What Good Would Spy Coins Be… Even If They Did Exist?

from the do-you-have-some-spare-change? dept

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the use of RFID chips in various things like tires or sneakers, and how these technologies could be misused to spy on your whereabouts. Of course, what’s never clearly explained is how effective such a solution would be. RFIDs tend to have very limited range. Still, with so much talk about using RFIDs to spy on people, is it any wonder that press quickly jumped on the story about the US Defense Department is warning American contractor employees to be careful when they get foreign change. The story claims that a few contractors discovered that the Canadian coins they had, held RFID chips placed inside. However, no one seems to have a good answer to explain what this would be useful for. A reader would need to be quite close to the coins to get a read on the tags, at which point you wonder exactly what the benefit really is. Also, since change tends to be spent or passed around pretty rapidly (with no indication back to whoever put the chips in the coins), it might not be even remotely effective in following an individual. Perhaps the answer is that it didn’t really happen. Another news report on the topic claims that there were some concerns, but an investigation of the coins found no transmitters. That source claims the report about the RFID coins was simply false, and never should have been reported. No matter which story is actually true, it seems like lots of people are eager to jump onto any claim of RFID-based spying, even if there’s no technological reason to be concerned.

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Comments on “What Good Would Spy Coins Be… Even If They Did Exist?”

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dorpus says:

Makes perfect sense

For tracking when a person passes a particular location. One of the cliches in Washington is that the Russians have people who count the number of cars in the Pentagon’s parking lot to keep track of US defense activity. If there is a surge in the number of cars at night, then something is going on.

But why bother explaining it to the rabble outside the beltway?

chris (profile) says:

Re: Makes perfect sense

the thing to watch isn’t cars. it’s the activity of the pizza places near the pentagon. lots of deliveries late at nite means something is going down.

people use the serial numbers on dollar bills to track their movements on websites like http://www.wheresgeorge.com

perhaps rhe RFID chips are some sort of high tech version of something similarly stupid.

Enrico Suarve says:

Be Afraid - oooo its those nasty moose thingies

Seriously, although I remember reading somewhere (sorry no idea where it was) that people had managed to get RFID units to respond from 20meters away using a HUGELY powerful transmitter this just sounds wrong I don’t honestly see the amazing amount of use you would get from this

Neither story actually says RFID so if its actually a bug its not going to last long with batteries that small, and if it is RFID its not going to have an amazing range, so unlike counting cars which may tell you something all this would tell you is someone didn’t pass your reader – maybe he took another route – PANIC!!

The second story neatly discounts the entire thing and I think if this were a serious concern it wouldn’t be getting released it’d be getting investigated quietly – follow the coins see what they talk to, find the owner, shine a bright light in his eyes…
I dunno maybe we should be just generally afraid of you know, stuff and things

Enrico Suarve says:

Re: Re: Be Afraid - oooo its those nasty moose thi

Do you have a reference for the RFID trackers in cameras? the only things I have seen which could get a response from an RFID circuit from a distance over a few meters were very large and wouldn’t be practical

I would be genuinely interested in this long range RFID technology if you have any links

Peet McKimmie (profile) says:

Another, more realistic possibility...

What if the Canadian gov’t wanted a quick but accurate estimate of how much change there was in circulation?

By giving, say, 1,000 or even 10,000 coins a unique RFID they could put readers in, for example, toll booths and by figuring out how many of these uniquely tagged coins passed through compared to the total amount of currency that passed through they could form an estimate of just how much small change is actually out there. A moderately useful task with no direct privacy implications as they’d be making no attempt to track the coins to any individual.

Just my bugged 2 cents worth… 🙂

TJ (user link) says:

I watched the documentary from http://www.freedomtofacism.com. In the film it said that the government could put RFID readers everywhere, the bank, atms, stores, and anywhere else money is exchanged.

They could then trace money exchanges. At some point, they would know how much money you have and where it came from. Is it unrealistic that they would know when you have money that you shouldn’t when you spend it and there is not any transaction showing that you received it?

Anonymous Coward says:

From the RFID tags and RFID scanners I have used, I say No worries.

For the scanner outside our building, you basically have to take the RFID card out of your wallet, rub it against the scanner for 3 minutes, then hope someone with a better access card comes up and lets you in.

As for portable scanners, if I see someone trying to put a RFID reader wand in my pockets to scan the coins, I’m either going to be very suspicious or try to get a date.

Now a question for the techs, wouldn’t the METAL in the coin screw up being able to scan it. Although I’ve only seen a few, all the RFID types i’ve seen are encased in plastic. And that leads to the question, who goes around cutting open coins to see if their are RFID tags in them.

I agree with Bruce, spy cameras are ALL around us, like the guy y’all mentioned the other day that murdered the woman and they could follow his complete escape route (can’t find link). So, imo, they are much more effective.

Now implanting trackers in a person skull….

Rocco says:

Could it be...

Isn’t there a chance that the RFID chips were more of a test. Put something in the coins and see how long it takes to find them. As for reasons to “bug” the money in the first place, it can obviously go tons of places typically thought secure. Crazy as it might sound, if you could put a info gathering device in the coin, then say collect all the change from a vending machine in the breakroom. This first round of “chips” in the coins could have just been a test for them; like… “Coud we pull it off?” In which case announcing that we found them then backing off makes some sense.

