Friday, September 7, 2007

California re-considering RFID regulation

E-Week covers the passage of Joe Simitian's SB 362, as well as the progress of his four other RFID regulation bills - bills we at the Consumer Federation of California have been actively supporting this year.

The ban on coerced implantations of RFID chips, introduced by state Sen. Joe Simitian, is not the first RFID legislation to hit Schwarzenegger's desk. In October 2006, Schwarzenegger vetoed a separate bill proposed by Simitian that was designed to limit the use of RFID in state and local documents.

At the time, Schwarzenegger said he was "concerned that that the potential law's provisions [were] overbroad and may unduly burden the numerous beneficial new applications of contactless technology." He pointed to two areas of concern—that early legislation might limit innovation, and that the federal government, under the Real ID Act, had not yet released new technology standards for government ID cards. Any legislation from California, he said, could impose requirements that would contradict federal mandates.


The REAL ID Act, attached as a rider on a military spending bill, was signed into law in 2005. It stipulates that all states must redesign their driver's licenses by 2008 to include a common machine-readable technology, a move many say signals the advent of a national RFID-chipped identification card. In March, after months of wrangling and anti-RFID protests from states, the Department of Homeland Security released its proposed regulations for Real ID. The preliminary regs—a good indication of the final regulations, due any time—call for states to utilize 2-D bar-code technology rather than RFID.

With the Real ID question out of the way, a major part of Simitian's battle to get this latest bill signed is put to rest. But there is still the question of squelching innovation that Schwarzenegger raised earlier. Those innovation concerns are not addressed in Simitian's bill, but in separate bills that are still in California's assembly.

"This is one of five bills I have dealing with the use of RFID technology," said Simitian, in Sacramento, Calif. "As a Silicon Valley legislator [I believe] the technology is great, but you have to be thoughtful of when and where you use it."


"We have put much of our effort into getting California to pass this legislation," Tim Sparapani, legislative council for the national ACLU office, in Washington, said in a September 2006 interview with eWEEK. "We think the bill draws the right tines. RFID can be incredibly useful when shipping certain goods, but not when used to track people."

Details on the other RFID bills Senator Simitian has authored currently working their way through the legislature include: SB 28 and 29 (to be voted on any day now), which would impose a three-year moratorium on the use of the technology in California driver’s licenses and in public school ID cards. SB 30 would create interim privacy safeguards for any existing RFID-enabled government IDs, such as those used by students in the state college system. SB 31 (won't be heard until next year) would make it a crime to “skim,” or surreptitiously read, data from an RFID document without the knowledge and consent of the ID holder.

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