RFID: How Yesterday’s Technology is Helping Today’s Crime Fighters

Posted on Apr 29 2015 - 5:00am by Editor

Radio frequency identification (RFID) is a rather old technology, but modern forensics is breathing new life into it. Traditionally, RFID was used to catalog a variety of merchandise. RFID tags can store information like credit card numbers, personal information, and simple barcode and tracking information.

Because information is transmitted through radio waves, readers can pick up hundreds of radio frequency tags at once – it makes tagging much easier than a manual coding and tagging system. And, while some law enforcement agencies have used them in the past, not all do today.

Radio frequency identification

Startup Costs Are A Concern

Startup costs are a major concern for many police departments. With tight budgets, police departments must focus their energy on buying equipment that will be immediately useful with a short payback period. Many police agencies don’t understand the startup cost versus payback period.

Private investigators, like those found through usainvestigators.com, often use these types of technologies, closing a gap that many feel is insurmountable in the public sector.

But, recently, NIST published RFID Technology in Forensic Evidence Management, An Assessment of Barriers, Benefits, and Costs. The report found that the initial startup cost can be recovered in about two years, provided that there is sufficient volume of cataloging and work available.

The report details various types of RFID technology, its use in both the public and private sector, and case studies. Of interesting note is a case study involving the Netherlands Forensics Institute – a law enforcement agency that has made the switch successfully.

Practical Considerations

When law enforcement makes a change, results need to be measured. In particular, the NIST study discovered that the payback period varies according to several factors, including the volume of inventory being processed. Processing of 100,000 or more items will quickly recoup costs, compared to handling smaller amounts.

However, police departments shouldn’t think in terms of single purpose or single-use systems. Several departments, and even multiple jurisdictions, could share the same system, sharing costs, thereby reducing the payback period.

There is almost no limit to what RFID can catalog, and evidence handling is traditionally a very labor-intensive job. Some concern does exist over the standards used in systems, since there isn’t a lot of documentation of its use in public systems involving evidence handling.

The Future Of RFID

While many jurisdictions find automation and simplification of current systems appealing, the future of RFID remains uncertain. The cost structure needs to be sorted out in locales where the volume doesn’t exist, and even in larger jurisdictions, there is a payback period that must be taken into account.

Education and training is another factor to consider. Since most police departments don’t use RFID now, there will need to be a radical shift in thinking as well as protocols and new SOPs put into practice.

But, at the end of the day, the technology is fundamentally sound. It can dramatically speed up the process of cataloging, and make forensics a much more reliable and systematic process.

Jared Stern is the CEO of Prudential Associates, a company focused on digital forensics and investigative technical project management. He has over 24 years of experience as a private investigator licensed by the Maryland State Police, executing and managing more than 2,000 computer-related investigations at every level, including clandestine activity monitoring in civil and criminal cases, recovery of stolen data and equipment, and computer forensics and eDiscovery on networks, desktop computers, laptop computers and cell phones. Jared has also been responsible in ensuring, through SME deployment, direction, and objective management, the strict adherence to principles of computer forensics, cell phone forensics, and eDiscovery in enterprise environments.