RealTime IT News

California Crackdown on RFID

Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology promises to speed the supply chain, but some fear it will tell retailers too much.

A measure by Senator Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach) to set privacy standards for the use of RFID in stores and libraries passed the California Senate on a 22-8 vote Thursday.

The bill was the result of two sets of hearings held by California's Senate Subcommittee on New Technology, which Bowen chairs.

"There's no reason to let RFID sneak up on us when we have the ability to put some privacy protections in place before the genie's completely out of the bottle," said Bowen.

SB 1834 permits stores and libraries to collect the same information they already collect now using bar codes, while at the same time banning the use of the technology to track people as they shop or after they leave the store.

RFID technology automates the collection of the same kinds of data carried in barcodes. Instead of the printed barcode, a tiny transponder, called a tag, carries the data. An RFID reader activates the chip when it comes into proximity, collecting the data, which is immediately sent to a central database.

However, while barcodes typically offer generic information, such as "Peas $0.99," a project by EPCglobal, a retail and manufacturing consortium, hopes to create a unique identifies for each and every can of peas and every other product in the retail supply chain.

Privacy advocates fear RFID will become as omnipresent as video surveillance and give marketers an even more sophisticated way to track people's whereabouts, interests and habits. For example, could a store's RFID readers collect information on what products a shopper previously purchased?

"RFID technology gives the store -- and anyone else with an RFID reader -- the ability to collect that type of information, assuming a person's clothing and items in their wallet or purse have RFID chips embedded in them, tie it to their name, and build personal profiles on just about anyone," Bowen said.

The senator's bill limits the information that can be collected to the actual item a customer is buying, renting, or borrowing; it also precludes tracking anything the person may have picked up but put back while shopping, or what they're wearing, among other such information.

SB 1834 now moves to the Assembly, where it will be heard in June.