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EU Considers RFID Privacy Rules

Privacy and security need to be built into radio frequency identification tags before they become widespread, the European Commission said, announcing it would publish guidelines later this year.

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 expired food.

Advocates of the technology -- which for now is used mainly on cases of items in warehouses, not individual products -- laud its ability to speed inventory and checkout. But opponents say that because wireless chips can be read from afar, people and their purchases could be surreptitiously tracked.

The EU executive's call for public comments on RFID last year unearthed "a strong lack of awareness and considerable concern among citizens," the Commission said.

It said it would work to "stress the absolute need for citizens to decide how their personal data is used" in an effort to help the technology gain ground in Europe.

The RFID market is growing at a slower pace in Europe than in other regions even though countries such as Germany already insert the chips into passports.

The Commission said it saw a need for EU rules to "address ethical implications, the need to protect privacy and security."

EU Media Commissioner Viviane Reding said her office would draft rules this year to amend EU e-privacy law to take account of RFID. It would also set up a group with industry representatives to focus on privacy, trust and governance and report back by the end of 2008 on any broader changes needed to EU laws.

"We should stimulate the use of RFID technology in Europe whilst safeguarding personal data and privacy," Reding said.

In a strategy paper published last week, the EU said research was needed to make tags more secure through authentication and encryption. The Commission is a major source of public funding for European research and development and said it would stimulate efforts to make RFID more secure.