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EU Calls for Stronger RFID Privacy

Europeans need to be reassured that radio frequency identification chips won't betray their privacy and can be turned off if desired, EU Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding said Monday.

RFID chips can be used to automatically identify and verify passports, luggage, livestock or pharmaceuticals and have a wide range of potential uses -- from telling doctors what medicines patients have been given to instantly pointing out food that is past its sell-by date.

But Europeans are worried about whether the chips will unwittingly broadcast people's personal information, Reding said at a conference in Brussels.

The European market for RFID is growing at a slower pace than in other regions even though countries such as Germany already insert the chips into passports. The United States is incorporating the technology in passports as well.

Reding said European industry and regulators have to respond better to people's privacy concerns. She said this was clear from groups and individuals who had responded to a recent EU call for comments on ways to go forward with RFID.

"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," she said. "This is the deal that we have to strike if we want RFID to be accepted and widely taken up."

She said people need to keep control of how their information is used and updated -- and how the tags can be turned off.

"Clear labeling of tags or the option to disable or destroy them electronically will be an important part of our protective armor," Reding said. "The consultation shows that people are mainly afraid of losing control, of not being able to choose when and how they are exposed to risks."

Only 15 percent of the 2,190 groups and individuals who answered the EU survey thought the industry's efforts to regulate itself would be enough.

The European Commission could put forward a draft law on the subject in 2007.

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