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RFID Legal Education Should be Job One, Say Policy Experts

Organizations need to be proactive in shaping regulations, standards and public policies that will impact how RFID is deployed, say speakers at a seminar on the technology's legal ramifications.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Sep 27, 2006Speakers at Tuesday's RFID Legal Seminar, a half-day kick-off to RFID Journal's first Industry Summits conference near Chicago, ran the gamut from think-tank libertarians, lobbyists and congressional staffers to manufacturers' public-policy officers. Still, each shared a common message: Makers and users of RFID technology will fail unless they get proactive about how regulatory and public-policy actions will shape—or limit—the use of RFID.

"If you're a project manager or engineer deploying an RFID system, you should be in contact with your public-policy staff," said Sandra Hughes, Procter & Gamble's chief privacy officer, who is responsible for ensuring that P&G and other users of EPC technology follow EPCglobal's guidelines for using EPC on consumer products. These guidelines mandate the use of an EPCglobal logo on all packaging containing RFID inlays, and that consumers be given choices in removing or disabling RFID tags from products they obtain. She also said companies using RFID technology—whether as RFID vendors or end users—need to understand the public conceptions and misconceptions about RFID and how it is used. "Even though there is not any consumer information encoded to EPC tags, the public perception is that there is," she said.

Sandra Hughes
The purpose of the seminar was to provide insights into the data-security, intellectual-property, regulatory and personal-privacy implications of RFID technology's proliferation in both government and commercial applications.

Douglas Farry, a managing director of the law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge and a primary contributor to the firm's RFID Law Blog, echoed this sentiment. "Technologists are often so enamored with technology that they lose sight of how it will be received by its users," he said. "Think about how policy makers will react to the RFID systems you create; don't just think about the ROI."

Jim Harper, director of information-policy studies for the Cato Institute and a member of the Department of Homeland Security's Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Group—which earlier this year released a report saying RFID does not offer benefits to identification management that are strong enough to justify the privacy risks associated with its deployment (see DHS Subcommittee Advises Against RFID)— said he believes that while RFID holds great promise to automated information gathering, some of its proposed applications are troubling. "There will be great things that will happen with RFID, but only if the government doesn't use it to track people," he said.

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