Am I the only one who is a tad concerned about the new RFID (Radio Frequency Identification Devices) Policy for Europe? I hope not. This year data retention legislation was introduced by the European Parliament and now we have the execrable Viviane Reding at a major conference in Hanover burbling about the Commission’s new consultation on the electronic tagging technology.
Given that Commission Press Releases are normally bland to the point of ennui the following is quite something, “But their power to report their location, identity and history also raises serious concerns about personal privacy and security.” You could say that.
Some years ago I learned that the Commission was developing an RFID chip with Toshiba and a couple of German funds that could fit into a €50 note. When I spoke to the companies’ press officers they got very huffy about it but would not deny the project. The Commission refused to talk.
The kit itself really is pretty clever. At one recent Tesco trial the tags embedded in the packaging of Gillette M3 razors activated cameras that photographed the customer at the shelf and again at the checkout. An admirable tool to combat shoplifting no doubt, but in truth I do not trust governments. This technology, may be undoubtedly clever and effective – logistics, just in time ordering and all sorts of other applications spring to mind – until the government gets involved. Last week’s announcement that the new UK driving licence is to be biometric is an example.
Now with EU wide RFID “ambient networks” or “internet of things,” where almost everything you buy or own or use is talking to each other, I am a little concerned. The Commissions phrase “But RFID devices will also pervade the Government sector (e.g. eGovernment, national defence and security)” should set one thinking. I don’t like the way that appears to be going.
What was particularly interesting about Mrs Reding’s comments was the pretence (as usual – q.v. enlargement, constitution, etc) that this consultation would be about producing a “bottom-up consensus on RFID” in the EU. The problem is that if the general public have fears about the technology, and its privacy and democratic risks, then the Commission would “answer the unreasonable fears.” That is they have already decided what they want and this consultation is, as usual, a farce. The fact that she announced the consultation at the same time as she told us that “the EU and US had reached an agreement to collaborate over interoperability and privacy in October” does rather prove that the decisions have been made.
In the interests of my own peace of mind I have signed up for two of the Commission’s RFID workshops:
· RFID Application domains and emerging trends: RFID offers promising application potential in many domains – pharmaceuticals, health, agriculture, transport, logistics, security and more. This workshop should identify these application domains, prioritise them and formulate recommendations: e.g. what can be done to assess the needs, and to define guidelines on the use of technology in these domains?
· End-user/consumer issues: Work will include re-assessing the need to revise the e-privacy directive in relation to RFID; the ethical implications of RFID; the acceptability of technological approaches to build trust – with a special focus on privacy and authentication (tag to reader, reader to tag, reader to network); and to enhance security (there is no privacy without layered security).
Interestingly these workshops were announced last Thursday. The first took place Monday and Tuesday. Which is a shame because I missed this fascinating dissertation,
“Dr. Françoise Roure, Conseil général des technologies de l’information: From digital object identification to digital identification of people.”