New Washington State Law Prohibts RFID Collection Of Data Without Consent

Few consumers are aware they could be transmitting personal information about their identity and the products they buy to just about anyone or any business equipped with a simple microchip reader. In fact, chances are you already carry one of these radio-frequency-emitting chips with you wherever you go, whether in your ID card, your cell phone, or possibly even in your shoes.

But a new law sponsored by state Washington state representative Rep. Jeff Morris, D - Mount Vernon, and signed by Governor Gregoire recently, will provide consumers better protection from these "spy technologies" used to collect your personal information without your consent.

The technology is called RFID chips and by some accounts, their uses haven't even been fully realized. That's why commercial industries are pouring billions -- with the potential to gain as much -- into the technology to track who you are, where you go, what you buy, and what you do with it.

Some aspects of these RFID chips will certainly be helpful -- they can help speed up checkout lines and tolls, or might someday work in conjunction with your refrigerator to check off your grocery list. More personalized shopping experiences are among the first efficiencies already being used by some retailers.

Imagine the potential for misuse then, say some consumer advocates. Images are conjured up of scenes from sci-fi movies like Minority Report. For instance, a shopper walking into a store could unknowingly transmit their identity and whereabouts via a membership card, while they pick out items and make their final purchases. That information then goes into a database for further analysis and targeted marketing schemes.

Or, more ominously, a potential thief could circle a neighborhood reading the transmissions coming from each house and picking his target based on the content of the home via a handheld RFID reader.

In another not-too-distant-future scenario, law enforcement attempting to squelch an unruly mob could gather the identity of everyone in the vicinity -- guilty parties and passersby alike -- with the click of a chip reader.

The practice is called "skimming," and if the chips were contained in your products or even in your clothes without your knowledge, which is already the case with some products, you would have no idea.

The only way to stay ahead of the technology, according to Rep. Jeff Morris, is to begin staking out our individual privacy rights now before it's too late.

The new law -- the first of its kind in the U.S.-- makes it a Class C felony to intentionally scan another person's identification remotely without his or her knowledge and consent, for the purpose of fraud, identity theft, or some other illegal purpose.

Morris admits it's been an uphill battle to win even this small yet commonsense protection for consumers. After years of advocating for stronger protections, including an opt-in requirement for retailers to abide by that was included in the original version of Morris' bill, corporate lobbyists have fought to kill it every step of the way. These business interests have remained steadfastly intent on allowing the spy chips to remain unregulated as they quickly move to embed them in any or all products imaginable.

Morris does not intend to give up the fight, however. "This is just one small step to stake out some boundaries around our individual consumer rights before it's too late. The battle now that criminal acts are covered is deciding whether or not spying on consumers for marketing purposes without their consent is criminal."

The new law goes into effect in July.

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