Government may regulate RFID use

The government is expected to debate the use of RFID technology after the parliamentary recess, in case it needs to be regulated in the UK

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology will be put under the Parliamentary microscope when the Government returns from its summer recess.

Labour MP Tom Watson on Wednesday submitted a motion for debate on the regulation of RFID devices, and is confident that it will be debated in September. Watson told ZDNet UK that he submitted the motion because without proper regulation, RFID tags are "open to abuse by unscrupulous retailers" who could misuse the technology.

Essentially a new and vastly improved barcode, RFID tags have been causing controversy in Cambridge where the popularity of Mach 3 razor blades among shoplifters prompted supermarket chain Tesco to run a pilot scheme using RFID to detect when a packet of Mach 3 razor blades is picked up and take a security picture of the person holding it.

Watson says he is concerned at the potential of RFID technology. "How can we regulate the information collected? For example, do I pick up product 'A' and 'B' before choosing product 'C'? Why should they know all our musings?" asked Watson. "They push our current data protection laws to the limit and therefore require a review by government."

Marc Dautlich, solicitor at law firm Olswang, believes that legislation is feasible, and would like to see a debate in Parliament because, he said, the technology is "invisible" and opens a "massive can of worms".

But RFID is not only a data protection issue; in certain circumstances its implementation could also break European human rights law, said Dautlich, who explained that Section 8 of the Human Rights Act states that every individual has a right to privacy in their private life, home and correspondence.

All public sector bodies must comply with the Human Rights Act, which also applies to private companies who conduct public functions -- such as an ISP that provides information to a government agency.

Dautlich suggested that if the technology gains acceptance among retailers, it is inevitable that public sector bodies will gain access to the information. For example, a retailer could legitimately collect RFID information, and then be asked to hand it over to the police if they are investigating a theft. Dautlich argues that this could open the door for many more government organisations: "What happens when the Food Standards Agency or any of 50 government bodies pop out of the sand?"

RFID tags "offer profound challenges to the civil liberties of people. I'm going to try and secure a debate in parliament about them," added Watson.