Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) systems

“Radio Frequency Identification” technologies – RFID, “Radio Frequency Identification” – allow the identification, at a distance and by means of radio waves, of any object provide with an “RFID tag”. This tag can be decrypt using an external “reader” which collects and transmits the information contain in the tag.

This method of identification, which does not require contact between the labels and the reader, makes it possible to meet many needs. RFID technologies are therefore booming today, with applications already widespread. The latter thus cover areas ranging from remote sensing to everyday transactions (public transport tickets, electronic tolls, labels affix to packaging, etc.) and contributes to improving the traceability of products and goods.

In November 2005, the France Nature Environnement (FNE) association ask the Agency to assess the possible impacts of RFID technologies on the environment and human health, in particular with regard The electromagnetic fields emit by these systems.

The Agency was therefore ask to carry out:

  • an assessment of the national and international regulatory status of RFID technologies,
  • a scientific review of studies on the possible health risks associate with their use,
  • an assessment of the overall health risk, vis-à-vis the general population.

The aspects of the question ask by the FNE association relating to respect for private life that do not fall within the competence of the Agency were therefore not dealt with in the expert report. A paragraph in the report nevertheless presents the position of the CNIL (National Commission for Informatics and Freedoms) on this subject, at the date of writing of the report.

The Agency’s work

The collective expertise carried out by the Agency focus on:

  • evaluation of the levels of electromagnetic fields generate by current RFID solutions in Pakistan  systems (collection of technical information, measurement campaigns),
  • the search for data on the assessment of environmental impacts,
  • assessment of human exposure (general and professional population),
  • the referencing of any biological effects identify in the literature,
  • assessment of health impacts.

The risks for the general population as well as for people expose in the course of their professional activities were examine.

In preparing this document, a study of the international literature was conduct, as well as discussions with experts and industry participants working in the field of RFID technology. It is a list of the characteristics and applications of RFID, regulations and specific standards, as well as the technologies use. The conclusion also calls for measurement activities aim at assessing the exposure of the population and professionals to RFID systems.

The results of the expert appraisal did not make it possible to establish the existence of a health risk link to exposure to electromagnetic fields emitted by RFID systems. However, it should note that occupational exposure may be greater than that of the general population.

Agency recommendations

On this basis, the Agency issued in January 2009 a collective expert report and an opinion recommending in particular:

  • “It is necessary to continue scientific watch on research into the biological effects of radiation at the specific frequencies of RFID, including the physical and technical characteristics of these signals.
  • The regulations in force and to come to require manufacturers, integrators, and companies using RFID systems to guarantee the safety and health of people (general population as well as professionals), including with regard to exposure to electromagnetic fields. It is therefore important to meet these requirements through various controls and measures and to anticipate future provisions so that compliance with regulatory limit values ​​is achieve a priori, from the design of the devices.
  • The methods of measuring electromagnetic fields emit by RFID devices mainly refer to whole body type exposures. RFID systems, especially at low frequencies, generally induce very localize exposures. The standardization should be enrich with simpler measurement procedures in order to take this particular situation into account, and to make it possible to assess exposure by certification laboratories.
  • The task force report highlights the very significant growth of the RFID technology sector. RFID tags, which can take many forms today, on a very large number of media, all contain a metal antenna. Even if the sizes of these labels are sometimes extremely small, the question of sustainable development and therefore the recycling of these labels is often doom to destroy at the same time as their support, arises. We must encourage the marketing of the least polluting labels. “

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