Is it time for the RFID technology community to form its own advocacy group? Doug Farry thinks so. Farry, a lawyer who specializes in RFID issues and government affairs, points out that right now, the RFID sector lacks a voice in the political and regulatory arena. And with various state and federal legislative bodies looking to crack down on RFID use, the community could use someone to look out for its interests.
Proof of that is legislation pending in California that would severely restrict the use of RFID technology in public places, including libraries, government agencies and public transit authorities like California's Bay Area Rapid Transit District. At press time, the bill had passed the California's legislature and was awaiting California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's signature or veto. But even if Schwarzenegger rejects the measure, the RFID industry still faces the prospect of regulatory restrictions. Legislation is pending in at least 20 other states that would limit how and where RFID is used.
The current California bill is a scaled-back version of a measure proposed last year, which sought to bar RFID technology from use in public areas for three years. But unlike the original bill, which drew fire from the American Electronics Association and a handful of technology suppliers (including Hewlett-Packard, Cisco and Philips), the revised bill has met with little opposition. Farry, who is the chair of law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge's RFID Practice, says he hasn't seen any technology suppliers raise objections to the California bill, even though it would create new avenues for lawsuits against RFID vendors (and the public entities using RFID) if in fact somebody's personal data were collected without his or her consent.
Farry thinks the lack of opposition may reflect the reality that many pure-play RFID vendors, like Impinj and Alien Technologies, are small companies unlikely to have the resources or time to pursue lobbying efforts. But they don't have to go it alone, he argues. Farry says it's time for industry players to form a RFID technology trade association.
"If the technology providers and the customers in the RFID space are content with the direction that things are going, they probably don't need to form [a lobbying group]," he says. "If they are alarmed or concerned about the direction that the state and federal government might go, it's always useful to have a unified voice."
Not all vendors are persuaded that lobbying is the answer. Take Patrick Sweeney, chief executive officer of ODIN technologies, which provides RFID software and implementation services. Like Farry, Sweeney is concerned about mounting legislative threats to RFID. "RFID is just another form of technology and its use shouldn't be specifically governed any more so than any other type of data capture device," he says. But Sweeney favors education over lobbying. He says he prefers the idea of educating lawmakers through meetings like the congressional caucus on RFID that was held in Washington, D.C., in July.