Consumers could have their privacy breached if Radio Frequency Identification is used in manufactured goods, such as clothes, according to some opponents.
Senator Brian Greig, Australian Democrat's spokesperson for IT, has called for privacy protections for Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), to protect consumers.
While Greig said that the technology could be useful in areas such as scanning goods being shipped for identification purposes, he questioned the security and privacy implications if
RFID is used in consumer goods. 'Privacy advocates have real concerns that uncontrolled use of the chips will let shops gather masses of data on customers shopping activities, and link it to their customer information databases,' Greig argued.
He told CRN that one of the issues was if the consumer was unaware that the product they had purchased had an RFID in it, so could be ignorant about the potential to monitor their purchase or store information about them on a database.
'Most Australians I'm sure would be deeply concerned to know their comings and goings [could be] monitored,' Greig said. 'It is an invasion of privacy.'
Greig said he took the same philosophical approach to RFID as he did to spam - that there should be a mechanism to opt-in or opt-out. 'Consumers, I think, have the right to know if any product they purchase has RFID in it and, if so, how to deactivate it or be excluded from any data [being collected],' he said.
Cameron Murphy, president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, said that there could be serious privacy concerns that technologies such as RFID could be used to build up profiles of consumers. 'Consumers should be able to ensure those devices can be turned off when they walk out of the store,' Murphy argued.
He said that he'd seen proposals from manufacturers that information gathered could be used to tailor advertising on plasma screens, referring to it as 'retail harassment'. 'The problem is, how do you maintain the integrity of this?,' Murphy asked.
But Richard Fleming, head of the national privacy group at law firm Deacons, cautioned allowing the issue to become overblown or to panic. Fleming said that existing legislation in place largely dealt with protecting people's privacy already.
'It's only if linked to credit cards or some other form of user ID or customer details where it can be of greater concern,' Fleming said. 'There is the possibility of collecting data at the point-of-sale, but I think even doing that they [retailers] are going to be cautious about doing that without consumer consent.'