Home > Past Releases and Reports > Privacilla Criticizes Anti-Commercial Screed Against RFID Tags
For Immediate Release
November 14, 2003
Contact: Jim Harper
Privacilla Criticizes Anti-Commercial Screed Against RFID Tags
Paper Contains More "Science 'Fantasy'" Than Legitimate Privacy Concern
Washington, D.C. — A position paper on RFID tags being released by anti-commercial groups includes more science fantasy than
legitimate privacy concerns, according to privacy think-tank Privacilla.org.
In advance of a weekend conference on Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, a group of activist
groups are issuing a paper alleging substantial privacy concerns related to the new technology. One of the groups
endorsing the report is the ACLU, which has publicly exposed the e-mail addresses of activists, and was recently fined by the New York Attorney General
for privacy violations.
RFID tags are tiny
chips that can be used to track the movement of freight, consumer products, or other items, allowing them to be
delivered to consumers at lower cost.
"The report is as much science fantasy as legitimate privacy concern," said Jim Harper, Editor of Privacilla.org. "In
this report, RFID readers on freeways read tags embedded in shoes and transmit the information to satellites. Yes,
shoe-tracking satellites circling the globe."
In actual consumer applications, the tags will be readable to a distance of around five feet. Thus, once most goods leave a store,
they will have been scanned for the last time. If an RFID tag were scanned a second time, sewn into a piece of clothing,
for example, the tag reader would not know whether it is on a person or in a trash bag, much less who was wearing it or
"A good imagination can come up with concerns about RFID tags, but concerns about commercial use of RFID tags fall
apart under real-world analysis," said Harper. "Under any scenario, there just isn't going to be post-sale data-collection
about the movement of canned peaches."
"This is important because bogus anti-RFID hype can really harm consumers," continued Harper. "The sooner this technology
can lower the price of baby formula and diapers, the better."
Each concern listed in the report is premised on RFID tags being linked to particular people at the point of sale.
This could be done by linking check payments, credit cards, and bank cards to purchases. The same potential exists
today with the bar codes on nearly every consumer product today.
"If it worries consumers, they'll carry cash," said Harper. "This isn't rocket science."
To the extent real consumers have concerns about RFID tags, they will ask for and get the protections they want in
the marketplace. Because of consumer perception and demand, companies and stores today offer foods and products
that are organic, non-genetically modified, or free of animal testing.
"If consumers care, there will be 'RFID-free' products and stores. Deployment of RFID tags for the rest of us should
not be slowed by activists with a self-indulgent hyper-privacy agenda."
In passing, the report expresses concerns about government use of RFID tags. Governments have unique power to collect
and use information adversely to citizens' interests. People do not have consumer power when they are dealing with
"This report should have been inverted," said Harper, "The 'consumer concerns' should have been mentioned in passing, and
potential use of RFID tags for government surveillance should have been the primary focus."
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