U.S. Senators Launch RFID Caucus

An ongoing series of meetings is planned in an effort to educate legislators.

Two U.S. senators, Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota, and John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, launched the U.S. Senate RFID Caucus in mid-July to educate colleagues about the potential uses and benefits of RFID.

The first official meeting, held July 13 in Washington, D.C., included the co-chairing senators and a group of panelists from the vendor, user and analyst community.

About 150 people attended the event, including citizens, two additional senators and senate staff members.

Participating in the panel discussion were members from the RFID software developer and research communities.

Paul Chang of IBM and Brian Cute of Verisign talked about specific industry applications for RFID, and IBM researcher Paul Moskowitz demonstrated IBMs clipped tag technology, which is applicable for the pharmaceutical industry.

Alan Estevez from the U.S. Department of Defense talked about the work the DOD is doing with RFID in the supply chain.

Dan Engels from the University of Texas at Austin and Mike Liard from ABI Research also discussed the potential uses for RFID.

"The caucus was well-attended, beyond the expectation of the two senators," said Chang, in Armonk, N.Y..

"They came up and described why they launched the caucus: RFID is an important technology with potential benefits to industry and consumers. They want to make sure the US stays competitive in the global technical market."

There are huge initiatives under way, both domestically and internationally, that include RFID.

The U.S. State Department, for example, has legislated that all U.S. passports must contain an RFID chip by the end of 2006.

The chip, which holds the same data thats on a standard passport—name, address, birth date and nationality—also holds enough memory to include biometric information such as iris scans or digital fingerprints.

Likewise, the European Union also has an RFID passport initiative under way.

The technology, which uses radio waves to transmit data, is also being extensively piloted and used in various industries.

Big-box retailers like Wal-Mart Stores and Target are heavily investing in creating an RFID infrastructure with suppliers, while the U.S. Department of Defense is RFID-enabling its supply chain—an initiative that, similar to those implemented by Wal-Mart and Target—funnels down the supply chain.

However, there is an equal amount of activity among security and privacy advocates who are in an uproar over the potential downside of using RFID chips in everything from passports to childrens clothing.

Chief among concerns are that the data on RFID tags can be illegally obtained for nefarious purposes, that RFID can be used to track individuals, and that it is, at the end of the day, an invasion of individuals privacy and security rights.

The goal of the caucus, according to attendees, is to dispel some of the myths around RFID, and educate legislators about the potential uses.

"In the first of many caucus sessions, lawmakers took the initial step toward learning more about RFID technology and sorting through RFID myths and realities," said Liard.

"The goal is for lawmakers to legislate against bad behavior such as the illegal use of RFID data, and not to legislate against RFID technology."

Liard said ABI Research urged the senators to avoid reactive RFID legislation without proactive education.

Dan Engels, formerly with the Auto ID Center, discussed the issue of privacy.

/zimages/4/28571.gifTo read more about the Department of Homeland Securitys concerns about RFID, click here.

Whats interesting, according to Chang, is that during an open-mic session, no one in the audience brought up the topic of either privacy or security—the main complaints against the use of RFID in private and public sectors.

"We were anticipating questions, but that issue was sort of muted from the beginning because we talked about the tag containing only a unique license plate [type of number] that had no relevant information," said Chang.

"The only way to get information is to access a secure database."

Exhibiting their wares at the event were a number of software and hardware developers, as well as industry groups, including: Attevo, Center for Nanoside Science, Cisco, EPCglobal, HID, IBM, IEE USA, InfoLogix, Information Technology Industry Council, KillDeer Mountain, North Dakota State University, Odin Technologies, RCD, RFID International Business Association, SAP, Skyetek, Symbol Technologies, Texas Instruments, Unisys and Zebra.

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