(March 30) WASHINGTON, D.C. — It probably had to happen sooner or later.

With the popularity of radio-frequency identification technology heading toward critical mass, it was only a matter of time before the federal government got involved.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., called for a governmental inquiry into the technology during a speech at Georgetown University’s law school on March 23.

Leahy, who was participating in conference on the legal and technological challenges of video surveillance, referred to RFID chips as “barcodes on steroids” and said it is time to begin a national dialogue on the issue.

Leahy said there are a lot of advantages to using RFID technology but added that there are also some “potentially troubling tangents.”

“While it may be a good idea for a retailer to use RFID chips to manage its inventory, we would not want a retailer to put those tags on goods for sale without the consumers’ knowledge, without knowing how to deactivate them, and without knowing what information will be collected and how it will be used,” he said.

While he welcomes the potential for RFID technology, Leahy said “the need to draw some lines is already becoming clear.”

He cited recent RFID tests at Wal-Mart in which tags were inserted into packages of Max Factor cosmetics and Gillette razors.

Calling these tests “clandestine,” Leahy said they suggest that Congress might need to step in at some point.

While there have been no specific plans for congressional hearings or committees, Leahy said it is never too soon to begin the discussions.

“This is a dialogue that should cut across the political spectrum, and it should include the possibility of constructive, bipartisan congressional hearings,” he said.