RFID chips – Fact and Fiction

By: The Goat Source


What is an RFID chip? You hear this term a lot in connection with The National Animal Identification System. The USDA is planning on making every animal owner tag his or her animals with an identification device. The RFID tag is the one most widely talked about.


RFID stand for Radio Frequency Identification Device. It is basically a computer chip. There are two kinds of chips – passive emitters and active emitters. The passive chip works by broadcasting bits of information to a special reader. It does not have a battery; therefore, a reader must power it up. Once the reader powers up the chip, the signal is broadcast indiscriminately within a short range, usually a few inches, up to a few feet. The active emitter chip has an internal power supply and can broadcast hundreds of feet.

A satellite hovering overhead cannot read RFID chips. I find that people are confusing RFID with GPS, which is a completely different system.

The RFID chip can be encrypted so that the information that is encoded on it cannot be easily read by anyone. Note, I said easily.  Encryption of the chip makes the cost go up dramatically. An unencrypted passive chip may cost as little as 25 cents, while an active, encrypted chip can run about 5$. This still does not guarantee that the data is safe.

This identification is being touted as a way to prevent livestock theft (rustling for those of us in the West). Suppose I have a brown goat (horse, llama, pig, etc.) stolen. Its tag number proves that it is really my goat. But – look the number has magically changed – the animal is no longer mine, proved beyond a doubt by the tag.  How many brown goats are there in the world?

Data tampering may be a real problem, if the USDA does manage to force livestock owners to tag all animals. Let’s face it, not all people are honest and ethical! The large corporations have millions of dollars at stake. Can you say “Enron”?

For an in depth article on RFID check out the May 2006 issue of “Wired” magazine


Copyright by The Goat Source 2006