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EC Floats Plan to Facilitate RFID Usage

Steering clear of legislative proposals, the European Commission seeks guidance from industry groups and consumers.
By Rhea Wessel
Mar 19, 2007RFID trade groups and experts welcomed a plan announced by the European Commission's Information Society and Media Commissioner, Viviane Reding, to create a stakeholder's group to advise the European Union on its RFID strategy.

The announcement came at this year's CeBIT trade fair, which runs until March 21 in the northern German city of Hanover. Reding told reporters at CeBIT: "When I come to CeBIT, people ask, 'What regulation are you proposing today?' I have no regulation. We must not over-regulate RFID, but we must provide the industry with legal certainty."

Last year at the same IT trade fair, Reding kicked off a consultation period to get feedback on RFID technology from industry groups and citizens around Europe (see EU RFID Survey Shows Privacy Protection a Prime Concern). At this year's event, the EC released final results of that online questionnaire, along with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) in Europe: Steps Towards a Policy Framework, the EC's six-point plan for the initial steps toward a European RFID strategy.

"The [European] Commission's Europe-wide public consultation in 2006 identified a strong lack of awareness [of RFID] and considerable concern among citizens," Reding said at CeBIT. "The Commission's RFID strategy will therefore seek to raise awareness, stress the absolute need for citizens to decide how their personal data is used and ensure that Europe removes existing obstacles to RFID's enormous potential."

The stakeholder's group, to be composed of representatives from industry and consumer groups, will be set up as soon as possible and work for two years to fully understand and take coordinated action on areas such as spectrum, research and standardization. It will also look at security, privacy and policy-related issues around the move from RFID to systems of autonomous objects—that is, systems in which everyday items exchange information about their location and their own profiles. The group will report back to the commission by the end of 2008.

Reding believes that in addition to creating the stakeholder's group, the European Commission must do work in five different areas so that the E.U. can create a comprehensive RFID strategy. These are RFID privacy and security; radio frequency spectrum; research; standardization; and governance.

First, by mid 2007, the European Commission plans to amend the e-privacy directive to address concerns about privacy and RFID. Issued in July 2002, the e-privacy directive concerns the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the electronic communications and is meant to protect the privacy rights of consumers and individuals.

"As end users typically are not involved at the technology design stage, the commission will support the development of a set of application-specific guidelines (code of conduct, good practices) by a core group of experts representing all parties," the EC wrote in "RFID in Europe: Steps Toward a Policy Framework."

By the end of the year, the commission will also issue a recommendation on data security and privacy and assess the need for further legislative steps to safeguard them.

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