Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Lawmakers fight implanting of microchip tags in humans

California Senator Joe Simitian's SB 362 - which would ban human implanting of RFID tags without consent - continues to get national attention. No word yet whether Governor Schwarzenegger will sign the landmark legislation, but every day that goes by the bill's relevance and need only becomes more apparent. The Detroit Free Press reports on the legislation, as well as similar actions being taken by other states concerned about the privacy implications of RFID implants.

It would be an interesting feature of an employee's first day: Sign a contract, fill out a W2 and roll up your sleeve for your microchip injection. Sounds like sci-fi, but it has happened, and now a handful of states are making sure their citizens never will be forced to have a microchip implanted under their skin.

If Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signs a bill passed this month, California would join Wisconsin and North Dakota in banning human implanting of the tags without consent. Lawmakers are calling the legislation preemptive; the industry that produces the technology calls the states' action fear mongering.


State Sen. Joe Simitian, who authored the California bill, said he looked into RFID legislation after grade schools in Sutter County, Calif., required students to wear IDs containing the chips to help monitor attendance. The move prompted privacy complaints from parents, and the schools eventually stopped using the technology.

Simitian introduced four other RFID bills, dealing with criminal punishment for identity theft, security standards and use of the tags in driver's licenses and school IDs.


Determined to show the security flaws to skeptics in the Legislature, Simitian asked a tech-savvy grad student from his office to build one. The student then wandered the state Capitol one day with the reader in his briefcase. In the process, he stole the security numbers of nine representatives. The reader could send out any of those numbers, getting him past any locked door a state senator could access. And he would appear as the senator in the electronic records.

The four other Simitian RFID bills are currently inactive, but will be taken up by the Legislature again next session. To date, each has overwhelmingly passed every committee and floor vote they have faced. The real question will be whether the Governor will sign the bills when they reach his desk, or bow to industry pressure, as he is so apt to do. For more information on each, see SB 28, SB 29, SB 30, and SB 31.

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