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NYC RFID Turnstiles Spread More Than Disease

November 15th, 2006 by Andrew Cochrane


Before I get too far into this, I would like to clearly state that I have not used or seen the following product used, so this is speculation on my part. The NYC Subway system is allowing riders with RFID-enabled Citibank cards to use them to quickly and easily pay for train fare. Apparently all you have to do is walk through the turnstile, pressing the button to let it know that you have the RFID card on you. Now here is where I see problems:

  1. Doesn’t RFID’s 30 foot operating range make it really hard for it to know which card its looking to charge if several are within the zone? They aren’t using clipped tags, since they aren’t even shipping yet, so how does it work this?
  2. Can’t you jump in line just in front of or behind someone with the card and press the button, effectively charging them for your fare?
  3. Any safety concerned person would put their RFID credit card in a tin foil sleeve to prevent it from transmitting their private info all over the place, so you’d have to remove it anyways, thus rendering any time saving benefits pretty much moot.

I love anything that makes life easier, but not at the cost of massively compromising private data. I say booooo to this. Via Consumerist.


2 Responses to “NYC RFID Turnstiles Spread More Than Disease”

  1. Kevin Cohen

    just want to clarify as you seem a little confused. All RFID payment systems work on 13.56 MHz (high Frequency) band and only operate within a maximum of a few inches – certainly not 30 foot. Hence all your concerns are invalid. They also make use of something called Anti Collision, which means they reader will not read a tag when it sees more than 1.

  2. Andy

    a) “all RFID systems” is inaccurate, most operate on the 13.56MHz range, however many others use the 850 MHz to 950 MHz and 2.4 GHz to 2.5 GHz ranges, the highest power of which can reach more than 90 feet.

    b) there are multiple white papers and articles about the ease with which RFID chips can be read/spoofed at ranges beyond their supposed limit of “a few inches”. a simple google search will turn up more than you could ever want to know about the subject, but here is a good one, as is this wired article.

    also, the blog post you are commenting on is from 2006, much has changed since writing it, but the security and privacy concerns that plague RFID continue to rage on.