Jul 19, 2005This article was originally published by RFID Update.
July 19, 2005—Today's RFID news had two stories which together succinctly highlight the debate about using the technology to tag people. The first comes out of the UK, where silicon.com reports that the general workers' union GMB has officially submitted a report to the European Commission calling for a ban on the use by employers of RFID to tag employees. Last month, the GMB threatened a strike if employers did not stop using RFID to track employee movements, a practice they label "dehumanising." According to the GMB, companies are using RFID to monitor the accuracy and efficacy of employee work patterns, including even their use of the bathroom on the job. The implicated employers deny this. The workers' union is looking for prompt action from the European Commission, which it accuses of being oblivious to the uptake in RFID employee tracking. Said GMB general secretary Paul Kenny in a statement: "GMB is concerned that the EU appears to be blissfully unaware of the possible uses of RFID and GPS-linked wearable computer technology to tag European workers and to seriously invade their right to privacy. No one has been consulted about its introduction and use and workers rights to privacy are being undermined."
The other news comes out of the Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the "Hugs" RFID infant protection system from VeriChip reportedly thwarted an attempted abduction. According to a press release from VeriChip itself, the Hugs systems sounded a "Code Pink" alert when a tagged baby was removed from the nursery last Friday. Hospital security then swooped in and safely recovered the child. According to the company, there has been an average of one infant kidnapping from healthcare facilities every two years in the U.S. for the last twenty years.
Upon reading these two bits of news, the public's ambivalence toward RFID technology is understandable. One story is about RFID being used by employers to impose a watchful "eye" over employees, while another illustrates the technology's ability to prevent a life-shattering nightmare. As with any technology, RFID is intrinsically neither good nor evil; it is only what people do with it that ultimately determines its impact.