RFID Detractors Gather for Protest By MATTHEW ARTZ

Friday June 24, 2005

To the backdrop of songs that harkened back to the Cold War, about 60 Berkeley lefties and library workers, most of them old enough to remember the ‘60s, protested Tuesday against what they see as a 21st century menace. 

Radio frequency identification devices, palm-sized antennas that can be used to track anything from cattle to razors, are coming to the library starting in August.  

But opponents of the technology, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and locally Super Berkeleyans Organizing For Library Defense, oppose the technology. 

They argue that when it comes to library books, the devices could allow authorities or anyone with a card reading machine to track not just the book, but the library patron as well. 

SuperBOLD also fears that the devices—purported to increase self check-out rates at the library to 90 percent—might cost library employees their jobs. 

“We want humans, not machines,” Peace And Justice Commissioner Phoebe Anne Sorgen told the audience. 

Berkeley has already paid for its $650,000 system, approved last year by the library board, and is moving ahead with implementation. The board was scheduled to hold a public forum on the technology Monday, but scheduling conflicts among the panel of experts caused them to postpone the meeting, said Board Member Terry Powell. The forum has been tentatively rescheduled for August 1. 

The battle over RFIDs is continuing on the state and national levels, said Lee Tien, an attorney with the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation. 

The EFF and ACLU succeeded in passing a bill through the state Assembly banning RFID in state identity cards, Tien said. However, he added, a companion bill in the senate is facing opposition from the electronics industry. 

Tien said national concern about RFID has increased after the U. S. State Department was forced to withdraw its plan to install the devices on new U.S. passports. The agency is now considering ways to encrypt the devices so they can only be read by authorized individuals.