With widespread adoption of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags under way, privacy advocates are pushing for regulations on these tiny computer chips that can track information about the products they are attached to.
Several government agencies and large companies intend to use RFID tags in force by 2005. The Department of Defense is planning to require its suppliers to attach RFID tags to their shipments, as are Wal-Mart and rival Target. A recent CIO survey found that 17 percent of respondents have deployed the technology.
That means this year provides the last chance for privacy advocates to set limits for how RFID can be used before it hits the mainstream, when regulating it will become more difficult. In at least three states, legislators have introduced bills to limit RFID use, such as requiring companies to remove RFID tags from products once they are purchased.
David Peyton, director of technology policy for the National Association of Manufacturers, says such legislation is moot because companies are only using the tags to track products through their supply chains.
That assurance isn’t enough for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the Senate’s most vocal civil liberties watchdog. Leahy worries about companies eventually treading on customer privacy the way Wal-Mart did when it let researchers observe consumers who picked up tagged Max Factor lipsticks. Leahy wants hearings on RFID, though his spokesman David Carle says they will not take place this year.