California lawmakers soften RFID stance

A California bill that would have prohibited state, county and municipal governments from issuing identification documents embedded with radio frequency identification tags has been amended to allow such technology, but only under specific requirements.

The Identity Information Protection Act of 2005, which passed the Senate and is awaiting action in the Assembly, would still prohibit use of RFID technology in driver’s licenses or identification cards, ID cards issued to kindergarten through grade 12, University of California, California State University and community college students, public library cards, and health insurance and benefit cards issued in conjunction with any government-supported aid program.

But the bill, which was introduced Feb. 22 by state Sen. Joe Simitian, was recently amended twice to allow the RFID technology if it contains a unique personal identifier and not personal information, such as an individual’s name, address, telephone number, date of birth, Social Security Number or biometric identifier, among others.

The amended bill also calls for “strong encryption” to protect against any type of unauthorized reading of the information on identification documents. Additionally, the ID document would use mutual authentication – in which, for example, the smart card would only transmit data to authorized scanning devices or readers – based on minimum standards contained in the International Organization for Standardization document known as the Common Criteria ISO 1 or its equivalent.

Certain privacy safeguards have also been spelled out in the amended bill. For example, it requires an access control protocol where there would be “an optical or other non-radio frequency reading of information” from the ID document before data is transmitted.

Another safeguard is a shield device to protect the document from unauthorized transmissions. A third measure outlined in the bill is using technology that can be temporarily switched on or otherwise intentionally activated so data can be remotely readable.

According to the bill, governments or agencies that do issue ID documents with RFID tags will let the card holder know about the technology, new countermeasures, the location of readers that the issuing entity will use or intend to use, information being collected and stored and any other updates.

However, if a state, county or municipal agency has issued ID documents as part of a contactless integrated system before Jan. 1, 2006, then it would not be subject to the enhanced security and privacy features under certain circumstances.

It also allows exceptions for RFID used to collect tolls on roads and bridges, identify people incarcerated in state prisons, county jails, juvenile facilities and mental health facilities, identify individuals in government-operated hospitals and other health care facilities and authenticate people gaining access to secure public buildings.

Simitian previously said that RFID itself is not the issue.

“This is all about protecting people’s right to privacy, personal safety and financial security,” he said. “This measure will guard families and individuals from having their most private information broadcast to anyone who is able to collect it.”

Several industry officials have said they opposed the bill because it would not ensure privacy and security. At least one industry official has said the data transmitted can be encrypted and secure.

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