European Union Will Not Regulate RFID—For Now

The European Commission will instead look to raise awareness of RFID and make sure that citizens are able to make decisions as to how their personal data is used, an EU commissioner said.

HANNOVER, Germany—The European Commission has put off for at least a year any decision to regulate radio-frequency identification technology, EU Information Society and Media Commissioner Viviane Reding said March 15.

In a press conference at the CeBIT trade show here, Reding said that there is a danger in over-regulating RFID.

"There is an extraordinary potential in this worldwide," Reding said. "There are today 1 billion smart radio tags circulating. In 10 years this number will multiply by 500. In Europe we already have 500 million and by 2016 it will go to 7, 8 or 9 billion. Europe is very strong in this domain. We are strong in the wireless world," Reding said.

Reding said that with such explosive growth, it was too early for Europe to attempt regulation of the technology, but she said that it was necessary to provide certainty for the industry. "We are creating an RFID stakeholder group," Reding said. "We leave this group to give us the solutions that will go into a recommendation on how to handle the security and privacy of smart radio tags."

Reding said that the Commission will instead seek to raise awareness of RFID and make sure that citizens are able to make decisions as to how their personal data is used. She said that Europe needed to remove any obstacles to RFIDs potential.

Reding also noted that the Commission would look at things differently depending on how RFID would be used. She said that if regulation were to occur, an RFID tag on a shipping container would be treated differently from one that held personal information.

"Consumers should be able to deactivate the smart radio tag," she said. Reding said that the EC may make changes to Europes existing privacy laws to accommodate RFID, but she noted that any regulation must wait until more is known about the potential of RFID.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read more about an international alliance studying RFID.

"I wish there had been more clarity," said U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce for Technology Robert Cresanti. Cresanti, who has been working on RFID issues in the Bush administration and was here to promote U.S. technology, told eWEEK that he has already had discussions with Reding about making sure that the U.S. and European implementations of RFID technology are compatible. Reding expressed a similar sentiment, saying that it would make no sense for an RFID tag placed on a container in Moscow to be unreadable in Europe because of differing standards.

Still, Cresanti said he welcomed the European announcement. "Shes got all the right elements," he said of Redings announcement. "Its in line with what wed hoped for," he said. Cresanti also added that both the United States and Europe need to start working together on RFID immediately. He said that the technology is already splintering. "We have to make sure policies align," he said.

Cresanti said that he and Reding would be making separate trips to Asia in the coming weeks to gain cooperation in setting RFID policy. "If you care about commerce, you care about RFID," he said.

Reding said that she spoke with the prime minister of Russia about RFID technology on March 14 and would also talk to the governments of China, Korea and Japan. "Heres a chance for economic development," Reding said, "We are in the driving seat."

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Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...