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Commission investigates right to 'chip silence'

Will it help me shut these bloody yoghurt pots up?

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The European Commission is to investigate whether or not people have the right to disappear from the ever-more pervasive digital networks that surround them.

The Commission has expressed concern about the privacy implications of personally-identifying technologies such as radio frequency identification (RFID) chips. It said that it is important to discuss whether or not people should be able to disappear from networks.

"The Commission will launch a debate on the technical and legal aspects of the ‘right to silence of the chips’, which has been referred to under different names by different authors and expresses the idea that individuals should be able to disconnect from their networked environment at any time," said a Commission consultation paper.

The consultation will form part of an action plan published by the Commission outlining how it will legislate and regulate the coming phenomenon it calls the 'internet of things'. This is the name it gives to the increasing automatic communication between devices and tags that are forming complex networks around citizens.

"Every day we see new examples of applications that connect objects to the internet and each other: from cars connected to traffic lights that fight congestion, to home appliances connected to smart power grids and energy metering that allows people to be aware of their electricity consumption or connected pedestrian footpaths that guide the visually impaired," said Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media.

"The promise of this new development of the internet is as limitless as the number of objects in our daily life it involves. However, we need to make sure that Europeans, as citizens, as entrepreneurs and as consumers, lead the technology, rather than the technology leading us," she said.

The Commission believes that existing trends towards the interconnection of objects as well as people using networks will continue.

"These can be simple everyday items like yoghurt pots that record the temperature along their supply chain, or two prescription drugs that warn patients of a possible incompatibility," said its statement outlining its plans. "Or they can be more sophisticated, such as health monitoring or recycling systems… with everyone surrounded daily by several thousand objects, this interconnection of physical objects will amplify the profound effects that modern communications are having on our society."

The Commission has outlined the areas in which it will take action to try to ensure that any new object networks do not trample on the rights of the individuals who interact with them.

Its first objective is to create a set of principles which it wants to underlie the 'internet of things'. It wants to make sure that privacy and data protection are considered from the outset in the building of any systems, and wants to ensure change is measured. It will produce statistics on the use of RFID chips starting in December of this year, it said.

The report can be read here (pdf).

Copyright © 2009, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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