, currency, and patients to securing sagety of payments systems. Massive RFID applications around all the industry sectors and countries are expected to generate a huge potential benefits for sustainable efficient energy infrastructure, transportation safety, and health care. Over the past 50 years, RFID technology went through innovations and progressions to become a more efficient and effective gadget for human beings as well as effective solutions of technical and organizational problems in various industry sectors. However, key issues of appropriate ICT technology, governing networks among RFID domains, standardization requirement, and privacy still remain unsolved3.
We review previous literature about RFID technology used in public sectors in order to identify what has been done and found to suggest policy implications and further research agenda. More specifically, we discuss four aspects regarding RFID research issues and policy implications. First, we examine various competing concepts of RFID use by governments all over the world. Second, we categorize numerous applications of RFID technology through analyzing previous literature. Third, we try to figure out technological issues and governance problems that RFID technology faces today. Last, we draw key public issues and suggest future research agenda.
A brief history of RFID technology
A brief history of RFID technology
The idea of using Radio Frequency to reflect waves from objects was started from Frederick Hertz’s experiment.
American navy research laboratories developed a system known as IFF (Identify Friend or Foe).
The first application of RFID consisted of identifying allied or enemy planes during WW2 through the use of IFF system.
Charles Walton, a former IBM researcher registered patent using RFID technology, a radio-operated door lock.
Many US and European companies started to manufacture RFID tags.
The Auto-ID center for MIT became EPC global, an organization whose objective is to promote the use and adoption of RFID technology.
Wal-Mart launched and RFID pilot.
Research design for a systematic review
We searched online data base and expert based information to identify RFID publications between 2003 and 2015. We categorized RFID applications and analyzed issues and concerns that RFID faces today by systematically reviewing published literature. We have collected literature we use for systematic review from two different resources. First, most of the studies are found by searching the e-database. We could access electronic databases, such as Google Scholar, World Web of Science (WWS), Proquest Central, and Science Direct through Seoul National University’s main library homepage. We had set ‘RFID technology’, ‘RFID government,’ ‘RFID application, and ‘RFID issue’ as keywords for searching literature. We found most of the research through this method of searching. The second method we used for collecting data was having discussions with experts. To do this, we first made a list of experts who specialize in IT technology, Science technology, and public administration. Five experts agreed to help us and recommended some research papers that were known for their fluent flow of logic and plentiful contents. We chose relevant research papers from among experts’ recommendations. In sum we had used previous literature collected from two methods we discussed above, searching e-database and asking experts, as our resource of searching.
Defense and security
RFID application in Defense and Security
Army and Navy
US Navy embedded RFID into cargo container
Konsynski and Smith
US Army track containers of material
US Army using RFID for tracking its army in Iraq
US Army piloted 4 projects using RFID
Airport and port Security
Werb and Sereiko
2 RFID programs to prevent terrorist’s attack
Smith and Konsynski Zhang
New York city government project using RFID, CargoMate
New York City, US
Tsai and Huang
Kaohsiung port adopt RFID system for port security
Prison management And Child protection
Calpatria prison issued RFID embedded bracelet to its inmates
LA County prison management
Ema and Fujigaki
Let parents know the exact time of a child’s arrival and departure time
Child monitoring through RFID tag in beach
RFID application in identification
Meingast et al.
US Visit Visa Waiver Program(VWP) focusing on why US government adopted RFID based e-passport
History of e-passport
Ramos et al.
Disadvantage of using e-passport from privacy perspective
Pros and cons of ROK government using RFID embedded e-passport
How Australia adopt and implement e-passport
Ezovski & Watkins
e-ID used in United Kingdom
Kovavisaruch & Suntahrasaj
Brief history of Chinese e-ID card
RFID applications in defense and security
Kang et al.
