Leahy: Congress May Need To Step In on RFID

Mar 26, 2004
George Anderson

By George Anderson

In a speech given earlier in the week at the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., Senator Patrick Leahy (D – Vermont) expressed concern about the potential for radio frequency identification technology (RFID) to be used for inappropriate purposes in violating the privacy of consumers.

The Senator expressed excitement over the potential of the technology and supported its use and further development but added, “The need to draw some lines is already becoming clear.  Recent reports revealed clandestine tests at a Wal-Mart store where RFID tags were inserted in packages of Max Factor lipsticks, with RFID scanners hidden on nearby shelves.  The radio signals triggered nearby surveillance cameras to allow researchers 750 miles away to watch those consumers in action.  A similar test occurred with Gillette razors at another Wal-Mart store.”

“These excesses suggest that Congress may need to step in at some point,” he added.

“With RFID technology as with many other surveillance technologies, we need to consider how it will be used, and will it be effective.  What information will it gather, and how long will that data be kept?  Who will have access to those data banks, and under what checks-and-balances?  Will the public have appropriate notice, opportunity to consent and due process in the case mistakes are made?  How will the data be secured from theft, negligence and abuse, and how will accuracy be ensured?  In what cases should law enforcement agencies be able to use this information, and what safeguards should apply?  There should be a general presumption that Americans can know when their personal information is collected, and to see, check and correct any errors.”

Moderator’s Comment: Do guiding principles for the appropriate use of RFID need to be established as Senator Leahy
suggests? What will legislative intervention mean for the deployment of RFID technology?

The call for action on RFID is crossing party lines and is not just a “liberal” or “conservative” issue. Senator Leahy is right in calling for a national
discussion on the appropriate use of RFID and other technologies being developed. It’s what will happen after the discussion that concerns us.

Anderson – Moderator

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