Privacy a hot topic as RFID tagging grows in use

Privacy concerns over RFID tagging are reaching new heights in the US, with legislators introducing and increasingly passing new measures to restrict their use, while employers face a barrage of concern from workers over RFID-embedded identity badges.

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Privacy concerns over RFID tagging are reaching new heights in the US, with legislators introducing and increasingly passing new measures to restrict their use, while employers face a barrage of concern from workers over RFID-embedded identity badges.

Those worries were aired by speakers and attendees at RFID World: Boston on Thursday, even as some RFID technology defenders worried that they haven't done enough to promote the value of RFID in tracking tainted foods or counterfeit drugs and of reducing the cost of tracking inventory.

To indicate how extreme the RFID hysteria has become, one speaker said privacy advocate Katherine Albrecht had urged consumers to microwave new underwear to disable a possible RFID tag and thereby prevent someone from tracking your whereabouts. (However, a check of Albrecht's website spychips.com, actually urges not putting items in the microwave to disable an RFID tag because it could cause a fire.)

RFID and privacy "are taken very seriously in state governments across the US," said Ben Aderson, manager and counsel for technology policy and state government affairs at the American Electronics Association, an industry trade group. Unfortunately, most legislators don't know RFID technology well, he added.

Aderson said 50 bills involving limits on RFID were introduced in 19 states in 2007, and three of them became law, the largest number of the past four years. "Nothing catastrophic has passed to completely ban RFID in a state," he said, adding that activity at the federal level has not been as extensive, he said.

The biggest action in states is for bills to ban implantation of RFID chips in people without their consent, and seven states have taken up measures, with Wisconsin and Idaho passing them, Aderson said. However, he said the laws are unnecessary, since implanting anything in a person would be akin to hitting someone in the face, punishable under laws of battery.

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