|Author (Person)||Chapman, Peter|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol.10, No.43, 9.12.04|
By Peter Chapman
INFORMATION society chief Viviane Reding's department is planning to unveil a green paper next year setting out options for regulating the nascent market for radio-frequency identification tag technology (RFID).
The technology has been heralded as a giant leap forward for industry because it allows tiny chips to be implanted in everything from Prada handbags and Gillette razors to pallets of goods on container ships.
The basic technology sends out bursts of signals to special readers, allowing users to obtain information about the item in which it is embedded or the environment in which it finds itself.
Companies would be able to track stock, know how many people had bought specific items and even enable customers buying one product - such as a dress - to learn about similar, matching goods that they might not otherwise have chosen.
But privacy advocates are already warning that the technology should be handled with care.
This is because it can allow companies, security forces - and even terrorists - to snoop on citizens and know their whereabouts.
European Voice understands that Reding's information society directorate-general (DG) wants to flag the potential for good and bad in the green paper, and to propose possible ideas for policy in a follow-up communication later next year.
"We would like to take stock of all the issues - technical, economic and ethical," said an official, adding that a final decision on the way forward is expected before the Christmas holiday.
The Reding aide said that the DG would look at limits on the use of the technology, for example to ensure that EU levels of data protection are met.
The so-called Article 29 working party of national data commissioners - the watchdogs responsible for implementing data privacy law - is already looking at the issue.
The Commission is also anxious to develop an EU position on radio frequency issues related to RFID.
Scarce radio spectrum is carved up at regular world radiocommunications conferences. Better coordination would help to ensure that there was adequate space in the radio spectrum for RFID services across the EU's internal market.
The Commission is likely to look at the scope for encouraging common standards for RFID, although the EU executive is unlikely to seek to mandate specific norms.
Instead, it could ask standards bodies to develop voluntary specifications.
Industry groups across the world are working on ways to ensure that RFID is not abused, without the need for potentially market-crippling legislation.
Daniel Bailey, a scientist at American encryption giant RSA Security's Massachusetts laboratories, said that "used well, RFID technology can enable efficiency breakthroughs in applications such as military supply-chain management and passport control".
But he warned that "care must be taken to not introduce new vulnerabilities in these sensitive applications".
"If used improperly, RFID could enhance an enemy's ability to track military assets as they make their way from factory to depot to battlefield," Bailey said.
"Or if one has a chip in one's passport that will - without one's knowledge - inform anyone nearby of one's citizenship or identity, that feature could be used by terrorists or other malcontents to selectively target specific nationalities or persons," he added.
Article reports that the European Commission's DG Information Society is planning to unveil a Green Paper in 2005 setting out options for regulating the nascent market for radio-frequency identification tag technology (RFID). The technology has been heralded as a giant leap forward for industry because it allows minuscule chips to be implanted in every sort of device. The basic technology sends out bursts of signals to special readers, allowing users to obtain information about the item in which it is embedded or the environment in which it finds itself.
|Subject Categories||Business and Industry|
|Countries / Regions||Europe|