Those who are afraid that they may lose their identity may have a new weapon in their arsenal as developers have come forward with a new ‘paranoid wallet’ that blocks remote credit card thieves from wirelessly scanning their cards from a distance. The new wallets are a sign of the times when fears over identity theft are at an all time high. But does this level of paranoia actually help protect people from a new world of hackers and thieves? Or is it simply a waste of money?
In the past most people were worried about muggers taking away their wallets and losing their credit cards along with its cash. But then just recently passports started carrying something known as an RFID chip. These Radio Frequency Identification Chips essentially started emitting bits of data into the world around users as they walked through busy or crowded areas. While the chips would make it easy to make purchases without actually pulling out the card and sliding it through the magnetic strip, the difficulties were also considered numerous. And as the technology became more widely used so did the security concerns. Passengers traveling overseas from crowded airports could subject themselves to security risks if hackers utilizing radio receivers alongside specially designed computer systems were standing by picking up data from passing passengers.
The wallets, made by various corporations hoping to offer a safe alternative, have been proven to have their limitations for one thing. When they are open they do not block the frequencies, for example. But they essentially attempt to build a faraday cage, or barrier around the RFID chips in order to block out the outgoing radio waves. Privacy advocates for years have suggested that systems such as these may become integral to security in the future if we are to continue down the road toward a more wireless future.
But perhaps the real problem with this system is that it is depending on the consumer to accept the responsibility to protect their identity when mandatory identification items, such as passports, are needed for identification in order to travel overseas. Perhaps the real burden of protection should be resting on the shoulders of those producing the RFID chips. Many privacy advocates are suggesting products such as these wallets are actually symptomatic of a deeper and more troubling concern with certain establishments’ desire to embrace convenience and productivity over safety. If lines move more quickly, for example, a business is able to sell more products in a given day and hire fewer employees to process transactions. But then if their customers or employees are put at risk as a result due to a hasty RFID system that allows invasion of privacy, perhaps the system was too quickly embraced.
Still, those with RFID credit cards, passports, and ID badges have been snatching up these often expensive wallets in the hopes they will make them safer in the future. Of course those not wishing to spend quite so much can easily turn an ordinary wallet into a makeshift, but functional faraday cage and RFID blocker by lining the wallet’s interior with everyone’s favorite staple of paranoia: Tin Foil.