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Last Updated: Monday, 16 October 2006, 12:59 GMT 13:59 UK
Radio tags spark privacy worries
UK passport, BBC
Radio tags are starting to be put in ID documents
A perceived threat to privacy posed by radio tags has emerged as the main fear in an EU study of the technology.

Unveiling the study, EU commissioner Viviane Reding said citizens needed re-assuring that radio tags would not lead to large-scale surveillance.

Many of those contributing to the EU study also wanted the radio frequency ID tags to be turned off if needed.

Ms Reding said she was ready to draft new laws to control how the radio frequency tags could be used.

Potential abuse

The Information Society Commissioner made her comments at a conference called to mark the end of a six-month EU consultation exercise in which it sought opinions about the growing use of radio-frequency ID (RFID) tags.

These "smart barcodes" are increasingly used by businesses to monitor goods as they move along supply chains. Governments are also starting to think about putting them in many identity documents such as passports.

A record number of people and organisations contributed to the consultation exercise, which was evidence, said Ms Reding, of the depth of feeling about the technology.

Early reports from the consultation exercise show fears about how RFID tags affect personal privacy was the main worry.

Barcode, BBC
Radio frequency tags could take over from barcodes
"The large majority are willing to be convinced that RFID can bring benefits but they want to be reassured that it will not compromise their privacy," said Ms Reding. "This is the deal that we have to strike if we want RFID to be accepted and widely taken up."

People wanted to decide how information was updated and used, said Ms Reding.

"The consultation shows that people are mainly afraid of losing control, of not being able to choose when and how they are exposed to risks," she said.

Many also wanted the ability to destroy the tags if need be, said Ms Reding.

Only 15% of the 2,190 organisations and individuals who contributed to a survey the EU ran during the consultation exercise thought had hopes that industry would do a good job of regulating how firms used RFID tags.

More than half, 55%, of those that filled in the survey said laws should be changed to ensure the tags and the information they allow firms and governments to collect, is not abused.

The EU has said that the final conclusions from the consultation process will be announced towards the end of 2006. Ms Reding said if new laws were needed, they would be drafted in 2007.

The consultation process was kicked off at the Cebit trade show that was held in Hanover in March 2006.

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