California legislators want to prohibit people from forcing others to receive tracking implants.
Sen. Joe Simitian, a Palo Alto Democrat, announced that his Senate Bill 362, which would ban the practice, passed by a 28-9 vote last week.
"RFID technology is not in and of itself the issue. RFID is a minor miracle, with all sorts of good uses," Simitian said in a statement. "But we shouldn't condone forced 'tagging' of humans. It's the ultimate invasion of privacy."
The bill is headed for the desk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for approval. If Schwarzenegger signs SB 362, California will join Wisconsin and North Dakota to ban forced RFID implantation.
"Passage of SB 362 ensures that no Californian is compelled to have electronic identifiers of any type embedded in their body," Jennifer King, research specialist at the Samuelson Law, Technology, and Public Policy Clinic at U.C. Berkeley School of Law, said in a statement. "This provides Californians with the personal agency to make such decisions should they have a reason to, as well as another means of protecting their personal information. Once again, California leads the nation in recognizing potential threats to individual privacy and self-determination posed by new technologies."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a VeriChip RFID tag for human implantation in 2004. The chip allows medical staff to access people's health history even if the person can't communicate. Some hospitals already have used the chips with volunteers and the military is considering their use. VeriChip also has clients that want to use human implantation for identity verification. The attorney general of Mexico and 18 of his staff members were implanted with chips to allow them to get into high-security areas. VeriChip reports that 2,000 people have had RFID chips implanted.
RFID manufacturers and solution providers have withheld support for the bill.
"I understand why we're having a robust debate about the privacy concerns related to RFID, but 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," said Simitian, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Privacy. "I'm deeply concerned that this isn't a given for the industry."
The Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, which develops policies for the American Medical Association, recently issued a report saying that RFID devices may compromise people's privacy and security because it isn't yet clear if the information in the tags can be properly protected. Further, CEJA finds that RFID tagging may present physical risks because the tags could migrate under the skin, making them difficult to remove.
Simitian's RFID proposals have drawn support from the American Civil Liberties Union, Gun Owners of California, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Citizens Against Government Waste, California State Parent Teacher Association, Republican Liberty Caucus, and the National Organization for Women. Simitian began to look at the use of RFID in government-issued identification documents after an elementary school in Sutter, Calif., required its students to wear identification badges that contained RFID tags that broadcast the students' information. Parents successfully petitioned the school to remove the RFID tags.