SACRAMENTO - A broad coalition of privacy rights, women, consumer, and conservative groups are supporting a bill introduced by Bay Area Sen. Joe Simitian that would prohibit any document created by the state, county, or municipal government from containing a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag or other device that can broadcast an individual's personal information. The tags are tiny devices with miniature antennae that can broadcast personal information or enable that information to be scanned remotely.
"This bill is all about protecting people's right to privacy, personal safety and financial security," Sen. Simitian said. "This measure will protect families and individuals from having their most private information broadcast to anyone who is able to collect it. My hope is that state and local government will be part of the solution, not part of the problem."
RFIDs are already widely used in the retail sector to track product inventory and chip readers are readily available to those outside government. The personal information that can be broadcast from documents like driver's licenses includes an individual's name, address, telephone number, date of birth, race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, photograph, fingerprint, social security number and any other unique personal identifier or number. Such personal information can then be read remotely without one's knowledge.
The information contained in the tags can also be used for the purposes of stalking or kidnapping and for identity theft. Last year, more than 39,000 Californians were victims of identity theft and these devices would make that crime even easier to commit. RFID's embedded in public employee identification tags and other official documents could also enable the government to track the movements of the document-bearer.
The legislation was introduced on Feb. 23, days after a company in Sutter, Calif. withdrew its pilot program from an elementary school when parents successfully petitioned to have the radio frequency identification tags removed. The students were required to wear the ID badges that included the device along with the student's name, photo, grade, school name, class year and the four-digit school ID number.
"We fully support this legislation that will protect families throughout California. We don't want to see our children treated like pieces of inventory with their personal information made available to anyone that has the right technology," said Jeffrey and Michele Tatro, parents of a thirteen-year old Sutter elementary student who had to wear the mandatory device. "No person should ever be forced to carry an RFID tag. It violates fundamental rights to privacy, it is demeaning, and it threatens our family's physical and economic security."
"These types of tracking devices lessen security," said Pam Noles, a policy associate with the ACLU of Southern California. "By allowing the bearer's personal details and location to be pinpointed with ease, RFID-enabled badges compromise safety."
Beth Givens, founder and executive director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, added: "This bill will protect students, families and individuals who are required to carry government issued IDs. In addition, public employees should not be put in a situation where their document enables them to be monitored and tracked by anyone who has the right technology."
The ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Consumer Action, the California Commission on the Status of Women, California National Organization for Women, and the Statewide California Coalition for Battered Women are supporting the bill.