Strategic CIO // Executive Insights & Innovation
Commentary
4/8/2009
08:06 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
Commentary
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5 States + Feds Still Wasting Time Over RFID Paranoia

Five states plus the federal government are looking to regulate the use of RFID due to misplaced fears of obliterated privacy. In a world jammed with surveillance cameras, cellphone-cameras, and imminent smart-grid brains that will scold you for using more electricity than some bureaucrat thinks you should, this paranoia over RFID goes beyond silly to absurd.

Five states plus the federal government are looking to regulate the use of RFID due to misplaced fears of obliterated privacy. In a world jammed with surveillance cameras, cellphone-cameras, and imminent smart-grid brains that will scold you for using more electricity than some bureaucrat thinks you should, this paranoia over RFID goes beyond silly to absurd.Not surprisingly, the federal government has insinuated itself into the act, and get a load out of the brainstorm they've come up with, according to a story in Supply Chain Digest:

Washington has been considering legislation for the past couple of years, and at one point the proposed law would have required that a person give explicit consent before he or she or what they are buying was read [by an RFID system]. The bill has since been watered down so that retailers or government agencies are permitted to read the tags or government agencies are permitted to read the tags they issue or directly or indirectly place on items, but not tags issued by others.

Wow - do you feel better already? So the federal legislation will allow retailers to read RFID tags that they have put on items - now there's a productivity enhancement we can all look forward to!

The Supply Chain Digest article goes on to cite what it calls legitimate privacy concerns, using this example: "Could a thief use a reader outside your home, and one day know there is a recently purchased laptop inside?" (I swear I am not making this up.) Well, yes, I guess a thief could do just that - and the other thing that high-tech thief could do is cruise the neighborhood on garbage night and see who's put a big new PC packing box out by the curb.

Now, I'll admit that most 21st-century criminals would probably prefer to take the simple approach and stand outside your home each night for three years waving an RFID reader at your house until one day you happen to buy a new computer, so thank goodness privacy nannies and our valiant legislators are protecting us from such threats. As the philospher Charlie Brown once said, "Good grief."

Sounding one note of common sense, the article says that a report from investment firm RW Baird offers the following hope: "Baird observes that whether it's RFID or any of these other technolgoes or databases, 'each has the opportunity to invade privacy, [and] legislation is better served protecting the associated data and penalizing misuse of that data. We hope sensible debate begins to form around this critical issue, not around regulating a particular technology.' "

Yes, and I hope my home state does not join New York, New Hampshire, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Washington state in pursuing this goofy solution that's desperately trying to pair up with a problem.

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