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Privacy fears haunt RFID rollouts

Campaigners call for measures to protect consumer rights as technology begins to take off

By Iain Thomson at CeBIT in Hanover [19-03-2004]

Although industry adoption of radio frequency identity (RFID) systems is rapidly ramping up, privacy fears continue to dog the technology.

Speaking at a roundtable at CeBIT in Hanover, privacy campaigner Rena Tangens, organiser of the Big Brother Awards in Germany, said that she could not see "a positive aspect of RFID" for consumers or citizens.

"Many so-called benefits can be achieved just by using bar codes or similar technology. You don't need a technology that can be read at a distance and without the customer knowing," she said.

However, Philip Calderbank, vice president of RFID consultancy ePC Group, and chairman of the UK Institute of Logistics' RFID Forum, insisted that codes of conduct, rather than legislation, are the best way to address the concerns of consumers.

"This technology brings many advantages but we need to move the technology and data protection issues forward together," he said.

"I don't agree on holding back technology for five, six or seven years while the legislation is passed. I'm not anti-legislation, just against holding technology back."

Calderbank added that the British Chamber of Commerce should form its own code of conduct to reassure customers and make sure that the technology is not held back unnecessarily.

Art Coviello, president of RSA Security, which sponsored the debate, maintained that the question is one of striking a balance between the benefits of the technology while protecting consumer rights.

"I think RFID can give incredible productivity improvements, but as a consumer I would be very worried about having my privacy violated," he said.

Iain Thomson, 19. März 2004

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