Ministry of Environment in the ROK introduced RFID system in the medical waste management in 2006
India adopted RFID technology in order to deal with rapid increase in volume and types of waste
Ruan and Hu
Shanghai city government started RFID using waste management to prepare Shanghai expo 2011
How US government using RIFD in waste management
Schindler et al.
Cases of using RFID in waste management in EU member country
Ransford et al.
Waste management operating system broadly used within US
Street tree Management
Kim et al.
ROF government using RFID technology to manage street tree condition
RFID application in transportation
Electronic toll collection
Kovavisaruch and Suntharasaj
Well-known success smart card case in Hong Kong
Kovavisaruch and Suntharasaj
Largest smart card transport system in the world
Pransanth and Soman
RFID based transportation system especially for railroad toll collection in India
Hypass case used in highway toll collection in ROK
Managing Road condition
Prado et al.
How Mexican government using data collected from RFID system in decision making
Hossain et al.
Monitor and control the road system
Healthcare and welfare
RFID application in healthcare and welfare
Managing Public Hospital
Kuo and Chen
Many hospitals are actively involved RFID system in managing hospital with the support of the government
U.S. government and FDA recommended that pharmaceutical industries move to implement RFID tag to prevent counterfeit dugs by 2007
Thuemmler et al.
Romero and Lefebvre
Florida state government imposed fine to drug suppliers when they did not adopt RFID tags
Service for the impaired
Murad et al.
RFID tag using service for visually impaired people was designed and implemented by Pakistan government
Singapore government track visitors, patients and staff, to figure out who was the SARS virus bearer in 2003
Kuo et al.
Taiwan hospital proceed RFID plans to track SARS patients
Agriculture and livestock
RFID application in Agriculture and Livestock
Agricultural risk management
Nanseki et al.
Navigation system for Appropriate Pesticide Use was developed as a system for agricultural risk management
Livestock Management and Disease Tracking
Trevarthen and Michael
Cochrane Dairy Farm let their cows in herd have National Livestock Identification System
How Australian farms adopt and implement RFID technology
US began National Animal Identification System in 2002
RFID applications and diffusion generate complex policy and governance problems. We address public policy issues such as technological gap and uncertainty of expecting potential benefits and costs from a rapid and massive RFID diffusion. Uneasy governing issues in transparency, digital identification and power distribution are arising from inappropriate RFID applications. We discuss governance issues such as corruption, privacy problem, and digital monopoly and literacy in the following.
Cryptography is not a perfect technique for protecting information saved in RFID tag so it can be easily attacked by the hackers
Hossain et al.
No internationally agreed frequencies for RFID operations
There is shortage of capacity for source-separated waste in household
Ema and Fujigaki
Informing children’s exact location cannot guarantee their actual safety
In port, the container can be drilled into and contents can be removed without disturbing the RFID tag
Ezovski et al.
Without any additional protections, the Faraday cage is not safe enough
Uncertain cost-benefit effectiveness
Cost-benefit effectiveness issues
Dubious transparency and corruption
Armknecht et al.
Tag corruption can be occurred at every stage of RFID implementation
Dupyu staff attach cloned tags to counterfeit drugs
Lee et al.
Although reader corruption can cause serious privacy attack, most of the scholars do not consider it as security problem.
Waste being disposed of at work places
Burning waste or transferring it to outside
Hwang et al.
The attacker can read the tag and then clone the tag by writing all the obtained data into other
The attacker surreptitiously listens to all the communications between the reader and the tag
The attacker repeats or delays the same message when valid data are transmitted
Denial of Service
The attacker can send massive message to RFID system and attempt to crash the RFID system
The attacker can compromise a tag and obtain its current relation date
The tag always broadcasts a fixed serial number to somewhere nearby the reader; therefore, the adversary can identify a fixed serial number of the tag from different locations or transaction records
Individual data privacy
The hacker can know what items the consumer bought from the store or what books the consumer borrowed from the library
The attacker can modify the dates, items, and prices and then cause great loss if the tag can store extra data
Numann and Hogben
The attacker opens a clan-destine connection to the chip and gains access to the data
The attacker intercepts the communication between the chip and an authorized reader
The attacker generates person or card-specific movement profiles.
