EU needs RFID privacy regs, study finds

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The European Union needs to consider adopting a solid legal framework to ensure that the use of radio frequency identification technology does not infringe on privacy, a top official of the European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, told an RFID conference Oct. 16.

The EU also needs to standardize its RFID frequencies in the 865 to 868 MHz frequency band, according to a commission background paper presented at the conference. The commission said it expects to complete a draft spectrum decision by the end of this year.

It has recently completed a six-month consultation with public and industry stakeholders on the use of RFID tags in the EU. Viviane Reding, European commissioner for information society and media, told the conference that “the overriding message that comes out of the consultation is that citizens have concerns over privacy issues.”

“The large majority are willing to be convinced that RFID can bring huge benefits, but they want to be ensured that it will not compromise their privacy,” she said. “This is the deal that we have to strike if we want RFID to be widely accepted and taken up.”

RFID tags are widely used in the supply chain in Europe and the United States to track the movement of goods, and consumers are concerned the tags, though short range, could be used to track them when they buy something equipped with a tag. RFID tags need to be clearly labeled and should incorporate privacy-enhancing technologies that will allow for the destruction, disabling or deactivation of tags, Reding said.

The commission received 2,190 responses from the public during its examination of RFID. Reding said that although industry views privacy concerns as unfounded, only 15 percent of the respondents believe self-regulation would ensure privacy. About 55 percent thought the EU should update legal frameworks to handle the huge growth in the use of RFID tags and readers.

By 2015, 1 trillion sensors will link the physical and digital worlds, Reding said. The commission paper estimates that 600 million tags were sold last year and expects 27 billion tags to be produced in 2016.

Reding said RFID technology can provide great benefits to the economy and society beyond initial supply chain applications, such as patient monitoring in hospitals and tracking and authentication of prescription drugs. But she added that the technology also poses tremendous challenges to individual liberties.

The EU and the rest of the world need to establish global harmonization of RFID frequencies to fully exploit the potential of the technology, she said.

Standardizing on the 865 to 868 MHz frequency band will result in use of tags that are less expensive and can be read much more quickly over greater distances, the commission paper states. The background paper adds that the commission’s Radio Spectrum Committee has endorsed use of this band for RFID throughout the EU.

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