RFIDs Hit the Bigtime


I earlier noted the swift rise to notoriety of the radio frequency identification (RFID) chip within the past six months, after I first learned about them while writing my Reason cover feature on John Gilmore's fight for anonymity, and the increasingly tight web of surveillance that new technologies make possible. But now I know RFIDs have Arrived: Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) wants to regulate them. Some excerpts from the C/NET story:

"We are on the verge of a revolution in micro-monitoring–the capability for the highly detailed, largely automatic, widespread surveillance of our daily lives," Leahy said….
His comments come as commercial giants Albertsons, Wal-Mart Stores and Target are drawing up plans for wide-scale use of RFID systems to monitor merchandise in its path from the factory to cash register, and possibly beyond.

In recent months, the U.S. government has joined in on the action. The Pentagon is expanding its RFID program in an effort to keep armed forces supplied on the battlefield. The Food and Drug Administration recently encouraged the pharmaceutical industry to use the technology to help curb the counterfeit drug trade.

"The RFID train is beginning to leave the station, and now is the right time to begin a national discussion about where, if at all, any lines will be drawn to protect privacy rights," Leahy said.

Consumer advocates fear the push toward RFID will lead to a world in which everyday objects, such as razors and socks, are "tagged" with tiny sensors that can wirelessly communicate with computer networks. In such a scenario, according to even some proponents of the technology, all kinds of personal belongings could constantly broadcast messages about their whereabouts and their owners.

Such visions have already fueled legislative debate at the state level, with at least three states–California, Missouri and Utah–introducing bills designed to assuage privacy concerns related to RFID.

A hearing at the federal level is not likely before the end of the year, a Leahy representative said.