RFID technology can provide many societal benefits


The peanut butter salmonella outbreak that has dominated the headlines for the past few weeks (economic issues aside) raises serious concerns about food safety and the traceability of food products to their source.

A recent article in InfoWorld recognized the role that RFID can play in keeping us safe from tainted foods. The author details how the FDA and the USDA could mandate tighter controls on foodstuff supply chains through RFID-enabled technology.

This is just one more example, among a plethora of others, of how RFID is, and can be used, as a tool to improve our lives. That being said, RFID manufacturers and users should be aware of the privacy concerns surrounding the technology because the consequences for not doing so might discourage innovation and growth in the future.

Those privacy concerns, whether real or imagined, deserve our attention and response. The alternative is legislation, driven by privacy considerations that will severely hamper the technology’s growth by imposing onerous regulations and increase the cost of deploying RFID solutions.

And while many of the privacy concerns that have been raised may have no basis in fact, we as an industry need to take steps to mitigate any potential privacy impact that might be associated with RFID technology. We need to work together to better explain to legislators and the public that RFID technology can provide many societal benefits that have yet to be realized.

Premature legislative efforts to ban or curtail the use of the technology will only serve to damper innovation, ultimately depriving citizens of the convenience and safety benefits of the technology. Imagine if legislators had banned the use of RFID technology in highway toll systems such as EasyPass. Travelers would be forced to idle in long lines while their vehicles spewed pollutants into the air.

Now imagine the ability to trace a food-borne illness to its source within a few hours versus days or even weeks or months using RFID technology. Lives could be improved or even saved by learning of the source of the problem and pulling tainted products off store shelves or alerting consumers much more quickly to the danger.

To be sure, most of the legislation proposed does not look to restrict the use of RFID in the supply chain. But severely regulating some applications of the technology because of questionable privacy concerns may have a chilling effect on research and development into new and even life-saving RFID solutions. The time is now to address legitimate privacy concerns and debunk the spurious ones so that RFID technology can continue to flourish.

We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to the future.