RFID Reaches the Legal Limit

By Mark Roberti

The technology has matured to the point that both end users and vendors are going to start facing legal and public-policy issues.

I've just returned from our RFID Journal Industry Summits conference in Chicago. The event featured a lot of great content, and we'll be writing a number of articles about issues raised and case studies presented at the event over the next couple of weeks.

What struck me most at the Industry Summits was the realization that radio frequency identification has matured to the point that both end users and vendors are going to start facing legal and public-policy issues on an ongoing basis.

The three-day conference and exhibition included a RFID Legal and Public Policy preconference seminar. This was put together with McKenna Long & Aldridge, an international law firm based in Washington, D.C. The seminar addressed:

  • Privacy and data security
  • The impact of government RFID mandates
  • Pending state and federal legislation and regulation
  • Spectrum allocation and international standards


Doug Farry, managing director of McKenna Long & Aldridge, spoke to a general-session audience at the main conference about some of the issues that came up during the preconference. There was a lot of discussion about the numerous laws proposed in more than 20 states in the United States, many of which would limit the use of RFID in one way or another. How should RFID vendors and end users respond to these bills?

Farry said the federal government is looking at the way spectrum is allocated, where some companies pay billions of dollars to use slices of the radio spectrum and other companies (including those offering RFID equipment) pay nothing to use unlicensed bands. What happens if the government says it will auction off areas of the spectrum, including those now used by RFID systems?

Farry also posed this question: If pedigree laws are introduced to reduce the chances of counterfeit goods getting into the supply chain, and companies use RFID to collect electronic pedigree information, what happens if counterfeit drugs are not picked up by the RFID-enabled pedigree system? Who is liable? The manufacturer, the wholesaler, the retailer, the doctor who prescribed the drugs, or the systems integrator that installed the RFID system or the RFID vendor that made the hardware?

The same questions about liability could be asked around homeland security applications. Who is liable if a terrorist gets into the country using an RFID-enabled passport? Who is liable if a shipping container using RFID to get through the green lane at a U.S. port contains a dirty bomb that explodes in the heart of a big city?

It's clear to me that legal and public-policy issues are not going to go away any time soon. We've introduced a new "Public Eye" column in our bimonthly magazine that will address public-policy issues, and we will also continue to stay on top of these issues with news stories and online "Expert View" columns. Our aim is to inform both end users and vendors about what needs to be done.

We hope our readers will make the legal-affairs teams within their companies aware of the issues. And, of course, please let us know when you learn of a new issue that could have an impact on RFID adoption.

Mark Roberti is the founder and editor of RFID Journal. If you would like to comment on this article, click on the link below.