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AIM releases statement on RFID privacy issues

13-Apr-2005

AIM Global has developed a draft policy statement on privacy issues relating to the implementation of RFID technology, writes Anthony Fletcher.

The association's RFID Experts Group (REG) presented the document to a US Congressional Caucus looking into privacy concerns. The draft policy recognised individuals' rights and outlined ways in which RFID technology can be used while helping ensure individuals' privacy.

As an extension of the draft policy, the REG also submitted comments on a draft European Union (EU) document on privacy concerns.

The group hopes that the statement will go some way to calming fears that the proliferation of RFID throughout the supply chain could lead to serious invasions of privacy.

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology, which hooks miniature antennas up to tiny computer chips smaller than a grain of sand to track items at a distance, is being driven hard by retailers such as Metro, which see RFID as the natural replacement of industry's current bar code-based tracking systems. This will allow companies to automatically track inventory throughout an entire supply chain.

Information from RFID-tagged cases on a pallet can be read automatically using fixed, mobile or handheld readers rather than requiring individual bar code scanning.

However some consumer associations such as CASPIAN are concerned that the technology raises privacy concerns because RFID tagged items can be monitored invisibly right through items consumers normally consider private, like clothing, purses, backpacks and wallets.

Indeed, a major concern is that the RFID chip could result in every product on earth having its own unique ID. The use of unique ID numbers could lead to the creation of a global item registration system in which every physical object is identified and linked to its purchaser or owner at the point of sale or transfer.

CASPIAN director Katherine Albrecht claimed recently that UK supermarket giant Tesco's expansion of its item-level RFID tagging trials "would involve potentially hundreds of thousands more shoppers....it essentially means that more people will be taking home items containing [RFID] spychips."

"That's simply unacceptable," she concluded.

The AIM Global document is therefore an attempt by the RFID industry to show that most of these concerns are unfounded, and that the benefits outweigh the risks.

The REG offered its advice on technical solutions to privacy concerns and offered its suggestions on how data should be handled in company databases. The comments were submitted to the EU in a recent communiqué entitled "Comments on EC Working Document 10107/05/EN WP 105," through AIM's European, Middle East and Asia (EMEA) regional centre in Brussels, Belgium.

The REG noted that RFID manufacturers can only offer technical solutions to consumer privacy issues but, as recent events have demonstrated, security of corporate databases containing personally-identifiable data must also be secure.

AIM Global's RFID Expert Group (REG) is a group of RFID (radio frequency identification) expert advisors working to address implementation issues related to supply chain adoption of RFID systems. REG membership currently includes early implementers, technology vendors, integrators and research institutions.

AIM Global is the trade association recognised as the worldwide authority on RFID, a sector that is predicted to expand rapidly over the next few years. An IDTechEx report, entitled RFID Forecasts, Players and Opportunities predicts that the total value of this market, including systems and service, will rocket from $1.95 billion in 2005 to $26.9 billion in 2015.

Primarily, this will be driven by another new and dramatic development. This will be the tagging of high volume items - notably consumer goods - at the request of retailers and postal authorities, and also for legal reasons. In these cases, the primary benefits sought will be broader and include cost, increased sales, improved safety, reduced crime and improved customer service.

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