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Microsoft Pri0

Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times technology reporter Matt Day.

February 20, 2007 at 10:05 AM

Does RFID use need regulation?

Jeff Morris thinks so. Morris, chairman of the state House Committee on Technology, Energy and Communications, has been looking into radio frequency technology for years now.

This story on his bill doesn’t have any comment from Morris. He has said in the past that he does not want to constrain the technology, but he does favor putting into law some basic principles that protect personal data. Here’s a summary of the bill.

When the committee members first started discussing RFID a few years ago, industry representatives told them not to impose legislation that would damage a nascent industry. But that industry is not so nascent anymore.

RFID tags are now in passports, tires, contactless credit cards, Boeing planes, Nike shoes and Gap sweaters. Soon wireless companies plan to deploy them in mobile phones so that consumers can order products by holding their phones up to an advertising billboard.

While the technology is becoming ubiquitous, I’m not aware of any state consumer protections that address RFID specifically.

Last year I bought a sweater at a major retail chain store. I noticed that it had an RFID tag attached, sewn into the seam inside the sweater. When I asked the salesperson at the register what the tag was for, he said he didn’t know.

Consumer privacy advocates have called for “killing” or deactivating RFID tags at the point of sale. Retailers argue the tags could allow them to offer better service, knowing size and style preferences of repeat customers, for example.

One option is for stores to notify consumers about what kind of data the tag contains, since the information can be easily read outside the store, and let consumers decide to keep it or not. But at least in this case, the basic principles of notification and choice were not being followed.

Is legislation the answer? I’d welcome any of your thoughts on RFID and privacy…

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