Soctech seminar, Fall 2006

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Fall 2006: RFID Technology: SLN 11977 CSE 590 M, Monday 12:30-1:20, CSE 303
(Non-CSE students (including law) should register for the graded CSE 590 X - SLN 11981, everything else is identical; if you require an add code, contact Travis)

In the past few years there has been more and more talk, both positive and negative, about the transformative potential of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology as it gets more and more viable. The goal of this seminar is to explore the broader legal and sociopolitical implications of RFID, entering into a discussion on privacy, security, and surveillance that has a solid technical and legal basis.

We will begin the seminar with a technical overview of the capabilities of RFID and the regulatory landscape on which laws will be crafted. We will then explore a number of existing RFID deployments and discuss their impact in regards to privacy, security, law, etc. For each deployment, we will have a guest speaker to help frame the discussion. We'll also be crafting a group position paper so that we have something tangible to give back to the community.

Seminar Organization

Contact information: This course is being organized by Yaw Anokwa (yanokwa at cs), Jim Sfekas, and Travis Kriplean (travis at cs).

The seminar will be discussion-driven, each period led by a small group of seminar participants and/or including invited guest experts. This quarter we will have a seminar room so that we'll all be able to sit at a table. Moreover, we're trying to make it so that we'll have a guest on most of the days. We will spend the days that we don't have a guest preparing questions and gaining context for when guests do join us. Seminar participants will thus be expected to generate questions, but there won't be pressure to organize a class period. We are going to experiment with two additional aspects to the seminar: collaboratively authoring a group position paper and the organization of an open panel discussion with RFID experts.

Seminar Position Paper

We would like to create a whitepaper that summarizes our questions, concerns and thoughts about the RFID issues we've covered. It will give us something coherent and tangible to take away from the seminar and give to others. The document will be collaboratively authored over the course of the quarter. All seminar participants will be required to contribute. That said, we intend this to be relatively low-investment spread over the course of the quarter.

Follow this link to read and edit the paper: UW Society and Technology Group RFID Position Paper.

Whitepaper content
  • Overview of material covered
  • General questions, questions raised
  • Questions answered
  • Multiple perspectives encouraged
  • Sharpening and reframing questions, even if its not an answer, is valuable
  • Questions for incoming speakers
  • Clearly articulated stances on concrete questions
Editing the whitepaper

We want you to be bold in making edits to the whitepaper-- wiki software allows us to keep a complete history of all the text in this document, so we will never lose anything you change. The whitepaper will be in flux throughout the quarter. Nothing is sacred. Not text, formatting, or whitepaper organization. Change any aspect you think could be done better. Hopefully by the end of the quarter we will be able to tie up loose ends and have answers to most of the questions we've asked with multiple perspectives articulated by seminar participants.

A how-to on editing wikis can be found here.

If you do not have an account or are having problems logging in, please send an email to travis at

Open Panel with RFID experts

Near the end of the quarter, we will collectively organize a panel discussion that will be open to the public. We will be inviting leading technical and legal RFID experts to participate. Based on our experiences throughout the seminar, we will be in a good position to ask technically and legally informed questions of the experts, hear them respond to one another, and share our work with the public.

Course Topics

Note: subject to change as we find guest speakers

02 Oct RFID History, Basic Technical Description, and Overview of Applications

Discussion led by Yaw and Travis
Main Wiki-contributors: Yaw and Travis

09 Oct What is RFID Actually Capable of? Technical Limitations, Privacy and Security in the RFID Ecosystem

Discussion led by Evan
Main Wiki-contributors:Danny

16 Oct RFID in Healthcare and the Home

Guest speaker Matthai Philipose
Main Wiki-contributors: Chad

23 Oct RFID and Databases

Guest speaker Magda Balazinska
Main Wiki-contributors:

30 Oct No class

06 Nov Existing RFID Deployments

Guest speaker Rene Martinez, chief scientist of Intermec
Main Wiki-contributors: Alan Liu

13 Nov A Policy For Privacy: Personal Information in RFID Systems

Guest speaker Steve Shafer of Microsoft Research
Main Wiki-contributors: Anna C.

20 Nov RFID Implants in Humans

Guest speaker Amal Graafstra
Main Wiki-contributors: Craig Prince

27 Nov Establishing a best practices guide for deployers of RFID technology

Guest speaker Bill Covington of the Law School
Main Wiki-contributors: Brian Ferris

04 Dec Roundtable on RFID research and experiences with privacy

Main Wiki-contributors:


Steven Shafer, Microsoft Research

A policy for RFID Privacy, addressing personal information in RFID systems.

Evan Welbourne, UW CSE

RFID Ecosystem (includes privacy, security, databases, and applications)

Matthai Philipose, Intel Research

RFID Based activity-recognition system for the elderly

Rene Martinez, Intermec

Basics of RFID technology or existing RFID deployments.

Administrative info

Course grading and credit-load policies: Subject to change, but variable credits are available to meet differing levels of participation:

  • Sign up for 1 credit if you plan to attend, do the readings, participate in discussions, and contribute to the wiki.
  • Sign up for 2 credits if you wish to lead/organize a discussion OR contribute extensively to the wiki OR help organize the panel.
  • Sign up for 3 credits if you wish to lead/organize a discussion, contribute extensively to the wiki, and help organize the panel (Note: please contact the course organizers in advance if you plan to take this course for 3 credits.)

RFID resources



  • Government
    • Passports (trial programs in a few countries, e.g. US)
    • Encryption on the passports Wired article
  • Commercial
    • supply-side tracking of inventory (e.g. walmart)
    • gathering more detailed information about consumers (increasing information asymmetry between sellers/buyers)
    • enabling buyers to gather more information about products (decreasing above information asymmetry)

Security concerns

Privacy & Surveillance concerns

Laws directly or indirectly regulating RFID

Companies and organizations involved in rolling out RFID technologies