THE MAGAZINE

Tagging RFID's Privacy Problems

By Peter Piazza

A new bill introduced by California State Senator Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach) would restrict the use of information collected by radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. The measure, SB 1834, which passed the Senate at the end of April and was scheduled to be considered by the full Assembly by July, sets out four conditions that would have to be met before RFID tags and readers could be used to collect personal information. Information could be collected only to the extent permitted by law; information would be provided by a customer only to complete a rental or purchase transaction at a store; no information could be collected before a transaction was begun or after it was completed; and information would only be collected on the person presenting the items for purchase or rental, and only in regard to those particular items.

According to a statement by Bowen, the law is intended to address privacy issues raised by the tags "before the genie's completely out of the bottle." Bowen says that RFID technology can easily collect information on items shoppers pick up but don't buy, and can also potentially read tags attached to their clothes. As readers become more ubiquitous, Bowen warns it will be possible to collect information "with pinpoint accuracy and give businesses and marketers...the ability to use it for a wide variety of purposes, some of which we can't even imagine right now."

The California Chamber of Commerce and the Grocery Manufacturers of America were among those opposed to the bill. Opponents sent a joint letter to Bowen charging that legislation on the electronic product code (EPC) system that uses RFID is premature. "SB 1834 would place a number of restrictions on the use of EPC and RFID at a time when the technology is at its infancy. We believe these restrictions could have a number of unintended consequences that could blunt the potential benefits consumers could derive from the technology," the letter states.

@ The full text of SB 1834 and the letter opposing it are at SM Online.

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