California has enacted a law banning mandatory RFID implants for people.
The bill, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, prohibits employers and others from requiring people to get radio frequency identification tags. It takes effect in January. Wisconsin and North Dakota also have banned forced RFID implantation in humans.
"RFID technology is not in and of itself the issue," said California Sen. Joe Simitian, who introduced the bill. "RFID is a minor miracle, with all sorts of good uses. But we cannot and should not condone forced 'tagging' of humans. It's the ultimate invasion of privacy."
In a statement, Simitian criticized the RFID industry, saying it should have supported the bill on the basis of "enlightened self-interest" and that its silence on the issue is "unforgettable and regrettable."
"While we're having a robust debate about the privacy concerns associated with the use of RFID in government identity documents, at the very least, we should be able to agree that the forced implanting of under-the-skin technology into human beings is just plain wrong," he said. "I'm deeply concerned that the folks who make and market RFID technology were 'AWOL' on this issue."
VeriChip Corp., which gained government approval for human implantation in 2004, reports that 2,000 people have RFID implants. Last year, a Cincinnati video surveillance company required employees who work in its secure data center to be implanted with RFID tags.
"This may sound Orwellian, but it's real, and it just makes sense to address it now," Simitian said. "We can't have employers requiring their workforce to get 'tagged.' There are other ways to secure a company's physical and intellectual property -- it certainly shouldn't be at the expense of a person's right to privacy."
The Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, which develops policies for the American Medical Association, recently issued a report that found RFID devices can compromise privacy and security because there is no guarantee the information can be protected. It also found that RFID tagging may present physical risks because the tags could travel under the skin and be difficult to remove.
Simitian predicted continued public resistance to emerging technologies unless those creating and marketing them respond to legitimate privacy and security concerns.