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D7.7: RFID, Profiling, and AmI

Profiling, self-identity and 'The Internet of Things'  Title:


Constitutional democracy in a tagged world

Do the warnings of Solove and Sunstein mean that we should abstain from further research and development of RFID systems*? Such a conclusion would certainly not fit Sunstein (2001). If we understand the precautionary principle as a principle that warrants further investigation in the case of uncertainties, not equating it with risk aversion or sitting back, then we may have to expand the exchange of information initiated at the Public Consultation by the EC, during March-June 2006 and invest in exploratory research into the impact of a tagged world on the capacity of individual citizens to freely participate in well-informed public and private deliberation. 

This chapter does not provide ready made solutions to preconceived problems, like privacy and security (which does not mean that we should underestimate these problems). Taking the perspective of democracy and rule of law this chapter aims to provide a direction that should guide both the definition of the problems and their solutions. Otherwise we may end up like the drunken man who returned home late at night and dropped his key on the street. He kept circling the small piece of the street that was illuminated by a street lantern, without locating the key however. When a passer by inquired whether this was the place he lost the key he said: ‘No, but this is the only place with enough light to see something like a key’. Better get a torch from somewhere and start looking elsewhere.  

If privacy is a public good and a precondition for constitutional democracy we cannot reduce it to anonymity. The problems that may occur if we animate the things in our environment with RFID tags* that are interconnected via RFID-readers* and online databases will be the result of pervasive autonomic profiling. Anonymity will not counter the effects of such profiling. Those spying on us will be machines that will mainly be talking to other machines. They will not be interested in you as a person, but rather in you as a potential customer, offender or illegal immigrant. However, the profiles they generate will impact the chances you get in life, while you will be mostly unaware of what is going on. We must therefore invest in adequate ways to technologically enable people to access the knowledge that may be used to deal with them. We must not only minimise the transference of personal data, but also maximise the transparency of the subsequent data processing, whether anonymous or not. More importantly this transparency should concern both one’s electronic footprint and the profiles that may be applied to us, even if these profiles were constructed without using our personal data. The next generation of PET’s* may have to be TETs*: Transparency Enhancing Technologies, protecting our privacy – not just our personal data.



Profiling, self-identity and 'The Internet of Things'  fidis-wp7-del7.7.RFID_Profiling_AMI_02.sxw  Conclusions
Denis Royer 33 / 43