RF Laws That Matter: A Late Summer 2007 Update

Flaws in RF legislation could chill innovations used for security, consumer convenience


As the summer progresses, so do several bills regulating the use of RF technology by both private and public enterprises. While it is understandable that policymakers and consumers have questions about the use of RF technology, enacting legislation that regulates and limits the technology's use may not be in the interest of citizens nationwide.

When the telephone, a startling new technology in the late 1800s, was first introduced, there were many questions about it and how it would be used. Some even saw it as the work of the devil and wanted to ban its adoption outright.

Imagine lawmakers back then passing legislation that would have restricted, heavily regulated or banned the use of telephones, whether in the public or private sector. This is the same approach that some states are taking with RF technology as policymakers listen to opponents of RF technology who see it as an inherently dangerous technology much as some of our ancestors saw the telephone.

Such a preemptive approach to legislation, regulating a technology without proof of an articulated harm to citizens, fails on two levels. First, policymakers who are introducing these anti-RF bills are doing so without understanding the vast differences in how the technology works and is applied. This failure may deprive business and government entities, and ultimately consumers, of the benefits that RF technology could deliver if allowed to flourish and evolve without restrictive legislation.

Second, this type of legislation, by regulating and restricting a single technology, may force consumers, businesses and government entities to use less effective technologies so as to avoid the potential for running afoul of the law or being open to civil lawsuits. Again, this may deprive the public of RF solutions that could ultimately make them more secure, save them money and speed their movements in daily life as RF-enabled highway toll systems do.

Further, this type of legislation could harm American competitiveness in the RF industry. In fact, the European Commission, after studying the technology and holding a series of public hearings, decided it would be difficult and unwise to enact legislation to regulate or restrict a technology that is evolving as fast as RF technology is.

An analysis of pending anti-RF legislation reveals a significant lack of understanding about the technology and how it is currently being used in a wide range of applications. The misunderstandings stem from overbroad definitions that sweep all applications that use radio frequency to communicate under a single umbrella term: RFID. The definitions ignore the wide range of frequencies used to communicate and the different types of chips that are often associated with those frequencies.

Many of the bills make assumptions about industry as well, ignoring the fact that industry is committed to implementing RF technology to help lower consumer prices, protect consumer privacy and speed transaction times whether it is on the highway or in the supermarket. Ultimately, industry understands that consumers will drive the adoption of RF technology only if they feel comfortable and safe using it in their daily lives.

What follows is a quick synopsis of those bills and their current status [status given based on reports in late July 2007 - Carroll will be providing a mid- or late-September update on the fates of these bills].

In Arkansas, the Senate passed Senate Bill 846, an act to establish the Arkansas Legislative Task Force on RFID technology. This bill, along with SB 195 which would have limited the use of radio frequency identification tags, died in the House Committee on Advanced Communications and Information Technology when the legislature adjourned in May.

In California, there are five RF bills pending in the legislature. The following bills have all passed out of the Senate and are now in the Assembly:

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