Unequal power and digital literacy
Power distribution and digital literacy issues
Ketprom et al.
RFID technology is widening the gap between poor and rich farmers
Hossain et al.
Traffic policies are not interested in using RFID technology
Ruan and Hu
Price of construction waste transportation is set by government, so other stakeholders have no choice
Chen et al.
Consumer can get only limited information
We found, relying on a systematic review from 111 RFID studies, six key areas of RFID applications. Specifically in the defense and security section, we addressed how military and airports/ports manage RFID systems to ensure security. We also found that RFID is effectively implemented in prison management and child protection programs. Numerous governments have introduced RFID identification tools such as e-passport and e-ID. RFID systems for waste management and street tree management are widely used from rich to poor countries. In healthcare and welfare delivery, RFID based smart cards have turned out to be very efficient. RFID is now being used to monitor counterfeit drugs. RFID has been applied to delivering service for the impaired and to trace infection. However, despite potential benefits from RFID applications, various unexpected problems arise. RFID can still involve technological deficiencies, especially in securing cryptography techniques, international standards of frequency, and storage capacity. RFID technology is not still enough to be efficient and effective in some areas (Becker 2004, Jensen et al. 2007). Tag and reader corruption can hurt transparency and security. Privacy issues are still the most serious issues that RFID faces today (Naumann and Hogben 2008). RFID itself can generate new unequal digital literacy and power distribution, especially in developing countries such as Thailand and Bangladesh. Even the most latest innovative technologies, like RFID, do not have perfect answers to securing efficiency, effectiveness, convenience, and transparency. Rather, RFID technology itself creates unexpected problems. It should be noted that democratic governance and trust is still important to technological innovation and policy issues arising from a rapid RFID diffusion.
Our systematic review is incomplete to discuss all of the RFID issues from technology, market and management, e-government, and legal aspects. Further research on RFID diffusion and impact include not only various theoretical issues of but also legal and managerial problems. For instance, both qualitative and quantitative research is required to explore what factors are critical to adopt and implement new RFID technology in terms of governance and digital literacy. Both micro and macro approaches with massive data are also required to identify how RFID improve not only organizational performance in government agencies and various industry sectors but also quality of our life.
For example, after serious attack by Osama Bin Laden on 9/11, the American government decided to implement an RFID tag embedded e-passport and VISA waiver program. The US government asked their member countries to implement e-passport by late 2005 and soon US member countries like ROK and EU started to use e-passports. Currently, no one can enter to United States without an RFID tag based e-passport.
Especially in developing countries, governments usually adopt brand new IT technologies, but their low level of socio-economic infrastructures may prohibit the efficient operation of technology.
For instance, RFID applications may lack social virtues like trust, ethics, and democracy. It is essential to understanding how a rapid diffusion and massive applications of RFID generate conflict or harmony among human behaviors, digital literacy, institutional rules, and technology.
US Army and its allies could not only manage weapons and soldiers but also identify who was the enemy or not (Castro and Wamba, 2007). This whole project of developing an RFID based identifying system was known as IFF (Identify Friend of Foe).
In 2004, the US Army adopted RFID during the Iraq war to track Iraq troops. Not only these, the US Army piloted 4 projects using RFID; identifying material locations, weapons deteriorations, hazardous material tracking, and asset tracking (Anon 2002).
The New York City government also started an RFID e-seal pilot project in the New Jersey Port. Once RFID read and scan the tag, it can identify the contents of the container box. Also, the port of Tacoma and Seattle planned to adopt E-Seals, made of metal bolts with embedded RFID devices to ensure its security (Konsynski and Smith 2003).
