California Legislature Considers RFID Card Bans

The bill would place a three-year moratorium on the use of RFID technology in driver's licenses and school ID cards.

K.C. Jones, Contributor

April 24, 2007

3 Min Read

The California Senate has passed bills that would place a three-year moratorium on the use of RFID technology in driver's licenses and school ID cards.

State Sen. Joe Simitian, a Democrat from Palo Alto, announced Tuesday that S.B. 28 and S.B. 29 are headed to the California Assembly.

The first bill would prohibit the California Department of Motor Vehicles from issuing driver's licenses that use RFID to transmit personal information. The second bill would prohibit public schools, public school districts, and county education offices from using RFID to track, monitor, or record students' presence on school grounds. The bills are part of a larger package of bills addressing the use of RFID and privacy.

RFID, or radio frequency identification, is used by businesses such as Wal-Mart to monitor the location and status of products.

Simitian, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Privacy, drew bipartisan support for both measures. The bill dealing with driver's licenses passed with a 31-6 vote, while the one dealing with students passed by a vote of 28-5. The bills are limited to government-issued identity documents and do not apply to private-sector technology use, according to a statement from Simitian.

"RFID technology is not in and of itself the issue," Simitian said in a prepared statement. "RFID is a minor miracle, with all sorts of good uses. The issue is whether and under what circumstances the government should be allowed to compel its residents -- adults or children -- to carry technology that broadcasts their most personal information."

An elementary school in Sutter, Calif., required its students to wear badges with RFID tags, and parents petitioned the school to end the requirement. The school complied with the parents' requests, but the controversy sparked Simitian's interest in the issue.

"Parents didn't want their children tagged and tracked," he said. "Parents should be allowed to decide whether and how their children's information is gathered and shared."

Simitian said his bills are asking for a "time out" on using RFID for school ID cards and licenses because anyone can buy an RFID reader and capture information on the tags. He described the bills as a "look before you leap" measure.

"The last thing we want to do is issue 20 million drivers licenses or 6 million student IDs without any privacy protections or limits on the information provided," he said. "Privacy is an indisputable right under the California State Constitution. As such, we in government have a responsibility to protect it."

Simitian's S.B. 30 would require tamper-resistance and other security features on identity documents using RFID. Another proposal, S.B. 31, would impose fines of up to $5,000, imprisonment, or both for people who knowingly capture information from identity documents without an individual's prior consent. Its implementation is based on passage of S.B. 30.

Finally, S.B. 362 would prohibit anyone from requiring, coercing, or compelling anyone else to accept an implanted identification device. Some people have voluntarily implanted themselves with RFID chips, and some hospitals are using the chips to track and identify patients. The military is also testing its use in the field.

Supporters of the bills include 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.

The International RFID Business Association and the RFID Technology Council did not immediately return calls for comment on the issue.

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