Snooping Through Your Wallet

Allett introduces a wallet that blocks electronic snooping.

The political left and right may seem to have nothing in common, but there is at least one area in which the opposite ends of the political spectrum are in surprisingly close agreement: the issue of privacy from the government.  Conservatives tend to fulminate against IRS snoopery and civil forfeiture and liberals tend to put more emphasis on the all-encompassing spying of the NSA.  The principle is the same: nobody likes to feel that there are eyes watching everything they do.

And in our connected world, this is a far greater problem than it's ever been before.  There was a time when a dollar was just a piece of paper that could be easily hidden except against an active, visible search; now, modern dollars have embedding coding strips that, rumors claim, allow them to be identified at some distance.

Whether that's true is hotly disputed.  The past few years, though, have demonstrated that government denials have no connection to truth or reality, as everyone has discovered, from your neighbor who lost his health insurance to German premier Angela Merkel whose phone was tapped by the NSA after they'd promised they wouldn't.  So who knows?

It's easy enough to prevent being tracked by your EZ-Pass by not having one, although that doesn't help defend against proliferating smart cameras that read and log your license plate.  You can't function without money, and most people can't get through the day without using a credit card.

A company called Allett has come up with a product to help.  We can't easily prevent cops from rooting through your stuff when they have cause for a search, but the laws of physics offer countermeasures to electromagnetic remote snooping: namely, a Faraday cage, which blocks electronic energy and signals.

Hence, Allett's Identity Safe RFID Wallets, which are otherwise normal-looking wallets that have a special mesh built into them to form a Faraday cage.  Whatever's inside your wallet which contains electromagnetic information that might be boosted by a thief, is thus protected.

Precautions and Provisos

The good folks at Allett were kind enough to submit a sampling of their product to your humble correspondent for evaluation, and I'm happy to say that it's worked out very nicely.  The rules of Faraday cages dictate that the material used must be conductive, which means metal and other things not usually suitable for use in wallets.  But the special wire mesh used in Allett's wallets is built into the lining where you can't see it, and it doesn't make any crinkling noises in use.

In fact, the original Allett claim to fame was in making ultra-thin wallets that don't stretch your pants pockets with unsightly bulges on your bum.  My test wallet has the special Faraday mesh layer in it, but it's still noticeably thinner than what I had before.

How, then, do you know the protection is there?  Good question, and in answering it I learned more about Faraday cages.

If your Faraday cage is solid metal then it usually will block any electromagnetic frequency.  A wallet isn't solid metal, though; and while a mesh is an effective Faraday cage, it can only block wavelengths that are larger than the holes in the mesh.

There are two kinds of RFID tags commonly found in people's wallets today: identity badge cards used to access secure buildings, and newer credit cards and drivers licenses which have a smart chip on them.  I have both, so an obvious test was to try to use the access card while it was still inside the wallet.  If the wallet is doing its stuff, the reader shouldn't be able to see it.

Except it did.  The badge worked just fine even closed up in the RFID-blocking wallet.  Is it a scam?

No it's not - because, it turns out, access cards operate on a very different frequency than credit card RFID smart-chips.  Allet's tech docs say:

Our tightly weaved nickel and copper liner offers full proof security with enough strength to block out RFID signals even in close range. The security strength of these wallets is undeniable with defense up to 3,000 MHz.  Most credit card transactions which utilize RFID take place at 13.56 MHz, so these wallets protect you against all kinds of readers at both high and low frequencies.

It turns out that standard HID access cards are in a far smaller frequency range - 125kHz, much smaller than the holes in the mesh.  So there are limits to the protection Allett offers.

If you're working with the secret squirrels and are afraid some spy will remotely rob your access card, then you probably want more serious protection.  For most of us, though, we're more concerned about our money or identity being stolen, and those cards use the frequency range Allett blocks.

Freedom from Snoopery - and Wallet Bulge

One of the miracles of capitalism is that it allows imaginative entrepreneurs to concoct solutions to problems we may not yet know we have.  Entrepreneurs even offer solutions to problems that have been intentionally created by someone else.  In a free country, for every threat whether from criminals or overpowerful government, there will be a defense provided by private enterprise.

Now we just need to figure out what frequency is used by those legendary scanners to find out how much money I've got in my wallet!  Not that that's a particularly big issue in the teeth of the Obama Depression, alas.  At least my new wallet is shiny, safe, secure - and fashionably thin.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
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