EU study on RFID tags shows major privacy concerns
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After a 6-month consultation period, an EU study initiated after Cebit trade
show in March 2006 shows concerns related to the use of RFID (radio
frequency ID) tags and reveals the necessity to assure the public that these
tags will not lead to a large-scale surveillance system.
The RFID tags are more and more used by businesses to monitor goods and
governments are presently considering the introduction of these tags in ID
documents. The RFID market will probably grow spectacularly in the next
years. The EU prediction is that more than 270 billion radio-frequency ID
tags could be sold by 2016 in the world.
During the EU conference ‘Heading for the Future’ that took place at the end
of the study consultation period, Ms Viviane Reding, EU Information Society
Commissioner, made some comments on the study :
“The large majority are willing to be convinced that RFID can bring benefits
but they want to be reassured that it will not compromise their privacy…
This is the deal that we have to strike if we want RFID to be accepted and
widely taken up.”
According to the Commissioner the study showed that people needed to have
control on the information and decide on when and how the information is
used or updated.
The study has shown the general fear that RFID tags might affect privacy.
More than 55% of the individuals and organisations having participated in
the study consider that laws must be changed in order to protect the privacy
of the data provided by means of these tags. They also asked for technical
safeguards for tags to be turned off by default.
Reding considered that some of the measures that could be taken to meet the
concerns would include the use of technologies such as clear labelling of
tags and more transparency on the risks and opportunities of RFID system.
“Technologists tell me that many of the privacy concerns are unfounded.
Fine. If this is the case then I am sure we can win over public opinion by
explaining where there are risks and where there are not,” said Reding. She
also added that more than half of the respondents wanted government legal
regulation over RFID industry rather than self-regulation.
During the conference technical issues were discussed such as the need to
have common European technical standard for RFID systems and the lack of a
common radio frequency allocation to all EU Member States. Besides technical
matters, the debate covered issues such as the risks related to collecting
and using personally-identifiable information (e.g., misuse of data, loss of
freedom), the biological effects of radio frequency waves or the impact of
the RFID tags on reusing and recycling packaging materials.
The EU intends to use the responses to the study (around 2 200) to decide
how to best use RFID technology in Europe and how to solve the security and
privacy issues related to it. The Commission Communication on RFID, with the
final conclusions from the consultation process, will be announced towards
the end of 2006 and will include legislative changes or clarifications to
the present legal framework, These could be drafted in 2007 as affirmed by
Radio tags spark privacy worries (16.10.06)
Radio Frequency Identification Devices: Frequently Asked Questions on the
Commission’s Public Consultation (16.10.2006)
Q&A: Radio-frequency ID tags (16.10.2006)
Privacy concerns dog RFID use (19.10.2006)
EU mulls RFID privacy laws (17.10.2006)
EDRI-gram: EU public consultation on RFID (15.03.2006)