Communication lays out RFID research priorities

The European Commission has published a strategy on Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), announcing, among other actions, further research on security issues and the establishment of a stakeholders group to discuss how the technology should be used.

RFID tags are small microchips made out of plastic or even paper. Attached to an antenna, they emit a unique serial number by radio over short distances. These tags can be embedded in all kinds of items, from food packaging and medical devices to electronical goods and pharmaceuticals, and can be scanned from between 3 and 50 metres away.

Proponents of the technology say that it could help to ensure better food traceability, allowing products to be recalled more efficiently, improve luggage handling at airports, and help prevent counterfeiting of goods, especially drugs.

The RFID industry is big business. Current trends and forecasts indicate that the market will grow fast in the next 10 years. In 2006, over 1 million tags were sold, and the value of the market, including hardware, systems and services, is expected to grow from €500 million to €7 billion by 2016.

But as in any technological revolution, there are questions about how RFID will affect our lives. A public consultation on RFID published in 2006 highlighted citizens' concerns over the potential of RFID to be an intrusive technology. RFID could be used to track and trace people's movements or profile their behaviour. Adequate privacy safeguards were called for as a condition for wide public acceptance of RFID

The Commission strategy 'Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) in Europe: steps towards a policy framework' outlines a number of actions to tackle these security concerns, as well issues related to governance, radio spectrum and standards.

In the area of research and innovation, the document highlights the need for further research into the miniaturisation of silicon chips and organic materials that hold promise of producing printable RFID tags. Doing so will help reduce the costs of tags to less than 1 euro cent, predicts the Commission. It also underlines the need for further research into the authentication and encryption methods, as well as larger rewritable memories in order to meet the needs of future applications.

Under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), research will focus initially on the application of RFID to the areas of healthcare, intelligent vehicle and mobility systems, micro and nanosystems, organic electronics and future networks.

But in the future, the Commission promises to stimulate research into security of RFID systems, including light-weight security protocols and advanced key distribution mechanisms to prevent direct attacks on tags, readers and tag-reader communication. It says it will also support further development of privacy-enhancing technologies as a means to mitigate privacy risks.

Other important actions announced in the strategy include the setting up of a stakeholders group made up of citizens, scientists, data protection experts and businesses to discuss how the tags should be used. The group will also support the Commission in its efforts to promote awareness campaigns at Member State and citizen level about the opportunities and challenges of RFID.

Other actions include amendments to the e-Privacy Directive to take account of RFID applications; the publication of recommendations by the end of 2007 on how to handle security and privacy; and an economic and societal analysis of the effects of RFID tags.

For more information, and for access to the communication, please CLICK HERE

Category: General policy
Data Source Provider: European Commission
Document Reference: Based on 'Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) in Europe: steps towards a policy framework'
Programme or Service Acronym: FP7, FUTURE RESEARCH

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