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Europe has RFID in its sights

CEBIT: The EC is pushing for global standards and interoperability for RFID tagging but there is also concern that individual privacy could be compromised
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

The European Commission has launched a wide-ranging consultation into the use of RFID tags in Europe.

Viviane Reding, Europe's information society and media commissioner, told a press conference at the CeBIT trade show in Hanover on Thursday that there are several important issues surrounding RFID that need to be addressed.

The consultation will focus on three main areas — standards, interoperability and privacy, Reding said. Standards, ideally global ones, are vital if RFID is to deliver significant benefits to businesses, she added.

Reding also said she was determined to address the fear that RFID tags could be used to track people's behaviour. "The danger is that the public receives a very negative view of RFID, and that would make it very difficult for RFID to fly. We need to answer the reasonable, and in some cases unreasonable, concerns of consumers," she said.

The EC plans to hold workshops focusing on the key issues around RFID between March and June, in Brussels. It will then publish the results of these workshops on the Internet in September, allowing all citizens to comment on them.

For full coverage of CeBIT 2006 as it happens,
see ZDNet UK's CeBIT 2006 toolkit.

Reding is planning to then publish an official communication on RFID, which could include proposals for important legislative changes. "If we have to take RFID inside the European e-privacy directive, then we will do it," warned Reding. Such a move could put tighter controls on companies that deploy RFID.

At a panel debate on Thursday afternoon, Vint Cerf, Internet pioneer and Google's chief Internet evangelist, backed the EC consulatation.

"Global standards and interoperability are very powerful concepts. They drove the Internet, and they could drive the development of RFID," said Cerf. "If we have a lot of incompatible things, their value will drop significantly."

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