GS1 Canada Revamps RFID Policy Forum

By Beth Bacheldor

The updated forum will work to encourage discussion about all aspects of RFID-based electronic business processes, as well as provide the public with facts and research.


GS1 Canada has created a new forum aimed at providing businesses and the public with information and research regarding radio frequency identification and its intersection with government policy. In so doing, the organization hopes to encourage the understanding of RFID’s adoption and role in Canadian commerce, and to provide a source of neutral information about RFID.

The RFID Policy Forum, made up of leaders from trade associations, the public sector and industry, is not attempting to help shape public policy, according to Eileen Mac Donald, GS1 Canada’s COO. Rather, she says, its goal is to serve as a national leader to encourage discussion about all aspects of RFID-based electronic business processes, and to provide the public with facts and research.

Eileen Mac Donald

GS1 Canada is a nonprofit organization that promotes and maintains global standards for the identification of goods, locations and related e-commerce communication. The new forum is an evolution of the GS1 Canada Public Policy Forum, established in 2006 by GS1 Canada to lead the discussion on—and to conduct analysis of—critical public policy issues in Canada arising from the adoption of the Electronic Product Code (EPC) and RFID (see Major Companies Establish Canada Public-Policy Forum).

As participants analyzed, discussed and collaborated on various public policy issues, Mac Donald explains, the forum’s focus and mandate changed. Therefore, the organization opted to modify the forum’s governance, structure and terms of reference—documents describing the mission, vision and objectives of each of its working groups. The new forum is just getting underway, Mac Donald says, and GS1 Canada is currently “building appropriate communities of interest and identifying who needs to be at the table.” Central to the forum’s objectives is strengthening the public’s awareness and understanding of the use and implications of RFID.

There are currently 15 members on the group’s steering committee, including Arthur Smith, president and CEO of GS1 Canada; Elizabeth Board, executive director of the EPCglobal Public Policy Steering Committee; Zoe Strickland, VP and chief privacy officer of Wal-Mart Stores; Ann Cavoukian, Ontario’s information and privacy commissioner; Frank Work, information and privacy commissioner of Alberta; Gordon Miller, environmental commissioner of Ontario; and several leaders of Canadian industry associations. The forum plans to center its work around three major issues—privacy, the environment and communication—and, accordingly, has formed three working groups.

The Privacy Working Group will examine the impact RFID applications have on privacy, then share its findings with companies and the public. It is important, Mac Donald says, for both Canadian companies, and those elsewhere in the world that want to do business in Canada, to comprehend the nation’s Privacy Act and how it relates to RFID.

“We don’t want to change the Privacy Act,” Mac Donald states, “but we want to ensure the policies are understood, and how they relate back to the implementation of RFID.” For instance, she says, Canada’s Privacy Act is much stricter than similar laws in the United States and other countries, “and if a company manufactures a product in the United States and sells it in Canada, they have to adhere to Canadian law.” Such law, for example, requires a company to post a notification if an RFID tag has been affixed to a product.

The Environment Working Group will study the application of RFID and EPC technologies in the management of landfills and waste, and how those technologies might affect, or be affected by, laws and regulations; the environmental impact of widespread use of RFID and EPC technologies in retail; and the impact such technologies can have on worker health. RFID tags, for instance, can be employed by waste management companies to track how much waste a household produces, and there could be privacy concerns regarding such an application.

Finally, the Communications Working Group’s goal is to become a credible, neutral expert source for the press and the public regarding the use and implications of RFID-based electronic business processes in the public domain.

The RFID Policy Forum held its first meeting on June 5 of this year at GS1 Canada’s offices in Toronto. Going forward, Mac Donald says, the Steering Committee plans to meet twice a year, though it will convene more often if necessary. The working groups, meanwhile, intend to meet once per quarter.