Calpatria prison, located in Los Angeles, adopted a prisoner monitoring system using RFID chips in 2000 as the very first pilot using RFID in prison management in United States (Kim 2008). According to regulations of Calpatria prison, all the prison inmates were issued bracelets in which RFID chips were embedded. Since the pilot project at the Calpatria prison was successful, the local government let other prisons in Los Angeles adopt the innovative bracelet. The LA County prison started to use a brand new bracelet in response to the state government’s order; it is reported that through its adoption the prison could increase efficiency and effectiveness and decrease crimes occurred between inmates simultaneously (Nicholas 2008).
For instance, city governments in the Gifu and Osaka prefecture provided RFID tags that can be attached in students’ schoolbags to public elementary schools (Ema and Fujigaki, 2011). Similarly, in Haewoondae beach, one of the most famous vacation spots in South Korea, Busan Metropolitan City provides for parents RFID embedded bracelet that enables tracking exact location of their child by a smart phone (http://news.naver.com/main/read.nhn?mode=LSD&mid=sec&sid1=102&oid=001&aid=0003353674).
This project began in 2002, but it took 3 years to fully implement for all 16 US passports (Meingast et al. 2007). The appearance of the e-passport is very similar to old passports, but woven into the paper of the passport, there is RFID tag that information about owner of the passport is included. Information about nationality, sex, age, and so on is scanned, as airport staff members scan the passport through RFID reader (Lorenc 2007). The US government did not stop at this point and adopted VISA Waiver Program. By 2005, the US member countries had to adopt RFID based e-passports and VISA Waiver Programs in order for their citizens to enter the United States because without e-passports, passengers could not be accepted at American points of entry. Today, the e-passport includes not only individual data but biological data, such as fingerprints (ICAO TAG MRTD/TWF 2004).
E-Government News, “EU Asks US for Time to Issue Biometric Passports”. iDABC European e-Government Services, 1 April, 2005.
For instance, Wicks et al. (2006) reported that this RFID based hospital management system is very effective in reducing management costs because embedded RFID tags can track lost or hidden expensive equipment. Miller (1999) pointed out that the potential of RFID technology can be expanded in tracking the location of patients and controlling the drugs. Also, Chowdhury and Khosla (2007) argued that RFID technology can be effectively used not only in hospital equipment management but also in patient management.
According to statistics published by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), about 44,000 to 98,000 people die in the USA per year because of improper drug administration (Kohn et al. 2000). To rectify this phenomenon, in 2004 the US government and US FDA recommended pharmaceutical industries to implement RFID tags to prevent the production of counterfeit drugs (Wyld, 2005). The Florida state government added legal regulations to this recommendation in 2006. If a pharmaceutical industry located in Florida does not attach RFID embedded tags on its products, it has to face substantial financial penalties (Skinar 2005).
For instance, RFID technology saved Singapore and Taiwan from SARS attack around 2003. Two public hospitals in Singapore in 2003 adopted RFID technology to track staff, patients, and visitors in order to trace people who carried the SARS virus. The RFID information database saved all the data collected from each individual’s RFID tag for 21 days, which was thought to be long enough for expression of SARS virus (Nicholas 2008). A similar process was done in Taiwan too. During the SARS period, five hospitals, including Taipei Veteran’s General Hospital, implemented RFID tags to track patients who had possibility contracted the SARS virus (Kuo et al. 2004) with strong government support.
One peculiar characteristic of this system as compared to other systems is that visually impaired people are both the reader carrier and the service beneficiaries, simultaneously. Generally in government service delivery using RFID technology, the service provider usually carries RFID tag readers and service beneficiaries usually act more passive roles by attaching RFID tags. But in this Pakistani case, the service beneficiaries can identify objects around them by operating RFID tag reader they have.
