RFID privacy concerns are global

European Commission's Data Protection Web site

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Privacy concerns over the use of radio frequency identification technology aren't confined to the United States. Officials in Europe and Asia have completed or are developing guidelines and directives to ensure that RFID technology is used properly.

The European Commission's advisory board on data protection and privacy, known as the Article 29 Working Group, will soon release a final version of a working document on RFID. The document addresses concerns about data collected surreptitiously by tracking people's movements in public places or monitoring consumers' shopping habits.

The document is not legislation, but it could serve as a guide for member states in the European Union to writing legislation, said Florent Frederix, a European Commission scientific officer for network and communications technologies, who spoke at a recent RFID conference in Washington, D.C.

Cedric Laurant, the Electronic Privacy Information Center's policy counsel who also directs the nonprofit group's International Privacy Project, said the European Union's Data Protection Directive went into effect in 1998. Since then, data protection authorities in Italy and Portugal have come up with additional privacy guidelines that apply specifically to RFID, he said.

In addition, the Japanese and South Korean governments have established an official set of guidelines governing RFID use, Laurant said.

Privacy concerns across the world are essentially the same, he said. RFID devices could be used, for example, to violate the privacy of immigrants or employees who might be afraid to speak out.

Laurant expressed special concerns about a miniaturized RFID device about the size of a grain of rice from a company called VeriChip. The chip is implanted below a person's skin and contains a unique verification number.

Laurant said the chip could legitimately be used by health officials to obtain information, such as blood type, about an unconscious person and used to treat them. But it could also be used for more controversial applications such implanting them in the arms of soldiers who are on special military missions.

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