A tiny new chip from Hitachi could have massive implications
for security - and also for your privacy
Hitachi has developed a chip that could be woven into paper money to
help identify counterfeits, and which could also have wide ramifications
for the identification and surveillance technologies.
The chip, called Mew, measures just 0.4 millimeters on a side, and stores
information such as identification and security code. It includes 128 bits
of read-only memory (ROM) and RF wireless circuitry that allows it
to transmit over a distance of about 30cm. If inserted in money, a reader
unit would be able to instantly detect authentic bills.
Most identity chips are currently several millimeters on a side.
While the chip currently requires a reader unit to work, its size carries
big implications for the future of identity technology. For example, future
chips could be implanted into all paper money and be connected wirelessly
to the Internet, so that authorities would be able to monitor the movement
of all cash.
Such chips could also be embedded in other consumer products to
track them in the event of theft.
Privacy advocates say the idea of being able to seamlessly track
people, money and objects might be attractive to companies and governments,
but it raises concerns over how far such technology might go. "What
you could achieve with a chip like this is to ensure that surveillance
becomes invisible," said Simon Davies, head of Privacy International.
"If you really could track things in such an unobtrusive manner than anything
an individual does can theoretically be captured."
He said that the ability to track currency is unlikely to be adopted
by any democratic government because of the protest it would arouse. "But
lots of authorities, like banks, would love to have that facility," he
Hitachi says it is considering adding rewritable memory to the device,
but for the moment is using ROM to prevent data falsification.
The chip will begin sampling
this autumn and Hitachi will begin marketing it next spring.
Mew Solutions, the venture formed by Hitachi to promote the chip, expects
sales of £145m (about £98m) by 2005.
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