Terry says:

Re: But they *aren't* spent!

That’s the genius of using Canadian coins for this – once you have it, it’s very hard to get anyone to take them, because everyone knows that they don’t have their face value.

You get the coin on someone, and it _stays_ with that person, unless they can find a schmuck who doesn’t look at the change they are given. If you try to spend it, even the same place that gave it to you generally won’t take it back.

— Terry

Saygin? says:

More likely it's an accounting technique

The most likely reason why coins would hold RFID chips is similar to McKimmie’s suggstion: the RFID coins aid in accounting for the coins. The poker chips in Las Vegas have RFID chips in them as well. A stack of chips can be automatically tallied when held in range of a reader. The point of this is not to invade privacy but to aid in the coin-chip exchanges. This technique could be exactly why coins would be chipped: to aid banks… or maybe just treasuries and central banks, with the accounting of coins. Similar to the Mint marks showing the city of origin, but much more useful, showing value, origin, and batch.

Just because an RFID tag is in something, it doesn’t follow that there’s intent to SPY. Take off the tin foil hats guys. The simplest answer is usually the right one.

misanthropic humanist says:

my 2c

Nobody has seen a picture of this, am I correct?

Without that essential evidence there’s no way to make an assessment.

Discounting the most likely case, that it’s nonsense or someone is mistaken, the second most likely scenario is that it’s an experimental issue to detect the movement of the coin, not an individual on whos person it resides. That would be foolish, in one day the coin may change hands many times.

Now, show me a good resolution picture of the device and I’ll tell you what it is.

jack says:

Spy Coin Report

This is a U.S. Defense Department report ! ‘Member Rummy? ‘Member “Weapons of Mass Destruction”? ‘Member Al Qaeda in Iraq? ‘Member “Iran-Contra” ? ‘Member “Gulf of Tonkin Incident”?

Do Not fall for this crap again!! That outfit puts Joseph Goebbels and his “Propaganda Principles” to shame !

Enrico Suarve says:

Re: Spy Coin Report

My point exactly – if this were real, and a real concern there would be counter espionage guys quietly liasing with the contractors reporting this and tracing it backwards

They wouldn’t want to let on they knew anything about it until they knew a lot more about what was going on and why – by which time they would definitly have pictures

Given the lack of theatrics and walt disney presentations on this one I feel like they aren’t even trying – I’m not even slightly perturbed. Please could they try harder, I’m losing the ability to keep up a general feeling of impending doom

Anonymous Coward says:

Ever hear of a proximity fuse?

OK, suppose a terrorist had the idea of blowing somebody up. Maybe somebody in particular, otherwise, just some random Joe. “All” he has to do is set up the explosive somewhere, triggered it with an RFID reader. Then plant the coin on the victim. Maybe he cares who the victim is, maybe he doesn’t. It’s not like they care if they kill innocent people.

One thing you can almost be certain of – if a coin with an RFID tag passes by, it’s being carried by a person.

Mike Williamson (user link) says:

Re: Ever hear of a proximity fuse?

Yes, in the James Bond world where a terrorist doesn’t KILL someone on meeting them, but plants a COIN on them to trigger a BOMB later to kill them, probably after starting the Unnecessarily Slow Dipping Mechanism.

Assuming they didn’t hand the coin off to a street beggar in the meantime…a beggar whom they could have killed with a bullet, rock or car, without the expense of RFID…


misanthropic humanist says:

Those cunning devils

“OK, suppose a terrorist had the idea of blowing somebody up.”

Why the dirty low down…

“Maybe somebody in particular, otherwise just some random Joe.”

It’s feasible, both plans could work…

“All” he has to do is set up the explosive somewhere..”

Like a booby trapped Coke machine?

“Then plant the coin on the victim.”

Hey mister, have you got change for this perfectly normal Canadian $2? Or maybe he could use that magic trick where you can make it appear behind their ear.

“One thing you can almost be certain of – if a coin with an RFID tag passes by, it’s being carried by a person.”

Or an African Swallow?

lil'bit says:

silly terrorists!

One has to wonder why terrorists stick to suicide bombers, IEDs and other low tech means of attack. Are they saving all this vast store of high tech knowledge and ability that #27-Anon Coward (and our government – some of the time) believe them to have for the really big attack that hasn’t happened?

I’m not saying it’s overkill, necessarily, but given that the most common means used is strapping explosives to a body or taking over an airplane with one of those super-tech-y box knives, is it worth the cost to develop and plan counter-terrorism strategies as if they really did have technology that was cutting-edge? Can one use RFID to trigger something else at a distance?

Casual Bystander says:

Ever hear of a proximity fuse?

Um, if you don’t care who you’re going to kill, why not just rig something to blow up, period? Put a $5 motion sensor on it, rather than spending thousands to rig up the scenario you described. Or, just set a timer to blast the thing at the time of day when the most people would be around.

Sure, a Batman super-villain might go to this much trouble, in order to introduce the possibility that our intrepid hero has enough time to find it and disarm it, but someone interested in SUCCESS would do like real-life terrorists generally do and just kill people.

Most likely scenario: Engineering grad students got bored and decided to see how long it took for one of their little projects to circulate around enough to come back into their possession.

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