SACRAMENTO - A new bill that puts California at the forefront of efforts to guard the privacy rights of its residents cleared a major hurdle Tuesday when it was approved by the Senate 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.

The bill now heads to the Senate Committee on Appropriations and then moves to the Senate floor for a vote.

"I think we're one step closer to a thoughtful, rational policy approach on this issue in California," said Simitian. "We're hoping to protect individual privacy, personal safety, and financial security. My goal is to ensure that state and local government will be part of the solution, not part of the problem."

"We believe goods should be tagged, not people," said Pam Noles, a policy associate with the ACLU of Southern California. "California's laws must keep up with the pace of technical advances so residents can be protected from the privacy threats represented by inappropriate use of this powerful and useful technology."

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 kidnaping.

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 school identification number.

The bill is supported by a variety of women's groups, civil rights groups, domestic violence prevention groups, business organizations, and conservative organizations including the Capitol Resource Institute, the AARP, The California Alliance Against Domestic Violence, the Statewide California Coalition for Battered Women, California NOW, and the California Commission on the Status of Women.