The WhatsApp forward describing the imminent arrival of Rs 2,000 currency notes had made its way to most smartphones in India by Tuesday. It was a long-ish read, packed with information on how they could be traced, and how it would serve as the beginning of the end of black money in India. There were details about how the notes would be embedded with NGC ('Nano GPS Chip') and therefore could be easily traced, via satellite, even if they were buried deep underground.
The message went viral (see image) despite many versions carrying the disclaimer, 'it is a forward', quite possibly because the details seemed so plausible but nobody knew the source of it. The Hindu Business Line had carried a story in late October, talking about the government planning to issue Rs 2,000 notes from February 2017, and how the notes had been printed at the currency printing press in Mysuru. Last Sunday, social media was abuzz with rumours and photos of the new notes, allegedly carrying the NGC chip, explained as a type of RFID technology.
Once Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the demonetization and the new Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes, social media was abuzz, with photos of text similar to the WhatsApp forward taken from an official looking document, but with no source mentioned. Quora had people posting the same message over and over and it was a while before other users stepped in to try and disprove the theory.
As of midnight on Tuesday, the RBI’s official site carried these details of the announcement in a press release, and infographics outlining the details of the new currency notes. The Father of the Nation has been moved front and centre and on the reverse is an image of Mangalyaan. But there was no mention of any tagging mechanism anywhere. The link at the bottom of the page for further details only led to a page that hadn’t been updated after the announcement.
Can RFID technology be embedded into currency notes?
Yes, technically, it can be used in currency notes, as thinned down chips were reportedly developed by a team at North Dakota State University in 2013.
And this isn’t the first time there has been speculation about RFID tracking on currency notes worldwide. In the early years of the century, there were several media reports on intense speculation that the European Central Bank was contemplating adding RFID tags to high denomination banknotes of €200 and €500, both of which are not commonly circulated. As late as 2012, there were reports of Saudi Arabia mulling a similar option to curb counterfeit currency.
Conspiracy theorists have long believed that US dollar bills and several denominations of Euros already carry RFID cards and have sought to prove this through a ‘microwave’ test – pop the currency note into a microwave oven and watch them pop, or in some cases, ‘explode’, and prove that Big Brother is alive and well. (The argument to that is that it’s the metal strip – a security feature – that burns through.) Again, this is RFID, not NGC.
So what’s stopping RFID or NGC technology from getting on to currency notes?
Quite simply, the cost. It costs the government Rs 3 to print a Rs 1,000 note. RFID technology – and this is would be way beyond something you buy off an online retail store for a few cents – would potentially increase the cost per note significantly. And then would the signal be strong enough to be picked up by satellite, as claimed by the WhatsApp forward? RFID tags needs readers in close proximity, so readers could be installed at public places to catch the ‘sought-after’ notes, but the forward talks of NGC, which is satellite-based. For now, this is definitely not the homing device it’s made out to be!
YourStory hopes to catch up with some experts and get their two cents on the nitty gritty of the 'trackable two-thousand-rupee currency note' once everybody’s managed to get enough usable cash on hand. Until then, we’ll just have to rely on the PM’s plan to flush out black money the old-fashioned way.