The Australian government passed legislation on mandatory use of RFID tags in the livestock industry, so Hossain and Quaddus (2014) categorized Australian case as a very rare and special adoption case. According to Trevarthen and Michael (2007)’s case study, one of the Australian farms where the RFID tag is implemented, farmers not only track the exact location of the cows but also check the condition, identify cows and even feed the new born cows automatically by using an RFID system.
Usually people throw waste in various places. They may throw it away at their houses or at work places, like an office. Since the RFID tag is only attached to a garbage can in house, it is impossible to track all types of waste throwing behaviors. Inevitably, this shortage of storage capacity leads to selective waste collection monitoring.
The faraday cage is an object in metal; proponents of this device argue that faraday cage can prevent hacker’s attack because electronic devices are prevented from passing through the object (Ezovski et al. 2007). But speculation about stability of this technology still remains. Lorenc (2007) reported that if there is no additional technology, the faraday cage cannot preserve sensitive security.
As a matter of fact, there are two kinds of RFID tags, the passive tag and the active tag. These two tags provide owners with different benefits and liabilities. Active tags are implemented by a power source, such as small battery. Active tags are more efficient and safe in protecting privacy than passive tags, so sensitive organizations like military prefer active tags to passive tags. But ordinary consumers have less accessibility to active tags because active tags are much more expensive than passive ones (Jensen et al. 2007).
According to Laurie (2007), even without physically losing an RFID tag, private information can be stolen because what’s inside RFID tags can be skimmed quite easily. If we can build a device that enables us to transmit an arbitrary number, invading the internet based database is theoretically possible.
For instance, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Procter & Gamble Co. in autumn 2003 planned a very interesting experiment to check the potential deficiencies of RFID technology. Customers of a Wal-Mart store in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma were secretly tracked through RFID tags while purchasing lipstick that Procter & Gamble Co. made (Barut et al. 2006).
For instance, Hwang et al. (2009) and Numann & Hogben (2009) categorized various kinds of privacy attack cases that can possibly occur. According Hwang et al. (2009), technological deficiency enables hackers to engage in cloning, eavesdropping, replay attack, denial of service, forward security, tag tracing, individual data privacy, and data forging. Specifically, the hacker can read the tag and then clone the tag (cloning), surreptitiously listen to all the communications between and the tag (eavesdropping), repeat or delay the message (replay attack), send large amount of message to break down RFID system (denial of service), compromise a tag (forward security), trace the exact location of the tag (tag tracing), find out shopping trend of the consumer (individual data privacy), and modify information saved on an RFID tag (Data forging). In addition, Numann and Hogben (2008) categorized the privacy attacking cases more briefly. According to their research, the hacker can attack RFID tag in some ways. First, the attacker can open a connection to the chip and can steal the data inside (skimming). Second, the attacker can intercept the communication between tag and reader (eavesdropping). Last, the attacker can track the exact location of the tag or the person.
In Thailand, most of the farms are trying to adopt an RFID system in farm management, but RFID technology is widening the gap between poor and rich farmers. Poor farmers are usually less educated people who have hardly had any experience using digital technology like RFID. On the other hand, well-educated wealthy farmers face low entry barriers and easily adopt the technology. Rich farmers armed with innovative technology not only make enormous fortunes by increasing efficiency but also by replacing poor labors with RFID embedded devices. According to the Thailand Ministry of Labor (2006), most farm labors are afraid of being replaced. Unfortunately, this phenomenon eventually correlates to a serious gap between rich and poor.
The government has invested a huge amount of money to buy necessary devices such as readers, tags, hardware, and so on, but in the long run cost of management will decrease. On the other hand, the waste industry could carry a very heavy debt. The waste contractors have to deal with expensive RFID tag rental and as well as the cost of construction simultaneously. Although this situation is totally unfavorable for them, the waste management industry cannot resist to this policy because the Chinese government is the entity which has made the use of RFID policy and set prices. The industry has no other choice but consent.
This paper was supported by the research grant of Seoul National University Foundation (Korea Institute of Public Affairs) in 2015.
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