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Home > Past Releases and Reports > Privacilla Criticizes Anti-Commercial Screed Against RFID Tags

For Immediate Release
November 14, 2003

Contact: Jim Harper

(202) 546-3701

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

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 "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 carrying it.

"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 government entities.

"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." ( is an innovative Web site that captures "privacy" as a public policy issue. Privacilla has been described as a "privacy policy portal" and an "online think-tank."


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