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European Commission Issues RFID Privacy Recommendations

The document, which spells out ways to protect consumers but also allows for flexibility, should help promote greater implementation of RFID technology.
By Rhea Wessel
May 13, 2009Industry and consumer organizations around Europe welcomed an official "recommendation on the implementation of privacy and data protection principles in applications supported by radio-frequency identification." Issued this week by the European Commission (EC), the document outlines data privacy objectives suggested for use in the organization's 27 member states.

The document advises that consumers should be informed of the presence of RFID tags placed on or embedded in products, and that tags should be removed or deactivated immediately—and without a fee—at the point of sale, unless a purchaser expressly consents to keep a tag operational. The decision whether or not such an opt-in policy is necessary, however, will be determined after a retailer assesses the privacy- and data-protection risks of its own particular RFID application.

The non-binding recommendation provides a data-protection framework, including guidance regarding opt-in requirements. Industry and consumer groups say the document paves the way for greater implementation of RFID technology.

EPCglobal, the nonprofit industry organization that promotes the development and standardization of Electronic Product Code (EPC) RFID technology, welcomed the move. "The recommendation is important because it provides certainty for the European market," says Marisa Jimenez, EPCglobal's Brussels-based public policy director for Europe. "The framework allows us to focus on innovation rather than privacy risks."

Informationsforum RFID, a German association representing corporate users of RFID and other industry participants, also welcomed the recommendation. "After nearly two years of consultations," Andrea Huber, the group's CEO, said in a statement, "the recommendation creates a secure basis on which companies can plan their business activities."

The European Consumers' Organization, also known as the Bureau Européen des Unions de Consommateurs (BEUC), was pleased with the recommendation as well. The Brussels-based group, which advocates for consumers' rights, participated in the two years of consultations.

Emilie Barrau, a legal officer at BEUC, says the recommendation was the best way to protect consumer data, though it still remains to be seen if it will be implemented. "In Europe," she notes, "we have good data-protection laws, but often they're not applied."

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