Calif. throws up RFID roadblock

The California Senate has approved the first legislation in the country to block state and local government agencies from issuing identification cards containing radio frequency identification tags.

In a vote of 29 to 7, the senators on May 16 passed SB 682, the Identity Information Protection Act, which prohibits California public agencies from issuing ID cards containing "a contactless integrated circuit or device that can broadcast personal information or enable personal information to be scanned remotely." The description covers RFID devices and tags, among others.

RFID devices, which can contain personal information such as names, addresses, phone numbers and dates of birth, have become controversial following the State Department's decision to place RFID tags on new passports.

Privacy advocates object to RFID tags on identification documents because of concerns that the personal information on the RFID tag could be read from several feet away by anyone with an RFID reader, enabling identity thefts and possibly endangering American tourists in public places abroad. The State Department is considering additional security improvements to prevent unauthorized reading of the tags.

Last year, nearly 40,000 Californians were victims of identity theft and the RFID devices would make that crime even easier to commit, according to the Northern California branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, which backed the anti-RFID bill.

"California legislators have always been on the forefront of passing important legislation to balance the potential benefits of emerging technology while safeguarding the privacy and security of Californians," said Nicole Ozer, policy director for technology & civil liberties of the ACLU branch. "The Senate's passage of this bill has sent a strong bi-partisan message that the privacy and security of Californians must be protected."

The legislation, sponsored by State Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Calif.), also would make it unlawful for a person to read or attempt to read an identification document without the owner's knowledge, according to the ACLU.

The bill now goes to the state assembly.

The measure in California was inspired, in part, by concerns raised by parents of children at an elementary school in Sutter, Calif., which required its students to wear identification badges that contained RFID tags.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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