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European Union: Smart Tags Raise Privacy Concerns

(Apr. 11, 2011) Radio Frequency Identifications (RFIDs), or smart tags, are small, affordable circuits that communicate with a portable device (the reader) and are attached to goods and other consumer products. Smart tags have certain practical applications including their use in travel passes for electronic payment of road tolls and on wrist bands of hospital patients. However, the skyrocketing use of smart tags in numerous other ways and the potential abuse that this entails for the personal data of consumers, who often are unaware of their existence, have raised serious privacy concerns at the European Union level. Currently, there are an estimated 2.8 billion smart tags used globally, one billion of which are used in the European Union. By 2020, the number is expected to increase to 50 billion. (Smart Tags to Be Tested for Privacy Breaches, EURACTIV (Apr. 6, 2011).)

On April 6, 2011, the European Commission, following extensive discussions with industry, privacy organizations, and consumer groups, signed the Privacy and Data Protection Impact Assessment (PIA) Framework for RFID Applications. It is designed to examine how smart tags may violate the privacy of consumers through the implementation of tests to be conducted before additional smart tags are marketed. (Id.)

The EU's Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, expressed her support for the agreement and stated:

It effectively creates a win-win situation for business and consumers, as well as a pragmatic way to ensure safeguards for privacy. More specifically, it provides its future users with a comprehensive description of what should be done to deliver RFID applications that are compliant with the EU Data Protection Directive of 1995 and the ePrivacy Directive of 2002. (Id.)