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Wisconsin law bars forced RFID implants

Measure takes effect this week; other states considering limits on technology

By Marc L. Songini
June 12, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Wisconsin this week will become one of the first states to ban the forcible implantation of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags into humans.

The ban begins on Wednesday, when legislation signed on May 30 by Gov. James Doyle goes into effect. The act dictates that no person may force another to have a microchip implanted in his body. Violators face fines of $10,000 each day until the chip is removed.

A spokeswoman for Doyle said the law targets RFID technology, though it bans the implantation of any microchip without consent.

"I'm hoping other states will follow," said state Rep. Marlin Schneider, a Democrat who sponsored the bill. While Schneider acknowledged that he knows of no case where an RFID chip was forcibly implanted into a person, he said he believes that proactive legislation is necessary as the technology quickly advances.

Schneider said he is also concerned about current commercial uses of RFID technology. "There are a number of issues here, potentially," he said.

Proposed laws that seek to limit the use of RFID devices because of data privacy and security concerns are under discussion in a total of 19 states, according to Douglas Farry, managing director of the government affairs practice at McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP, a Washington-based law firm.

Such legislation could have broad implications for RFID product manufacturers, distributors and users, he said.

Further Repercussions

Even for companies that use RFID strictly for inventory control or supply chain management, such laws could lead to IT spending on the security infrastructure changes needed for compliance, Farry said.

He urged that RFID advocates do more to educate the public and governmental bodies about the benefits of the technology and thus remove the sinister stigma that some opponents have fostered.

Kevin Brown, director of information systems at Daisy Brand LP, a Dallas-based maker of sour cream products that uses RFID systems, said, "It is understandable for the states to begin this type of legislation where technology has the potential for abuse."

Brown said that in his opinion, makers of RFID technology should educate the public on its capabilities and use. "My hope is that our policymakers can balance the need to legislate the use of technology while not impeding the creative forces of innovation," he said.

Scott Silverman, chairman of Applied Digital Solutions Inc., whose Delray Beach, Fla.-based subsidiary VeriChip Corp. supplies RFID chips for human implantation, said he doesn't object to the Wisconsin law. "In theory, we're in agreement with the posture taken," he said. "For medical uses, we've been clear all along that it's a voluntary product."

Silverman said that other potential beneficial uses of the technology would include implanting RFID chips in immigrant guest workers for identification at border crossings and employer sites.

As the use of the technology becomes more widespread, Silverman said, he expects that all the RFID-related legislation "will shake itself out." 

Read more about Government IT in Computerworld's Government IT Topic Center.



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