The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Who Will Regulate RFID?

by Catherine Komp

This sidebar is associated with a full-length news article, Radio ID Technology Spreads; Privacy Activists Dig In*.

In the face of growing consumer awareness of and backlash against radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, the industry has begun attempting to assuage concerns raised by its critics.

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In cooperation with a number of corporate major players in the RFID field, the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), a nonprofit public-policy organization, released a list of "best practices" this week.

It lists recommendations on labeling products that contain RFID. The labels would state the purpose of the RFID tag, explain how the information gathered by the chip will be used, reveal any future marketing intentions, and expose when the information collected is linked to personally identifiable information. It also suggests that companies notify consumers when they enter a commercial or public environment where RFID technology is being used.

CDT said the working group that produced the study was made up of "some of the nation's largest companies, public-interest and consumer advocates." Indeed, the majority of endorsers are among the biggest names in the RFID industry, including IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Verisign. Aside from CDT, the only public-interest organization to sign the document was the National Consumers League.

Lee Tien, senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told The NewStandard he participated in working-group discussions on the CDT report’s recommendations but told them up front that his organization would not sign it, partially because the document was written too vaguely to satisfy privacy advocates’ concerns.

Tien also criticized the recommendations for excluding government use of the technology. As an avid customer of RFID products, he said, the government produces "enormous ripple effects through the economy" when it decides to adopt a technology.

"By not taking the government into account, that definitely makes the enterprise of thinking about RFID policy very difficult," Tien said, adding that government agencies would need to comply with RFID regulations.

Beth Givens, director of Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, another group advocating for more regulation of RFID use, said the technology is "crying out" for an objective, third-party evaluation, like those previously conducted under the now dissolved Congressional Office of Technology Assessment.

"Over the past decade, in which we’ve seen the rise of so many sophisticated and privacy-intrusive technologies, we have not had this Office of Technology Assessment to actually do objective evaluations of both the benefits and disadvantages of these technologies," Givens said.

The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

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This Sidebar originally appeared in the May 5, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Catherine Komp is a contributing journalist.

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