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Brussels/Hannover, 15 March 2007

Commission proposes a European policy strategy for smart radio tags

Exactly one year after launching an extensive Europe-wide public consultation on radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, the Commission has unveiled today its proposals for an RFID strategy for Europe. The Commission, in particular, proposes to address the privacy concerns of citizens to boost consumer confidence and Europe's position in a market experiencing 60% growth globally.

"From fighting counterfeits to better healthcare, smart RFID-chips offers tremendous opportunities for business and society," said Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding when presenting the Commission's strategy today at CeBIT, the world's largest annual IT fair in Hanover, Germany. "Last year I said here at CeBIT that we should stimulate the use of RFID technology in Europe whilst safeguarding personal data and privacy. The Commission's Europe-wide public consultation in 2006 identified a strong lack of awareness and considerable concern among citizens. The Commission's RFID strategy will therefore seek to raise awareness, stress the absolute need for citizens to decide how their personal data is used and ensure that Europe removes existing obstacles to RFID's enormous potential."

RFID – also called smart radio tags – is a technology which involves tags that emit radio signals as identifiers, and devices that pick up the signal and identify the tags. It has a wide range of applications and does not require direct contact or line-of-sight scanning.

The economic potential of smart radio tags can hardly be underestimated. In 2006 alone over one billion RFID tags were sold worldwide and by 2016 it might be over 500 times this number. The European market is estimated to grow from €500 million in 2006 to €7 billion by 2016. Europe is also a leading international player for RFID research and development, and its industry is strongly placed.

However, awareness about the potential of smart radio tags is low. About 60% of the 2190 respondents to the Commission's public consultation in 2006 (see MEMO/06/378) said they did not know enough to adequately assess the pros and cons of RFID technology. Of those who are aware, 70% believed that technical solutions were the best way to reduce security, data protection and privacy concerns, 67% expressed their support for awareness-raising campaigns to educate consumers, and 55% called for RFID regulations.

To enhance Europe's ability to reap the economic and social benefits of RFID technology, while answering consumer concerns, the Commission published today its RFID Communication. The Commission will:

§ Create in 2007 an RFID Stakeholder Group to provide advice and assistance to the Commission in developing a European policy position concerning RFID applications. This will be carried out in association with, among others, the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party;

§ By mid 2007, propose amendments to the e-Privacy Directive to take account of RFID applications, as part of the EU Telecom Rules' review;

§ Publish, by the end of 2007, a Recommendation on how to handle data security and privacy of smart radio tags to Member States and stakeholders. Both the Data Protection Directive and the ePrivacy Directive set rules for processing personal data which must be respected irrespective of the underlying technologies, and the Recommendation would further clarify their application to RFID;

§ In association with the Stakeholder Group, analyse the economic and social effects of smart radio tags and other technologies, particularly focusing on privacy, trust and governance, leading to an assessment of policy options and need for further legislative steps, by the end of 2008.

The Communication also highlights where the Commission wants to ensure that further development and deployment of smart radio tags are as safe, secure, privacy-friendly and effective as possible. This includes looking at research and innovation, the availability of radio spectrum, standardisation, environmental and health issues, and also ensuring that digital identities are well protected against abuse in the emerging internet of things where the many things around us will be communicating with each other without interaction from us.

Background information:

Today's Commission Communication has been shaped by results from a public consultation. During the first phase, the Commission held workshops on personal privacy, security, and RFID's potential for business and society (see IP/06/289).

The second phase gave everyone a chance to express their views (see IP/06/909). It helped the Commission to assess whether Europe needs a conducive and stable policy environment. This would encourage companies to invest in RFID, in harmonising standards and radio frequency allocation, while also sufficiently guarantee individuals' privacy and security.

A final conference in October 2006 presented the consultation's main outcomes (see MEMO/06/378). This enabled the Commission to report on its assessment and to collect final views before preparing this Communication.

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