Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFID): Frequently Asked Questions
European Commission - MEMO/08/145 05/03/2008
Other available languages: none
Brussels, 5 March 2008
“RFID tags are far cleverer than traditional bar codes. They have the potential to link everyday objects into an ‘Internet of Things’ that will greatly enhance economic prosperity and the quality of life. But as with any breakthrough, there is a possible downside – in this case, the implications of RFID for privacy. This is why we need to build a society-wide consensus on the future of RFID, and the need for credible safeguards. Privacy is at the heart of our European model of society. RFID will therefore only become successful if they do not call into question the capability of every consumer to control the use of his or her personal data. I expect the industry to assume its responsibilities.”
EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media
Why is RFID on the European agenda?
Few new technologies attract as much attention from industry, consumer organisations and politicians as Radio Frequency Identification Devices. The interest in RFID largely derives from the technology's rapid movement from the research lab to mass application, mirroring the evolution of GSM mobile phones in the 1990s.
The Commission sees RFID as an emerging technology with great potential for economic operators in Europe and for European citizens. However, a precondition for the successful take-up of RFID is that it be introduced by industry in full respect of privacy, and that consumers remain in full control of their personal data.
Research must be pursued in the area of RFID to build and maintain
Europe’s leadership in the next generation of RFID technology and its
applications. However, the development of RFID technology should not be
considered an end in itself. The Commission expects RFID to be the forerunner of
many increasingly “intelligent” objects that interact with each
other and help humans in ever more sophisticated ways.
What has the European Commission done on RFID?
The recent actions of the Commission on RFID can be summarised as follows:
From February to 25 April 2008, the Commission is launching a Public Consultation on the draft text of a Commission Recommendation on the implementation of privacy, data protection and information security principles in applications supported by RFID. This consultation can be found at: http://ec.europa.eu/yourvoice/ipm/forms/dispatch?form=RFIDRec.
The Commission expects to adopt a legal instrument on RFID by summer 2008.
What has Europe done so far to ensure the privacy of its citizens in an RFID environment?
While there is broad recognition of the economic benefits of RFID, especially in fields such as transport and logistics, there is at the same time public concern that the large-scale use of RFID technology in daily products could come in conflict with the individual's right to privacy. Many organisations, data protection experts and consumer protection associations have therefore drawn public attention to this important concern.
The European Commission is very much aware of the importance of civil rights regarding information and communication technologies, and of privacy and data protection rights in particular. EU law addresses these concerns in various legal instruments, including the 1995 Directive on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and the free movement of such data. The Directive created the so-called Article 29 Working Party which advises the Commission on Data Protection matters, including implications of new technologies like RFID.http://ec.europa.eu/justice_home/fsj/privacy/workinggroup/wpdocs/2005_en.htm
The so-called “e-Privacy” Directive of 2002 also deals with the processing of personal data and the protection of privacy in the electronics communications sector. It is currently being reviewed and the proposed revision includes some clarifications with regard to RFID technology.
The Commission is currently consulting the public on whether an additional legal instrument (such as a Recommendation, although other legal instruments under Article 249 EC Treaty are an option) could add legal certainty and provide guidance on the interpretation of EU data protection law when RFID technologies are used.
What are the main features of the Commission's draft Recommendation currently under public consultation?
The main elements proposed in the draft Recommendation can be summarised as follows:
For the full draft Recommendation and a more detailed explanation, see http://ec.europa.eu/yourvoice/ipm/forms/dispatch?form=RFIDRec
What have data protection officials in the EU said so far on RFID?
The Article 29 Working Party, which gathers all national data protection authorities of the EU, has adopted several documents:
These texts can be obtained at:
In December 2007, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) adopted an opinion on the March 2007 Communication of the Commission. EDPS is an independent supervisory authority devoted to protecting personal data and privacy and promoting good practice in the EU institutions and bodies. The opinion can be obtained at http://www.edps.europa.eu/EDPSWEB/edps/lang/en/pid/45.
What are the next steps?
On the basis of the outcome of the current public consultation (which runs until 25 April 2008), the Commission intends to finalise a legal instrument on ensuring privacy and the protection of personal data in an RFID environment by summer 2008.
Furthermore, a separate and broader debate on the so-called "Internet-of-Things" has been initiated since the beginning of 2008. This debate focuses in particular on the issues of privacy, trust and governance and might lead to further actions by the Commission.
What is meant by "Internet-of-Things"? What is the link with RFID?
The Internet-of-Things is a catch phrase expressing a vision foreseen by experts who share the view that in the future the real world (i.e. day-to-day objects) will come closer to the virtual world (i.e. the internet).
Other words such as ubiquitous networked society, ambient intelligence or ubimedia have been used to describe the "Internet-of-Things". One can imagine walls that understand people's presence to adjust room temperature, smart-fridges that detect food no longer fit for consumption or smart-washing machines that select the appropriate programme, amount of water and powder depending on the cloths inserted.
While depending on many other technologies, the "Internet-of-Things" vision relies partially on the development of RFID technologies.
How important is the international dimension of the debate on RFID?
The Commission has integrated the international dimension of the debate on RFID for some time as many important applications, especially in the logistics sector, include the overseas transportation of tagged items, cases, parcels or containers. In this respect, the Commission maintains a close and fruitful dialogue with its counterparts worldwide to address issues such as common standards and rules.
As an illustration of this permanent dialogue, during the Transatlantic Economic Council in April 2007, the EU and the US jointly made the identification and development of best practices for RFID technologies one of their "Lighthouse priority projects".
More information on the public debate can be found at: