EU drafts guidelines for RFID technologies

By Paul Meller, IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

The European Commission has sketched out guidelines designed to help get RFID
(radio frequency identification) technologies up and running in the European
Union, but stopped short of proposing formal legislation in the area.

The Commission said Thursday that it has drawn up a draft text that aims to
help the makers of RFID technology, as well as potential users, introduce the
technology without harming privacy rights.

The Commission recommends that producers of RFID chips conduct a privacy assessment
before marketing their wares, while industries that plan to use the chips should
sign up to a code of conduct outlining how the chips should be used. Industries
using RFID technology should agree on a symbol to attach to the goods that carry
the chips to alert customers to their presence, the Commission proposed. It
also suggests that the chips should deactivate automatically at the point of
purchase.

RFID chips used with perishable items such as milk could alert consumers if
products go bad, but such a service should be optional, said Commission spokesman
Martin Selmayr.

"You should be able to decide whether to allow your milk carton to communicate
with your fridge, for example," he said at a news conference.

The Commission has opened an eight-week consultation, which ends April 25,
with interested parties, including industry, consumer and privacy groups. It
hopes to adopt the recommendations in the summer.

Ensuring that the potentially invasive technology respects people's right to
privacy is essential if it is to take off, Selmayr said.

"The new technology will only take off in a sound environment where data
protection is safeguarded," he said.

RFID could revolutionize logistics operations by allowing companies to trace
their goods from the factory to the shop shelf.

Three kinds of RFID chips are currently in use in Europe:

-- Passive RFID tags do not need a power supply of their own; the minute tension
induced from a radio frequency signal emitted by the reader is sufficient to
activate their circuit and to send out short digital information streams in
response. Typically, this information includes a unique identification number
that points to an entry in a data base.

-- Semi-passive RFID tags have built-in batteries and do not require energy
induced from the reader to power the microchip. This allows them to function
with much lower signal power levels and over greater distances than passive
tags. They are, however, considerably more expensive.

-- Active RFID tags have an on-board power-supply, usually a battery, of their
own. This allows for more complex circuits to be powered and for more functionality.

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