Calif. State Senate Passes Bill Banning Forced Human RFID Tagging

"RFID technology is not in and of itself the issue ... But we shouldn't condone forced 'tagging' of humans. It's the ultimate invasion of privacy."

by / August 31, 2007

California Senate Bill 362, which would prohibit any person from forcing any other person to undergo an implant in their body of a radio frequency identification (RFID) device, passed the Senate Floor on a 28-9 vote Thursday, and will now go to Governor Schwarzenegger.

RFID "tags" are tiny chips with miniature antennae that can be embedded in almost anything. Using radio waves, RFID can help identify and track people, animals, or objects. Devices known as "readers" access the information on the tags.

"RFID technology is not in and of itself the issue. RFID is a minor miracle, with all sorts of good uses," said the bill sponsor Senator Joe Simitian. "But we shouldn't condone forced 'tagging' of humans. It's the ultimate invasion of privacy."

Despite wide-ranging support, the RFID industry has declined to support SB 362. In response, Simitian said, "I think it's unfortunate and regrettable that the industry hasn't come out in support of SB 362. I understand why we're having a robust debate about the privacy concerns related to RFID, but at the very least, we should be able to agree that the forced implanting of under-the-skin technology into human beings is just plain wrong. I'm deeply concerned that this isn't a given for the industry."

"Passage of SB 362 ensures that no Californian is compelled to have electronic identifiers of any type embedded in their body. This provides Californians with the personal agency to make such decisions should they have a reason to, as well as another means of protecting their personal information," said Jennifer King, Research Specialist at the Samuelson Law, Technology and Public Policy Clinic at U.C. Berkeley School of Law.

If the governor signs SB 362, California would join Wisconsin and North Dakota, which have already banned forced RFID implantation.

In 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an RFID tag for human implantation called VeriChip, which would allow medical professionals to access a person's medical history in the event that the person couldn't communicate. The chip's parent company, VeriChip Corporation, reports that 2,000 people have already had tags implanted. The company also has clients around the world that want to use human implantation as a source of identity. For example, the attorney general of Mexico and 18 of his staff members were implanted with chips to allow them to get into high-security areas.

The Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA), which develops ethics policies for the American Medical Association, recently issued a report raising concerns about the human implantation of RFID tags. The report stresses that RFID devices may compromise a person's privacy and security because it is not yet clear if the information contained in the tags can be properly protected. Further, CEJA finds that RFID tagging may present physical risks because the tags may migrate under the skin, making them hard to remove at a later time.

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