September 30, 2003, 12:00 AM

RFID lands in the crosshairs of privacy groups

Groups concerned about threats to personal privacy are taking aim at RFID tags, claiming users could infringe on privacy by combining personal identification with product data and tracking products after they leave a store.

Groups concerned about threats to personal privacy are taking aim at RFID tags. Beth Givens, founder and director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, argued at a hearing before the California State Senate recently that, by placing RFID tags on individual products, RFID users could infringe on personal privacy by combining personal identification with product data at the point of sale and by tracking products after they leave a store.

Givens called for a set of seven government-enforced rules, including a prohibition of retail policies designed to coerce consumers to keep RFID tags on purchased products. Also testifying against RFID was the group Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering. RFID is radio frequency identification, a product-tracking technology that generates data that can be moved over the web and is designed to modernize retail supply chains.

To give assurances that RFID won’t be used to invade consumers’ privacy, the Auto-ID Center, an industry research and development organization, testified that privacy standards being developed would let consumers know when products contain RFID tags, assure them that personal data is kept separate from RFID product data, and allow them to deactivate an RFID tag at no cost after purchasing a product.

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