Using Wireless Technologies to Fight Camera Theft

If every digital camera contained a SIM or RFID module, it could log into its manufacturer's product-authentication database when switched on and, if stolen, report its whereabouts and disable itself until returned to its rightful owner.
By Dieter Uckelmann, with contributions from Mark Harrison
Executive authorities. The police would be granted access to the database behind services such as to trace and contact the current legitimate owner, by querying with the device's unique ID number and their own police authentication credentials. The stolen goods would be returned to the legitimate owner, who could then use the blocking key to unlock and reactivate the equipment. A purchaser of stolen goods could present those items, along with proof of purchase, to the police, who would instruct the auction site, online retailer or payment operator to perform a chargeback/reverse transaction that would fully reimburse the purchaser and debit the seller's account, so that nobody would be able to profit from selling stolen goods. Sellers could also be levied an additional penalty for trading in such items, provided that all sellers were granted limited access to the product identifier authentication database so they could check whether goods had been marked as stolen. They would receive an electronic time-stamped receipt as confirmation of their check (such checking should be performed before selling goods). If the items were already sold before being reported as stolen, then the selling party would still be liable for the chargeback, but possibly not for the additional penalty.

The business case. Some manufacturers might not see an advantage in supporting a corresponding system. Most likely, any stolen device would result in new sales. Identical replacements would be unlikely, though, and buying a new device would offer the possibility of switching to another brand. In the described camera burglary, the camera manufacturer did not offer any discount for replacing the camera—and as a result, that company may lose a customer who had invested a considerable amount of money in cameras, lenses and accessories over the years. However, there is also a business case in the security service itself. Potential buyers could base their buying decisions on the availability of this service. Additionally, optional charges (an annual fee, for instance) could be offered to compensate for the necessary infrastructure. Moreover, insurance policies could offer correspondingly reduced rate.

Remote locking mechanisms for digital goods through an Internet of Things may help to cut down on crime. The necessary technologies are available, and as the use of radio frequency identification read points becomes more widespread, RFID tags could be employed in addition to—or instead of—SIM modules.

Dieter Uckelmann is a manager at the University of Bremen's LogDynamics Lab, which serves as a research center for the use of RFID, sensors and other mobile technologies within logistics. Mark Harrison, the director of the Cambridge Auto-ID Lab, provides expertise in information architectures and technologies. Harrison is deeply involved in standardization activities at EPCglobal, and has cochaired the Tag Data Translation Work Group and the Data Discovery Joint Requirements Group. He currently co-chairs the Discovery Services Work Group, and also participates in EPCglobal's Architecture Review Committee and GS1's Architecture Group.
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