California mulls RFID privacy law

Scrambling for safety

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California is on the brink of introducing privacy laws to safeguard personal data stored on radio frequency identification (RFID) tags in government-issued documents and identification cards.

The Identity Information Protection Act of 2006 was passed by state legislators last month and only needs the approval of California Gobernator Arnold Schwarzenegger to become law. The measures are designed to safeguard against either criminal of government abuse of RFID tags by mandating the use of privacy-protecting technologies, such as encryption. The bill, authored by State Senator Joe Simitian (Democrat), would also give Californians the right to decide who can access their personal information stored on RFID cards in documents such as driver's licences, library cards and the like.

"RFID technology is not in and of itself the issue," said Senator Simitian. "The issue is whether and under what circumstances the government should be allowed to compel its residents to carry technology that broadcasts their most personal information."

Privacy activists hope the proposed law will become a template for federal legislation.

However the proposed measures are not without their critics. The Security Industry Association, which represents suppliers of biometric and access control technologies, has written to Schwarzenegger warning that the law might spur frivolous lawsuits against government agencies. It also expressed concerns about measures that would oblige government agencies to publicly disclose the location of sites where RFID readers are in use. Other critics, such as RFID Law Blog, describe it as unnecessary because theft of personal data from RFID cards has not been widely reported. It also warns that the law could stymie the adoption of RFID technologies.

The proposed California bill has drawn national attention following the federal government's decision to embed RFID tags in new US passports. Security experts such as Bruce Schneier are increasingly questioning whether e-passports will remain secure for the 10-year lifetime of a passport, Computerworld reports. ®

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