Calif. Lawmakers to Vote on Five Bills to Regulate RFID Technology

The California State Senate is expected to vote as early as this week on several bills that would regulate the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology in government documents.

Similar legislation was approved by the state legislature last year only to be vetoed by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in October. At the time, Schwarzenegger said he rejected the Identity Information Protection Act of 2006 because it could be overly restrictive to state agencies.

That bill’s sponsor, state Sen.Joe Simitian, resubmitted five separate bills late last year and early this year that cover the same ground as the failed bill. The bills have been working their way through various legislative committees, he said.

Two of the bills would impose a three-year moratorium on the use of RFID technology in California driver’s licenses and in public school ID cards, while a third would create interim privacy safeguards for existing RFID-enabled government IDs, such as those that students use in the state college system.

A fourth bill would make it a crime to “skim,” or surreptitiously read, data from an RFID document.

The remaining bill addresses fears that companies might try to force their employees to undergo an RFID implantation, noted Simitian.

Simitian said he hopes the legislation has better success this time around. The earlier bill “got all the way to the governor’s desk, and there was a last-minute setback there. But we’re building on a foundation. What we achieved last year was a substantial accomplishment. That’s a good place to start,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Schwarzenegger last week said the governor has yet to take a position on the new RFID bills.

Even if Schwarzenegger were to sign the bills, California residents would still need more protection, said Katherine Albrecht, a consumer rights advocate. She suggested that state officials might be tempted to abuse RFID tracking technology.

“Government officials would love the ability to secretly identify political opponents, protesters at peace rallies or anyone else engaged in peaceable First Amendment-protected activities,” she said.

Michael Shamos, a professor who specializes in security issues at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, said that the legislation doesn’t deal comprehensively with RFID privacy issues beyond the government sector. However, he added, “it’s a good statute.”

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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