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RFID Legislation Gains Sponsors

A Massachusetts lawmaker wants ground rules for how retail RFID is used. The aim is to allay alarmists' worries while making the technology more pervasive.

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Massachusetts state Sen. Jarrett Barrios is drafting legislation that would regulate the use of radio-frequency identification technology.

Barrios, who introduced anti-spam legislation in 2003 in the commonwealth, says the RFID bill likely will resemble legislation under review in California and Utah. Barrios spoke at a Tuesday panel discussion, sponsored by Philips Electronics North America and the National Retail Federation.

In February, California state Sen. Debra Bowen introduced a bill that would lay out three requirements for any business using RFID devices that can track products and people. Businesses would have to tell customers they're using RFID and get express consent before tracking and collecting any information. The bill also would call on businesses to detach or destroy any RFID tags that are attached to a product offered for sale before the customer leaves the store.

Barrios says his bill probably will contain three similar points: that consumers have a right to know RFID is being used, that consumers can opt out of using the technology at the point of purchase, and that consumers can deactivate that RFID tags at the point of purchase.

Privacy concerns regarding RFID shouldn't be rooted in outlandish conspiracy theories, Barrios says, but at the same time, "dismissing everybody's privacy concerns is too easy and would be a long-term disadvantage to all of us."

Barrios also says he expects RFID legislation to begin at the state level but ultimately should be handled by the federal government, much like spam legislation has moved from states to the federal government.

RFID is a fast-growing technology, sparked by mandates from Wal-Mart, Target, Albertsons, the Department of Defense, and several European retailers that suppliers use the technology in the next year.

Privacy advocates are concerned that as RFID technology matures and becomes more pervasive, it could be used to collect scads of data on unknowing consumers.

Barrios says he plans to hold a roundtable in late May with government leaders, industry and business leaders, and consumer advocates to solicit ideas and hear concerns regarding his proposed legislation.

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