Civil liberties groups demand halt to RFID

A global alliance of opponents to the rollout of radio frequency identification tagging systems are demanding that companies stop deploying them until crucial issues such as privacy are addressed

Over 30 civil liberties and privacy groups have demanded a suspension to the deployment of radio frequency identification (RFID) tagging systems until a number of issues surrounding the controversial technology have been addressed.

These organisations, including Britain's Foundation for Information Policy Reseach and Privacy International, have backed a position statement on the use of RFID on consumer products that was issued on Thursday.

It claims that RFID, if used improperly, represents a major threat to consumer privacy and civil liberties. This follows earlier protests against RFID by campaigners, and is thought to be the first formal global alliance against the technology.

RFID tags are very small chips containing a tiny antennae, and can be fixed to physical items. A number of major retailers are interested in using them as a high-tech replacement for barcodes, as they offer the possibility of improved stock control -- allowing a company to automatically count how many items it has in store, for example.

A number of trials have already taken place this year, involving companies such as Wal-Mart and Marks & Spencer.

Thursday's position statement lays out the case against RFID. It claims that hidden placement of tags could mean an individual wouldn't know that their clothing was broadcasting information, possibly to a hidden reader. It also states that RFID's electronic product code would theoretically allow every object in the world to be given a unique ID number.

This in turn opens up the possibility of mass surveillance, with people being tagged, monitored and profiled without their knowledge and consent through hidden RFID chips.

For these reasons, the organisations that have backed this position statement want a moratorium on the deployment and use of RFID until a "formal technology assessment" has taken place, involving both industry and consumers.

To read the full position statement, click here.