Protecting Patient Privacy

Clipping off part of a new smart label shortens RFID tag reading range, reducing the risk of unauthorized remote scanning.

By Daphne Allen
IBM, Marnlen RFiD, and Printronix have collaborated to offer a complete solution for RFID tagging using the Clipped Tag.

Just as you may be working feverishly to add RFID to your item-level packages, some are working to keep RFID off items meant for patients or consumers. The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT; Washington, DC), for instance, believes that when “used improperly, RFID has the potential to jeopardize consumer privacy, reduce or eliminate purchasing anonymity, and threaten civil liberties.” The group supports the use of RFID for “tracking of pharmaceuticals from the point of manufacture to the point of dispensing” to help ensure that “these critical goods are not counterfeit, that they are handled properly, and that they are dispensed appropriately.” However, CDT argues that “RFID tags contained on or in the pharmaceutical containers [should] be physically removed or permanently disabled before being sold to consumers.” CDT issued a draft report on privacy best practices on May 1.

Removing or permanently disabling tags, however, defeats one of RFID’s purposes—to facilitate product recalls. “Disabled tags can’t be used for later functions, like recalls and returns,” says Paul Moskowitz, PhD, a research staff member for IBM (Armonk, NY).

Moskowitz says he and his colleagues at IBM have been working on RFID for quite some time, with the emphasis on cases and pallets. “The next logical step for RFID is individual items,” he says. Aware of CDT’s recommendation as well as EPCglobal’s kill feature for ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) Class 1 Gen 2 tags and the proposal for blocker tags, Moskowitz set out to find another way to protect patient privacy yet preserve some of RFID’s postsales-tracking functions.

The Clipped Tag can limit postsales RFID-reading ranges.

Moskowitz’s solution is the Clipped Tag. “It can be modified by consumers or others by tearing off a perforated part of the tag [embedded in a smart label] to shorten the tag’s read range, from about 30 feet to just a few centimeters,” he explains. “It can still be read at short ranges for returns or recalls, enhancing privacy.” And even though the tag’s reading range has been shortened, the tag still uses UHF, Moskowitz adds.

UHF tags from Alien Technology Corp. (Morgan Hill, CA) were used, says Moskowitz, “but we could have done this with anyone’s tags.”

To turn his concept into a viable solution, IBM worked with Printronix (Irvine, CA) and Marnlen RFiD (Markham, ON, Canada) to create labeling technology. Marnlen RFiD designed the Clipped Tag incorporating technology developed by IBM. The label uses industry-standard materials, explains Andris Lauris, vice president, business development for Marnlen RFiD. “As a label converter, we can work with all inlay providers.”

Marnlen RFiD worked closely with Printronix to test the label so that “clipping” it doesn’t destroy or remove any pertinent labeling information. The tear may be directed by the use of additional perforations.

Standard printing equipment from Printronix can be used to print the label and encode the embedded RFID tag simultaneously so that there is a direct association between the printed information and the RFID encoding,” says Steve Morris, RFID solutions manager for Printronix.

While the current design features a tear strip for clipping the tag, other design variations could be used, says Moskowitz. A pull tag for wraparound labeling on bottles, for instance, could be employed, he says. And other options are possible.

All three firms are eager to start pilots to evaluate the clipped tag for pharmaceutical uses.


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