Concerned that the “growth gap” in the EU market for radiofrequency identification (RFID) systems - 45% per annum vs. 60% in the global market - will weaken the role of information and communication technologies in promoting economic development, the European Commission (EC) is taking steps to develop a uniform RFID policy framework aimed at reducing barriers to universal RFID implementation. A series of expert workshops and public consultations by the EC in 2006 revealed that RFID is technologically and economically ready for widespread deployment in Europe, but certain legal and regulatory factors are holding it back. In order to address these issues, the EC proposes a new policy framework that will include privacy protection, spectrum harmonization, and establishment of effective technological standards.

Privacy

The protection of personal data in the EU is covered by the general Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC, which is applicable to all technologies, including RFID. This Directive defines the principles of data protection, and requires that they be implemented to ensure the security of personal data. Under this Directive, public authorities in EU Member States will have to ensure that RFID implementation complies with all pertinent privacy and data protection legislation.

Because RFID tags have the capacity to collect personal information that can be stored in third-party databases, the EC advocates applicationspecific guidelines to make sure that privacy protection is built into RFID systems before their widespread deployment. These guidelines would be developed by a core group of experts representing the parties involved in setting up RFID networks (business organizations, public administrations, and hospitals) and end-users of those networks (citizens, consumer groups, patients, and employees). All data security initiatives will be accordance with the multi-stakeholder approach set out in the EC’s Strategy for a Secure Information Society COM(2006) 251.

Spectrum Harmonization

Because the availability of adequate spectrum is essential for the growth of RFID, the EC recently decided to allocate more spectrum for it. In Commission Decision 2006/804/EC, the EC harmonized the conditions for the availability of RFID spectrum in the UHF band. Under this Decision, Member States must designate and make available spectrum for RFID in the 865-865.6 MHz, 865.6-867.6 MHz, and 867.6-868 MHz sub-bands by no later than the summer of 2007. This spectrum is to be allocated on a secondary basis, subject to specific power and channel spacing requirements.

There is a general consensus among the experts that participated in the 2006 workshops that this spectrum allocation will be adequate for RFID growth in the next three to ten years. The EC will, however, closely monitor the demand for UHF spectrum to determine if demand requires additional spectrum. If so, the EC intends to identify and implement more harmonized spectrum for RFID.

Standardization

In order to speed the interoperability of RFID systems and encourage rapid development of RFID products and services, the EC recommends streamlined adoption of international standards (particularly the International Organization for Standardization’s ISO-18000 RFID tag standard) and the harmonization of regional standards. To this end, the EC is encouraging European standardization bodies to cooperate with relevant industry consortia to ensure that: (a) the adopted standards meet European requirements concerning privacy, security, and licensing; (b) standardization gaps are identified; and (c) a framework for the development of future RFID standards is implemented.

The proposed activities on standardization will include international dialog between the EC and its counterparts in the U.S., China, Korea, and Japan. These discussions will focus on the need for cooperation on standards for certain application sectors, including security of containers, counterfeiting, air transport, and pharmaceutical goods.