Hearings Begin on New Bill that Will Protect Californians' Privacy Rights

April 12, 2005 12:00 am

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“Identity Information Protection Act” Would Ban Tracking Devices in Driver’s Licenses, Library Cards and ID Documents

SACRAMENTO — A broad coalition of privacy rights, women, consumer, and civil liberties groups are supporting a bill introduced by State Senator Joe Simitian that would prohibit any document created by the state, county, or municipal government, from containing a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag or other device that can broadcast an individual’s personal information.

“This is all about protecting people’s right to privacy, personal safety, and financial security,” said Sen. Simitian. “This measure will guard families and individuals from having their most private information broadcast to anyone who is able to collect it. My hope is that state and local government will be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

The tags are contactless integrated circuits — tiny devices — with miniature antennae that can broadcast personal information or enable that information to be scanned remotely.

RFIDs are already widely used in the retail sector to track product inventory, and chip readers are readily available to those outside government. The personal information that can be remotely read without one’s knowledge from documents like a driver’s license includes an individual’s name, address, telephone number, date of birth, race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, photograph, fingerprint, social security number and any other unique personal identifier or number. This information can then be used for the purposes of stalking or kidnapping and for identity theft.

Last year, more than 39,000 Californians were victims of identity theft and these devices would make that crime even easier to commit. RFIDs embedded in public employee identification tags and other official documents could also enable the government to track the movements of the document-bearer.

SB 682, known as the Identity Information Protection Act, was introduced on February 23, days after a company in Sutter, California withdrew its pilot program from an elementary school when parents successfully petitioned to have the RFIDs removed. The students were required to wear the ID badges that included the device along with the student’s name, photo, grade, school name, class year and the four-digit school ID number. The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on the bill today.

Jeffrey and Michele Tatro, parents of a 13-year-old Sutter elementary student said: “We fully support this legislation that will protect families throughout California. We don’t want to see our children treated like pieces of inventory with their personal information made available to anyone that has the right technology. No person should ever be forced to carry an RFID tag. It violates fundamental rights to privacy, it is demeaning, and it threatens our family’s physical and economic security.”

“What happened in Sutter is a wake-up call to everyone. The time is now to take a stand to protect our privacy, security, and economic well-being by ensuring that state identification documents do not contain RFID technology,” said Nicole Ozer, Technology and Civil Liberties Policy Director for the ACLU of Northern California.

Lee Tien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation added: “This is an important bill that represents a positive first step in managing a problem that will make all Californians safer.”

“This bill will protect students, families and individuals who are required to carry government issued IDs. In addition, public employees should not be put in a situation where their document enables them to be monitored and tracked by anyone who has the right technology,” said Beth Givens, founder and executive director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

The ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Consumer Action, the California Commission on the Status of Women, California National Organization for Women, and the Statewide California Coalition for Battered Women are supporting the bill.

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