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EU mulls RFID privacy laws

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Concern about the privacy implications of using RFID tags need to be overcome if the technology is to gain public acceptance, according to a new EU study.

The study, based on a six-month consultation exercise by Brussels, highlighted the need to reassure the public that use of the technology would not herald large-scale surveillance, EU commissioner Viviane Reding said.

The Information Society Commissioner said the study demonstrated the need for legislation to guard against possible abuse of the technology. Many survey respondents asked for technical safeguards so tags could be turned off by default.

The consultation, which solicited a record number of responses, also illustrated a public desire to have a say on how information stored on RFID tags was updated and which organisations were granted access to potentially sensitive data.

Only 15 per cent of the 2,190 organisations and individuals who responded to the survey thought that industry self-regulation and market dynamics could be trusted to establish adequate safeguards. More than half (55 per cent) wanted government regulations designed to curb possible abuse of the technology.

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

"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," she added.

Commissioner Reding made her comments during a conference in Brussels to mark the end of the EU's consultation exercise.

RFID tags, tiny microchips that identify their subject, are increasingly being used as an alternative to bar codes as a way of monitoring goods moving along supply chains. More controversially, the technology is also making its way onto individual items for sale in supermarkets and into government issued identity documents, including passports. ®

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