Monday, July 16, 2007

RFID and the free market

via RFID Update, the "RFID Industry Daily":

PRI, a California-based think tank with an openly free-market bent, this week released a primer on RFID, privacy, and government efforts at legislation of the technology. Entitled Playing Tag: An RFID Primer, the 11-page report is a worthwhile and concise wrap-up of the issues surrounding privacy and RFID...Not that the report is entirely neutral; consistent with PRI's political leanings, Playing Tag argues firmly against regulation of the technology. "Lawmakers should weigh the pros and cons of this technology, before imposing a regulatory regime that would inhibit the positive benefits of RFID," quoted report author K. Lloyd Billingsley.

RFID Update echoes the common industry refrain that opponents of RFID are fueled by hostility to big business and government, and reflexively driven by an irrational fear and misunderstanding of new technology. However currently pending RFID regulations do not call for instituting an outright ban on the use of RFID, as frantic industry backers contend. The proposals instead require public notification and consent, and recommend a temporary moratorium to allow for further study of the impact of these devices on individuals' rights to privacy and security--values not represented nor protected by market forces. New laws take the necessary precautions and preventive measures to ensure the safety of personally identifiable information.

PRI attempts to refute some of the very real objections to the use of RFID:

Opponents of RFID worry that the police and other government agencies could install RFID scanners in public places and track people through their purchases. Items resold or given as gifts could identify an individual’s social network. RFID tags could be matched with a credit or ATM card for additional data collection. Libraries could use RFID for patron profiling in the post-9/11 world.

Journalist Declan McCullagh raises the possibility of “nightmare legal scenarios that don’t involve the cops.” One party in a divorce case, for example, could seek a subpoena for RFID logs to prove that the spouse was in a certain location at a certain time. McCullagh is not an alarmist, and he values the advantages RFID provides to retailers and consumers. Even these advantages, though, provoke objections.

Shoppers may be unaware that they have purchased products bearing the tags, which could be scanned without their knowledge, permitting retailers to contrive
sales pitches based on the contents of a shopping cart or the items customers are wearing. Store managers could use RFID to monitor the movements of shoppers
within the store and change store layout and product placement accordingly.

The prospect of currency with RFID tags could mean that even those who avoid paying by credit card would not be immune from profiling. Those scanning the tags need not be limited to government snoops, police profilers, or eager retailers. The world of high technology has handed thieves new opportunities. They could scan houses, shopping bags, wallets, and purses—even the trash—to determine the value of an owner’s belongings or the amount of money he is carrying.

According to PRI, these very valid objections are all premised on misinformed assumptions of what even "smart" technology is capable of doing. However given the rapid innovation of the information age, it would be even more naive to think that industry isn't developing technological advancements that could make heightened tracking capabilities more readily available for commercial, surveillance, and illegal purposes. Thus it's the duty of elected officials to defend the public interest and guarantee the safety of this technology before it becomes ubiquitous.

No comments: