With all the attention paid in law and business to the Internet and broadband wireless networks, it can be easy to forget another category of wireless communication which already impacts daily on our lives, and which raises some significant issues of law, namely near-field communications (“NFC”). Unlike the long-distance wireless networks carrying the Internet, NFC involves very low-power, short-distance and low-bandwidth transmissions, and is used primarily for inventory, authentication and payment transactions. Generally, NFC communications involve a powered transmitter/reader whose signal triggers a response from a receiver chip or device (which may be powered by the signal itself or by an external power supply such as a battery). Among the most common examples of NFC are smart cards (credit cards with embedded NFC chips), NFC-enhanced passports, windshield tags for paying tolls (EZ-Pass and similar systems), and the tiny radio frequency identification (“RFID”) tags that are incorporated into library books, retail goods, pet collars and other items whose location and status are important to track. With new addressing methods that may literally enable every taggable object to have its own unique, permanent identification code, theorists suggest that we are rapidly moving to an “Internet of Things,” where objects can interconnect and interrelate. (Many modern smartphones and tablets, in fact, include NFC functionality; in reviewing this book, I tested my own Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone’s NFC abilities and was able to read at least some data from credit cards, passports and other items using commonly available applications.)
Although NFC technology is not new, its ongoing development and expanded use raises critical legal issues involving privacy, national security, identity, business law and financial transactions. In the American Bar Association Cyberspace Law Committee’s 2013 book “RFIDs, Near-Field Communications, and Mobile Payments: A Guide for Lawyers” (ISBN 978-1-62722-125-2), editor Sarah Jane Hughes, RFID Taskforce members Stephen T. Middlebrook and Candace M. Jones, and a variety of contributors provide a series of chapters discussing RFID and NFC technologies in both practical and legal contexts, focusing not only on the U.S. (state and federal) but other jurisdictions including Canada, the European Union, India and Australia.
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