EU Commission Launches Public Consultation on Radio Frequency ID Tags

the eFinland Weblog

Helsinki, 17 March, 2006 — Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFID), which will soon replace bar codes in your supermarket, offer tremendous opportunities for business and society. But their power to report their location, identity, and history also raises serious concerns about personal privacy and security, as well as technical interoperability and international compatibility. To address these concerns – some of which may well require legislative responses –, the European Commission launched a comprehensive public consultation with a high-level Conference on RFID at the CeBit 2006 trade fair in Hannover, Germany.

“RFID tags are far cleverer than traditional bar codes. They are the precursors of a world in which billions of networked objects and sensors will report their location, identity, and history” said Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding. “These networks and devices will link everyday objects into an ‘internet of things’ that will greatly enhance economic prosperity and the quality of life. But as with any breakthrough, there is a possible downside – in this case, the implications of RFID for privacy. This is why we need to build a society-wide consensus on the future of RFID, and the need for credible safeguards. We must harness the technology and create the right opportunities for its use for the wider public good.”

The European Commission last year established an RFID inter-service group to co-ordinate the gathering, analysis and internal dissemination of information concerning RFID technology and its uses. Building on this, the Commission has started today to launch a wide public debate on the opportunities and challenges associated with RFID. To exploit the economic potential of RFID, privacy and consumer concerns associated with the use of RFID tags need to be handled constructively, with the assent of all stakeholders. Furthermore, to enable RFID to deliver on its potential for growth and jobs, Europe needs to agree on common technical standards, to ensure RFID interoperability across borders, and also on a common radio spectrum band for RFIDs to use.

The public debate on RFID launched by the Commission today will rely on a series of workshops to build consensus on key issues associated with the use of RFID. These workshops will address RFID applications, end-user issues, interoperability and standards, and frequency spectrum requirements. They will take place in Brussels between March and June 2006 and their conclusions will assist the European Commission in drafting a working document on RFID. This document will be published in September in an online consultation. Additional feedback obtained will then be analysed and integrated in a Commission Communication on RFID, to be adopted before the end of the year.

This feedback could lead to amendments of the e-privacy-Directive which is up for review this year. The Communication will also address the need for other legislative measures for RFID, such as decisions on allocation of spectrum.

The Commission is at the same time stepping up its exchanges with the USA and Asia on RFID technologies, in order to define globally-accepted interoperability standards and practices with regard to data privacy and ethical principles when applying the technology.

Finally, the Commission is also planning to support, in the forthcoming Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development, technology and innovative applications that bring us a step closer to the “Ambient Intelligent Society”.

More information