Bermuda featured on engadget

News of Premier Brown’s electronic vehicle registration proposal has been picked up by engadget and has an interesting take on the issue, suggesting they wouldn’t want to be cruising around under such a system.  While I’ve written positively about the potential for Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) in the past, I do have privacy concerns about it’s implementation.  RFID has alot of benefits but also carrys potential drawbacks.  How will the new RFID implementation fare for Bermuda’s people?  Will it be a success or a failure?

RFID tags have proven very useful in their applications in everything from product packaging, wireless access cards and electronic tolls so they’re proposed implementation in Bermuda should not come as a large surprise.  I’ve written previously about their potential to help alleviate parking woes in Hamilton as well as their ability to facilitate a trial of a congestion charge so they do have potential benefits, but what are the potential drawbacks of such a system?

Writers of engadget suggest that they wouldn’t want to be cruising around the streets of St. George in the near future, why? Premier Brown suggested that the reasoning for the RFID system was to crack down on the approximate eight percent of vehicles that are not licensed on our roads.  “RFID tags on each vehicle will interact with strategically placed readers around the island to ensure that all vehicles are properly registered, insured and inspected” he said.  What then are the concerns?

“Strategically placed readers around the island”.  This wording concerns me because it opens up a raft of possibilities.  This wording suggests that wireless detection units may be hidden around the island, the potential being that you could be tracked whereever you go.  You have nothing to hide you say?  What happens if someone compromises this system and is then able to track you everywhere you go? 

Such placement opens up many doors.  RFID readers could be placed strategically enough to track the time it takes you to cross the two of them and calculate your speed and automatically assign you a speeding ticket.  You could be tracked when you use your car, how long and where you go.  If we don’t know where the readers are placed, they could be placed anywhere.

What of the eight percent of vehicles not licensed?  Well unfortunately due to the fact that without RFID transmitters being affixed to cars, they can’t be detected so Police will still be required to do spotchecks to ensure that people have them installed in their cars.  This system will only effectively crack down on those who actually get their vehicles licensed, as depending on the distance that these transmitters work at, this solution may not be all that much better than the sticker method presently used.  Will this be a better solution and is the price of sacraficed privacy one worth paying for the benefits?

One cannot comment on the success or failure of the proposed RFID system until it happens, but knowing that we’ll still need spotchecks to determine whether people have RFID transmitters installed brings questions of why the readers need to be strategically placed around the island. 

The only real way we’ll know whether this project will be a success or not are to measure it’s goals of what it is hoped that it will accomplish.  So far extra tax revenue has been indicated as a benefit, but that sounds like more of a benefit to the governments budget than to the people.  Shouldn’t another key goal be to reduce traffic and parking congestion on a road system said to house the world’s highest density per square mile of motor traffic?  Hopefully so, but as always, time shall tell.

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  1. In fact, several articles in the trade press have been written about Bermuda’s imminent RFID roll-out, and some of them specifically mention that the system will be able to automatically calculate and issue speeding tickets. I found it interesting that this was not mentioned in the Bermuda press, and wonder if that is speculation on the part of the articles, or something the Gov’t is trying to hide from us. I am not opposed to the concept, however.

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