Following the public consultations on RFID last year, the European Commission announced the creation of an RFID Expert Group to assist in drafting the future RFID strategy. The group's kick-off meeting was held in Brussles last week. EDRi was invited to participate in the group.
The Group has been established for two years and includes representatives from the industry, standardisation bodies and the civil society. The EU data protection authorities participate as observers.
In the past years digital rights organisations have continuously expressed their strong concerns regarding the implications the usage of RFID may have on privacy. The public consultation on RFID confirmed that these concerns were shared by a majority of the respondents and that safeguards were needed to ensure the protection of personal data and privacy.
RFID technology may be used to collect information on directly or indirectly identified persons or to track and trace people's movements in the workspace and in public areas. Therefore privacy and security will be the first topics the group will work on. Input from the group will be taken into account by the European Commission when preparing a Recommendation on RFID usage, which is planned to be issued by the end of 2007.
The work of the group will then broaden its scope and deal with the move towards the "Internet of Things". Giving every day objects a representation on the Internet and building "smart" environments that react to the presence or movements of people and things have been subjects of research in the last years. Ambient Intelligence, Ubiquitous Computing, Pervasive Computing and Smart Objects are keywords for the research specialists that often name Mark Weiser's article "The Computer for the 21st Century" as the starting point for these ideas.
Privacy, environmental issues and the dangers stemming from the accumulation of electromagnetic fields will certainly be among the issues that have to be discussed with regards to this topic.
As a member of the RFID Expert Group, EDRi will promote the implementation of privacy-friendly technologies and stress that the reliable protection of privacy and personal data is a key issue for the acceptance of this technology.
Mark Weiser already wrote back in 1991 with regards to Ubiquitous Computing: "If designed into systems from the outset, these techniques can ensure that private data does not become public. A well-implemented version of ubiquitous computing could even afford better privacy protection than exists today." Sixteen years later this statement must still remain the guideline for RFID applications. Key technologies that are said to have the potential to become a new motor of growth and jobs need to be concordant with and to protect the societal standards of the society.
In times of mandatory data retention, as communication traffic data has to be stored for up to two years, it is important to ensure that only an absolute minimum of data which can be linked to a certain personis stored. Otherwise any movement in an RFID-enabled "smart" environment could feed into a behaviour-profile of a potential future surveillance society.
The RFID Expert Group will make it their mission to discuss these and related issues and to work out possible solutions and necessary regulatory measures over the next two years; EDRi will contribute to this mission.
EDRI-gram: EU study on RFID tags shows major privacy concerns
Results of the Public Online Consultation on Future RFID policy - "The RFID Revolution: Your voice on the Challenges, Opportunities and Threats"
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) in Europe: steps towards a policy framework