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Europe fears RFID privacy threat

The European Commission is considering bringing in legislation so smart tags won't be abused
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Many individuals and organisations are concerned about the privacy implications of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, according to the European Commission.

A six-month study into RFID, which culminated on Monday, found that people worry their privacy may be infringed through loss of control of the data collected via the use of radio tags.

Information and Media Society Commissioner Viviane Reding said Europeans needed assurance that radio tags would not be used for large-scale surveillance, and said she would consider legislation concerning RFID and privacy.

"The overriding message that comes out of the consultation is that citizens have concerns over privacy issues," said Reding, in a speech on Monday.

"The large majority are willing to be convinced that RFID can bring benefits but they want to be reassured that it will not compromise their privacy. This is the deal that we have to strike if we want RFID to be accepted and widely taken up. This is the deal I am looking to make," Reding added.

Almost 2,200 people took part in the survey. Seventy percent thought it was important to label tags and give consumers the opportunity to disable or destroy them.

RFID tags can be used in supply chains to help companies track their stock from the supplier to the shop floor, and possibly beyond. They are being tested by many retailers, and are also being trialled in a range of environments. One kind of tag has been recently developed to track passengers at airports.

The RFID industry has argued that self-regulation will prevent radio-tagging being abused. But this has not inspired confidence in the survey participants, with just 15 percent of respondents believing industry would do well to regulate its use of RFID.

Over half of survey participants said that legislation was needed to that ensure RFID tags and any information harvested by governments and organisations were not misused.

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