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Think Tank Makes Case Against RFID Regulation

California-based think tank PRI this week released a primer on RFID, privacy, and government efforts at legislation of the technology. The 11-page report is a worthy and concise wrap-up of the issues surrounding privacy and RFID. This article provides a recap.
Jul 12, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

July 12, 2007—PRI, a California-based think tank with an openly free-market bent, this week released a primer on RFID, privacy, and government efforts at legislation of the technology. Entitled Playing Tag: An RFID Primer, the 11-page report is a worthwhile and concise wrap-up of the issues surrounding privacy and RFID. Of particular interest is the Legislative Notes section beginning page 9, which recaps many of the recent regulatory efforts around the US.

Not that the report is entirely neutral; consistent with PRI's political leanings, Playing Tag argues firmly against regulation of the technology. "Lawmakers should weigh the pros and cons of this technology, before imposing a regulatory regime that would inhibit the positive benefits of RFID," quoted report author K. Lloyd Billingsley.

Ultimately, argues PRI, much of the RFID backlash is emotional, but largely un- or mis-informed. Knee-jerk fear to such a small tracking technology is one of the culprits. "That a new technology sparks fear is understandable, especially a device so small that it can be placed under the skin and used to track the bearer." While understandable, this fear is not really justified. "It is a stretch to say that RFID tags can track 'your every move.' ... A scanner cannot tell whether a product bearing a tag is being used by the purchaser of the product, has been given to someone else, or lies in the trash."

PRI also makes the insightful point that part of RFID's perception problem could stem from its early backers, Wal-Mart and the US Department of Defense. That both the world's largest corporation and its largest military served as leading proponents of adoption likely tainted RFID in the eyes of those that might harbor a reflexive distrust of highly influential institutions. Of course, this reflex is neither a rational nor a justified reaction, but it is a strong reaction, and one with which RFID end users, vendors, and government officials must contend.

While PRI takes a position against government regulation, it does not suggest that vendors and end users should recklessly adopt the technology at the expense of consumer privacy. Indeed, techniques such as embedding tags in packaging versus products themselves, disabling tags at point of sale, and making them visible and easily removable are all cited as practices that the retail industry might be wise to employ.

Download the report from PRI
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