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Europe tagging along on RFID

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Opinion Viviane Reding yesterday reeled off a sheaf of figures on RFID’s expected growth over the coming years. The European Commissioner for Information Society and Media reckons 600m tags will ship this year, with that number jumping 450 times within ten years.

So, anyone thinking the EU plans to halt the march of the chips is set to be disappointed. It’s coming, like it or not.

RFID has been steaming ahead in the US, with the combined weight of Walmart and the Pentagon forcing a broad spectrum of vendors and suppliers to pick up the technology.

Reding said the EU and US had reached an agreement to collaborate over interoperability and privacy in October. What, ahead of its own consultation on citizens' concerns about the technology?

To be fair, much RFID coverage to date has been alarmist, with many commentators seeing the technology as a way for corporations to track their goods right into our larders and bathroom cabinets. Some claim RFID is clearly paving the way for the antichrist.

Yesterday, Reding sought to highlight benefits of RFID technology, beyond the purely logistical, such as ensuring medicines are in date, and that removable aircraft parts don’t go astray.

She also sought to reassure citizens that the consultation would be an exercise in open decision-making designed to elicit a broad consensus virtually everyone could live with. Indeed, she said, it is exactly this sort of consultation that has resulted in previous EC legislation. Clearly that will put many minds at rest.

And just in case anyone is concerned that big business’ interest in being able to track every last widget is impeded by unwarranted concerns over consumer privacy, she stated, “as a politician, your duty is to solve problems and make the economy grow”.

The public consultation will consist of a series of workshops, taking place in Brussels between March and June 2006. A draft working document will then be produced, which will be published in September as part of an online consultation. This will be distilled in a Commission Communication on RFID before the end of the year.

At this point, Reding said: “I will make up my mind“ on what proposals, if any, need to be made to the commission."

Anyone at yesterday’s briefing who thought her mind is already made up is just being hysterical and needs to get hold of the real facts. Once Brussels has decided what they are. ®

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