Group Proposes RFID Privacy Law

CASPIAN, the group that spearheaded the boycott of Benetton, has proposed legislation aimed at protecting consumer privacy in the US.
Published: June 17, 2003

June 18, 2003 – CASPIAN, a consumer group opposed to loyalty cards and radio frequency identification, has unveiled federal legislation calling for mandatory disclosures on consumer products containing RFID chips in the US. The RFID Right to Know Act of 2003 would require companies to label all products that contain RFID tags, and it would make it illegal for companies to link the chips with personally identifying information.

CASPIAN opposes RFID tagging

“In large part, we did this because our membership has been clamoring for something they can take to their local lawmakers,” says Katherine Albrecht, the founder and director of CASPIAN (Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering). She said the group proposed federal legislation because it sees RFID tagging as an interstate commerce issue, “but we have also been considering state legislation.”

CASPIAN is looking for a lawmaker to sponsor the legislation, which was drafted by the Boston University Legislative Clinic, a group of law students. Specifically, CASPIAN has proposed amendments to the Fair Packaging and Labeling Program; the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act; and the Federal Alcohol Administration Act.

The amendments would require labels on consumer products to “state, at a minimum, that the consumer commodity or package contains or bears a radio frequency identification tag, and that the tag can transmit unique identification information to an independent reader both before and after purchase.” It would require the labels to “be in a conspicuous type-size and location and in print that contrasts with the background against which it appears.”

The proposed legislation would also insert into a federal law dealing with personal privacy a clause that prevents a business from combining or linking an individual’s personal information with RFID tag information, beyond what is required to manage inventory. Other clauses would prevent companies from directly or indirectly disclosing to a third party an individual’s personal information in association with RFID tag information and from directly or indirectly using RFID tags to identify an individual.

CASPIAN has already called for a moratorium on the use of RFID chips in consumer products “until the societal implications can be addressed.” The group’s press release announcing the legislation says: “In light of the fact that Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, is forging ahead with the technology, legislation to protect consumers is urgently needed.”

Albrecht participated in a panel discussion on privacy at last week’s RFID Journal Live! conference in Chicago. During the session, she explained the thinking behind the legislation. Her concern is that consumers may be forced to buy products with RFID tags in them, and they might not understand that the tags are still operating and can be used to track individuals.

The legislation is designed to make sure that consumers are informed and can’t be tracked individually. During the session, Albrecht said that if consumers are informed and choose to buy tagged products, “I will pack up my tinker toys and go home.”

In a follow-up interview with RFID Journal she clarified her position by saying that consumers must truly accept tagged products voluntarily and not be coerced into accepting them. “If consumer understand what these chips are, what they do and what the implications of that are and the market still chooses to go forward with that,” she said, “then I stick by my statement.”

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