A bill that puts California at the forefront of efforts to guard the privacy rights of its residents cleared a major hurdle on this week when it was approved by the Assembly Judiciary Committee with strong bipartisan support.
The Identity Information Protection Act of 2005 (SB 682) zeros in on the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. It would prohibit identity documents issued by the state from containing an integrated circuit or other device that can broadcast an individual's personal information. The bill was introduced by Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), and is supported by a diverse coalition of privacy, women's and conservative groups from throughout the state.
SB 682 would prohibit the most common state-issued identification documents from containing an RFID tag or other device that can broadcast an individual's personal information, unique identifier number, or location. The bill now heads to Assembly appropriations for review.
"This represents significant progress for protecting the privacy, personal safety, and financial security of all Californians," said Simitian. "RFID technology is not in and of itself the issue. The issue is whether and under what circumstances the government should be allowed to impose this technology on its residents. This bill provides a thoughtful and rational policy framework for making those decisions."
Long in use in the manufacturing, distribution and retail industries to track goods, RFID tags are also widely used in toll booths, inside pet id tags, and even seismic sensors used to collect data in land prone to earthquakes. But the escalating use of RFID in everyday lives poses a threat to the privacy and civil liberties individuals. All matter of personal information can be embedded in these chips - an individual's name, address, telephone number, date of birth, social security number, fingerprint and photograph, which can then be easily captured using scanners widely available off the shelf. Secret and remote reading of this critically personal data broadcasting from the chips puts an individual at risk of identity theft, tracking and surveillance by the government, stalking or even kidnapping.
&#34With each step in this process, California's legislators are letting residents know protecting our privacy is their concern, &#34 said Pam Noles, a policy associate with the ACLU of Southern California. &#34Residents must be protected from inappropriate use of this useful technology, and once again California is on track to take a leading role ensuring technological advances do not come at the expense of everyday people. Our belief is simple - Tag goods, not people.&#34
The legislation was introduced in February, about a month after controversy erupted in a small Northern California town over mandatory use of RFIDs to track student movements at an elementary school. Parents had no idea their children had been tagged with chipped badges that carried the student's name, photo, grade, class year and four-digit school identification number.
Recent U.S. State Department testing showed that even IDs with an intended read range of just 4 inches can actually be read from 2-3 feet away with modified readers.
"People have a right not to be tracked. The government shouldn't be putting tracking devices into driver's licenses and other ID cards that people need to go about their daily lives,&#34 said Lee Tien, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. &#34That is why this bill is so important, because it represents a positive first step in managing a problem that will make all Californians safer."
SB 682 is supported by a diverse coalition that includes the Free Congress Foundation and the California Family Alliance, to the Consumer Federation, the PTA, and AARP.
"California legislators have always been on the forefront of introducing important legislation to balance the potential benefits of emerging technology while safeguarding the privacy and security of Californians,&#34 said Nicole Ozer, Technology & Civil Liberties Policy Director, ACLU of Northern California. &#34With today's vote, legislators have sent a strong message that the privacy and security of Californians must be protected.&#34