EC Floats Plan to Facilitate RFID Usage

By Rhea Wessel

Steering clear of legislative proposals, the European Commission seeks guidance from industry groups and consumers.

RFID 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.

Second, the EC is studying long-term requirements for additional RF spectrum needed by the RFID industry and may identify additional spectrum, if the need arises.

Third, the commission wrote, without being more specific, that it will stimulate research on the miniaturization of silicon chips and on organic chips in order to help move the overall price of passive tags toward 1 cent per tag; in addition, it will support research on security in RFID systems.

Fourth, the ECcalled upon European standardization bodies, in cooperation with industry groups, to ensure that international and European RFID standards meet European requirements on privacy, security and licensing. Through current European standards organizations, such as the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), and talks with counterparts in the United States and Asia, the commission will support RFID standards for certain application sectors such as container security, counterfeiting, air transport and pharmaceuticals.

Finally, the ECwrote that at the end of 2008, it will publish a communication about technological and governance issues that will analyze the nature and effects of systems of autonomous objects, often called "The Internet of Things" in Europe. The paper will assess policy options, particularly those for data protection and privacy.

The commission estimates that the European market for RFID will grow from 500 million euros in 2006 to 7 billion euros in 2016.

RFID industry representatives attending the CeBIT fair responded to the EC's proposed RFID policy framework. BITKOM, which calls itself the voice of the IT, telecommunications and new media industries in Germany; AIM Deutschland, the auto-ID industry association in Germany; GS1 Germany, the EPCglobal representative; and Informationsforum RFID, a business group that includes DHL, Metro Group, Intermec and Procter & Gamble, all welcomed the proposal and appealed to the EU to increase its support for the European RFID sector.

"Europe has the chance to increase its technical leadership in RFID systems vis-à-vis the competition in Europe and Asia," the four groups wrote in a joint press release. "The commission's proposal is an important step in this direction."

The groups also warned against overregulation and indicated that the harmonization of currently available UHF frequency among member EU states and the use of UHF frequencies that may become available as analog television gives way to digital television will be important prerequisites for Europe's technological leadership.

"The responsible European authorities must make enough spectrum available in the next years," said Osman Al Saqaqy, the head of the EPC RFID division at GS1 Germany. "Frequency made available by the switch from analog to digital television would fit the bill."

Wolf-Ruediger Hansen, the head of AIM-Deutschland, said: "RFID plays a basic role in the realization of the Internet of Things. This is a worldwide information infrastructure that can gather and transmit information about the position of objects such as containers and products along a logistics chain. This will help all companies involved in the transport of goods get the most possible use out of such data transparency."