SACRAMENTO - The State Senate today approved a bill that would prohibit state and local governments from issuing identification documents containing a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag, a device that can broadcast an individual's most private information including name, phone number, and date of birth. In a 29-7 bipartisan vote, the bill would also make it unlawful for a person to read or attempt to read an identification document without the owner's knowledge.
The bill will be heard next in the State Assembly.
Authored by State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), Senate Bill 682, also known as the Identity Information Protection Act of 2005, is said to be the first bill of its kind in the country and has drawn national attention following the federal government's decision to embed RFID tags in new U.S. passports.
"This represents significant progress for protecting the privacy, personal safety, and financial security of all Californians," said Senator 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."
"I'm particularly pleased that the measure passed out of the Senate on a bi-partisan basis," added Simitian, noting that a majority of both Democrats and Republicans voted in support of the measure.
RFID tag readers are readily available to the public, making it easy for anyone to collect an individual's most personal information. That information can then be used to steal a person's identity, stalk them, or even kidnap them. RFID tags embedded in public employee identification tags and other official documents could allow the government to track its employees' movements. SB 682 would also make it unlawful for a person to read or attempt to read an identification document without the owner's knowledge.
"The bi-partisan support of Monday's vote shows California's leaders have heard the message of its residents - protect our privacy rights," said Pam Noles, a policy associate with the ACLU of Southern California. "Now the Assembly must take a pioneering step and vote in support of this measure and the Governor must sign it into law."
SB 682 has gained support from across the political spectrum. Former Congressman Bob Barr (R-Georgia) recently featured Senator Simitian on his weekly show on Radio America. Other supporters include the Capitol Resource Institute, the AARP, The California Alliance Against Domestic Violence, the Statewide California Coalition for Battered Women, California NOW, the California Commission on the Status of Women, and the University of California Student Association (UCSA).
"This bill is important because it will protect Californian's privacy, security, and economic well-being" said Lee Tien, Senior Staff Attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The bill was in part inspired by a case of an elementary school in Sutter, California that required its students to wear identification badges that contained RFID tags that broadcast the student's name, photo, grade, school name, class year and the four-digit school ID number. Parents successfully petitioned the school to remove the RFID tags.