April 12, 2007
Marc L. Songini
Governor wants a balance between technology, privacy
As expected, North Dakota has become the second state in the U.S. to ban the forced implanting of radio frequency identification (RFID) chips in people.
The two-sentence bill, passed by the state legislature, was signed into law by Gov. John Hoeven last Wednesday. Essentially, it forbids anyone from compelling someone else to have an RFID chip injected into their skin. The state follows in the steps of Wisconsin, which passed similar legislation last year.
"We need to strike a balance as we continue to develop this technology between what it can do and our civil liberties, our right to privacy," Hoeven said in an interview. He emphasized that the law doesn't prohibit voluntary chipping. Military personnel who want an RFID chip injected so they can be more easily tracked will still be allowed to get a chip. There are also potential uses for the technology in corrections or in monitoring animals, he noted.
Marlin Schneider, the state legislator who sponsored the Wisconsin law, said he is glad to see an antichipping legislation trend. However, such statutes don't go far enough to curb the ability of private sector retailers and manufacturers to "implant these things into everything we buy."
Ultimately, with RFID tagging systems, corporations "will be able to monitor everything we buy, everywhere we go and, perhaps as these technologies develop, everything we say."
But Michael Shamos, a professor who specializes in security issues at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, believes the law is too vague to do much good. For instance, it only addresses situations where a chip is injected, even though RFID tags can also be swallowed. And it doesn't clearly define what a forced implant really is; someone could make chipping a requirement for a financial reward.
"Suppose I offer to pay you $10,000 if you have an RFID [chip] implanted?" he asked. "Is that 'requiring' if it's totally voluntary on your part?"
The idea behind the law isn't bad, but "it looks hastily drawn and will have unpredictable consequences," said Shamos.