RFID: 'Right, Fargo Is Dandy'

Call me a cynic -- go ahead, everyone else does -- but the idea of two United States senators launching a caucus to "educate" their fellow lawmakers and policy wonks as to the value of RFID technology strikes me as something more than a collegial academic endeavor.

From an IDG News Service story: "Two members of the Senate launched an RFID (radio frequency identification) caucus Thursday, with the purpose of educating lawmakers on the benefits of the expanding technology.  Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) plan to sponsor periodic discussions on Capitol Hill about the advantages of RFID and the policy implications. "

A couple of Senate cloakroom geeks wanting to get out the good word on a white-hot technology, right?

Well, maybe Cornyn just likes hanging out in RFID chat rooms, but Dorgan has been upfront about a more tangible agenda for a few years now: jobs. He's been active courting high-tech companies to the Red River Valley Research Corridor, North Dakota's answer to Silicon Valley, writ-small.

Seems one company that's already taken root in Fargo is Alien Technology, which has a relatively new manufacturing plant there that makes … hmmm, RFID tags. And according to this press release on Dorgan's Web site, there's even been talk of moving the company's headquarters from Morgan Hill, Calif., to Fargo.

From that 2003 release: "Alien estimates the plant could eventually employ over 1,000 people with an annual payroll exceeding $50 million, according to Dorgan."

So it should come as little surprise that the senator's "educational" efforts last week were described this way in that IDG News service story: "Speakers at the caucus launch event played up the benefits of RFID while downplaying potential problems."

Get out.

Now don't be mistaken, this is no anti-RFID rant. I find that RFID privacy concerns are overblown, especially since we live in a country where the government now feels free to help itself to my telephone and financial records just because I can find the Middle East on a map.

But let's be up front about the purpose of this Senate caucus. If Alien Technology manufactured plutonium popsicles instead of RFID tags, the good senator would be selling the notion that plutonium is an essential source of Vitamin P.

So let's call the Dorgan-Cornyn caucus what it is: routine constituent service, or politics as usual. But for the love of money let's not call this kind of thing educational.

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