RFID companies enter privacy debate, educate legislators

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Tuesday, November 1, 2005

IRVINE, Calif.--The RFID industry is playing catch-up this fall in an attempt to become active in a burgeoning discussion taking place about RFID technology and the right to privacy.
Until recently, the RFID industry in general did not have a need for government affairs staffers. They were consequently taken by surprise in May by a bill in the California Legislature that could restrict the development and use of RFID technology.
Since then, access control manufacturer HID Corp. has taken the lead in getting the RFID companies up-to-speed on the RFID-privacy debate--tracking legislation in California and elsewhere; considering legitimate concerns about the technology and privacy; and figuring out ways to educate legislators, the mainstream press and the general public about RFID technology.
"This is new ground for us; no one had a lobbyist or staff with legislative affairs experience," said Debra Spitler, executive vice president at Identification Technology Group, a corporate umbrella organization for HID and other Assa Abbloy companies.
The California bill was prompted by an incident at an elementary school where students were issued identification tags in RFID badge holders. School administrators intended to use the tags for keeping attendance, but neglected to inform parents about the tags. An outcry followed, as did various misconceptions about the RFID badges issued to the children, and RFID technology in general.
Spitler is working on the RFID education efforts and spoke at a press conference at the September ASIS conference in Orlando.
ITG announced a set of privacy principles that it is encouraging buyers of its products and services to support. And it also announced plans for a Privacy Forum tentatively scheduled for December in San Francisco.
"The goal is to invite RFID companies, government entities, legislators, end users and vendors to raise awareness about RFID technology and to discuss ways to ensure the continued responsible use of RFID in the public sector," Spitler said.
HID hired Dan Greenwood, a consultant, to track pending legislation in different states and research issues, such as privacy laws that are currently on the books.
Greenwood said with rapid technological changes, problems arise when legislative bodies try to define technologies.
"What we'd like to see is technology-neutral legislation that talks about behaviors and outcomes irrespective of technology," he said.
Greenwood said 12 states currently have some form of RFID legislation pending.
The California legislation passed in the state's Senate, but the legislature adjourned in September and will not reconvene until January.