California legislator pushes for RFID ban

The sponsor of controversial legislation that would ban most uses of radio-frequency identification in California is making a final push for passage of his bill before the Assembly adjourns Sept. 9.

State Sen. Joe Simitian (D) is ramping up his efforts to persuade the state legislature to approve his Identity Information Protection Act of 2005, SB 628. The measure would prohibit use of RFID for three years for driver's licenses and student identification, library and health insurance cards.

The bill is the first in the country to propose a broad-ranging ban on RFID to protect privacy and safeguard against identity theft. It addresses a concern that RFID radio signals potentially could be intercepted by unauthorized readers.

The legislation was passed by the California Senate in May, but it has faced obstacles in the Assembly and strong opposition from the state's high-tech industry. The Assembly version softened the ban to allow RFID for access cards for individuals such as first responders and detainees.

The bill was amended again last week to allow consideration in either 2005 or 2006, thus making it a "two-year bill." The assembly's Appropriations Committee postponed a vote on it last week. However, Simitian is telling reporters he is pressing for passage before Sept. 9.

The RFID tags, also known as contactless chips, are tiny integrated circuits that are placed on ID cards. They can broadcast identity information by radio waves to a reader.

There has been controversy over RFID's potential for privacy and security breaches due to the tags being read by unauthorized readers. But RFID supporters say shielding devices, such as metal, can be used to block the radio waves.

The legislation has been endorsed by the Northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and by the Los Angeles Times, among others.

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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