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Morris plans greater consumer protection and privacy laws in 2009

Fresh off a legislative win last year that saw first-of-its-kind consumer protection laws enacted, state Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, is planning another bout against so-called “spy technology” devices.

Morris has waged a campaign against the malicious use of radio-frequency identification (RFID) microchips, which are turning up in more and more consumer products, as well as government-issued identification like driver’s licenses and passports. When prompted by a radio transmission from a chip reader, these chips transmit data — whether a product’s price or, more ominously, a person’s name and address.

Proponents of the technology cite the efficiencies gained by the ability to track large quantities of products moving through a checkout counter or the instantaneous recognition of shoppers and their whereabouts within a store, for example.

There are certainly benefits to this technology, Morris recognizes. “But I also want to ensure that consumers and citizens are aware of the technology and remain in charge of who and what collects their personal information.”

Last year’s law championed by Morris – the first of its kind in the U.S. - made it a Class C felony to intentionally scan another person’s identification using a remote device without his or her knowledge and consent for the purpose of fraud or identity theft. The practice is known as “skimming.”

And when the 2009 Legislative Session begins next week, Morris will have a new package of consumer protection bills ready.

Morris’ bills would outlaw the practice of intentionally scanning a person’s identification chip without obtaining that person's opt-in consent first, except in certain circumstances for emergency purposes or court-ordered electronic monitoring. His legislation also requires all products containing an RFID chip to be marked clearly, so consumers are aware of their presence.

Morris expects swift and fierce opposition to his proposals from corporate lobbyists and business interests that would like to see RFID chips embedded in any and all consumer products. “The potential for marketing and convenience is great with this technology,” Morris said. “But so is the threat to our privacy and freedom.”

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