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Simitian wants to bar forced use of ID implants
June 18, 2007, 12:00 AM By Steve Lawrence
SACRAMENTO  — Forgot your company identification badge at home? That wouldn’t be a problem if employees had a small identification device about the size of a grain of rice inserted under their skin instead of a badge.

If that seems Orwellian to you, state Sen. Joe Simitian may have a solution. He’s introduced a bill that would bar an employer or anyone else from requiring a person to have one of the devices implanted.

The measure is one of a series of bills the Palo Alto Democrat has proposed to control the use of so-called radio frequency identification devices, which can be placed in badges, passports, driver’s licenses and on bodies to transmit radio signals with identifying information.

The Assembly Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider four of the bills Tuesday.

They also include measures that would bar use of RFIDs in driver’s licenses and student identification badges before 2011 and set privacy-protection standards for RFIDs.

A fifth bill by Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, is also on the committee’s agenda. It would require companies that issue identification cards or other items containing RFIDs to disclose the personal information that would be revealed by the RFID and what steps they’ve taken to protect that information.

Simitian says he is concerned the information provided by RFIDs could be used to track people’s movements or to steal their personal information with the use of an inexpensive monitor.

"When people understand the vulnerability of the technology and the absolute lack of any privacy protections or limits on information that can be broadcast, they understand why it’s a legitimate source of concern,” he said.

The use of implanted RFIDs makes "you think we really are in a world we never could have imagined,” he said.

But Roxanne Gould, vice president for California government relations for the American Electronics Association, a high-tech industry group, said Simitian is taking the wrong approach, although her organization hasn’t taken a position on the implant bill.

"Our bottom line is we’re opposed to anything that demonizes RFIDs,” she said. "The technology has been in existence for more than 50 years. It’s in more than 1.2 billion ID credentials worldwide. ... We’ve not seen a single showing of ID theft or harm.”

Lawmakers should focus on preventing inappropriate use of RFIDs, not in restricting the technology, she said.

Scott Silverman, chief executive officer of VeriChip Corp., a Florida company that makes implantable RFIDs, said his firm has a "very strong privacy policy” and doesn’t oppose bills like the Simitian measure banning forced use of the devices.

"In principle, a device of this type should never be forced on anybody,” he said.

Two other states, Wisconsin and North Dakota, have enacted similar bans.

Most of VeriChip’s devices are implanted to identify medical patients, but the company has also made implantable RFIDs for security uses. Mexico’s attorney general bought about 100 of them through a distributor a few years ago, Silverman said.

It would take a larger device, about the size of a pacemaker, to track a person’s movements by satellite, he said.

Some of the other bills on lawmakers’ agendas this week include:

RECYCLING — A bill by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Sherman Oaks, would require apartment complexes with at least five units to provide access to waste recycling programs. According to a Senate analysis of the bill, only 40 percent of Californians in multifamily housing have access to curbside recycling. The bill is on the Senate Environmental Quality Committee’s agenda on Monday.

MARRIAGE EQUALITY — Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, has a bill that would make it easier for men to take their wives’ last names when they get married. It’s on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s agenda on Tuesday.

HEMP FARMING — Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, is making another attempt to allow California farmers to grow hemp, a distant, low-potency cousin of marijuana that is used in myriad products. The bill is before the Senate Agriculture Committee on Tuesday. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the proposal last year.

ELECTORAL COLLEGE — California would award its Electoral College votes to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote under a bill by Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, that’s on the Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee’s Tuesday calendar. This proposal also was vetoed last year. The measure would only take effect if states with a majority of electoral votes adopted the same proposal.


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