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Schwarzenegger Signs Anti-Skimming RFID Measure But Vetoes Bill on School IDs

The law makes it illegal to surreptitiously reading RFID tags embedded in identity documents.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
California is considering integrating RFID tags into driver's licenses, but the technology is already used in some government-issued IDs—including the one that Senator Simitian carries. He says it is also used in some ID issued by the University of California.

The new law will also apply to access control cards (used to unlock doors or access computer systems), which do not bear the carrier's name or photo but are encoded with a unique ID number associated with that individual's personal data in a back-end database.

The bill makes exceptions for inadvertent scanning of RFID tags. It also permits various emergency medical services providers and law enforcement officials to scan without a bearer's permission to identify or assist an unresponsive person, or to solve a crime, as long as a search warrant has been issued.

Simitian says he plans to keep working on the failed parental consent bill (SB 29), as well as SB 30, which calls for privacy and security safeguards on RFID-enabled, government-issued identification documents. This bill was not approved by the State Assembly and has been placed on hold.

In addition to requiring parental consent, SB 29 would have also required schools to inform parents about the use of the technology, how it works and the school's plans for protecting students' privacy in order to comply with privacy laws.

Simitian says he removed provisions for a three-year moratorium on the use of RFID technology, as well as requirements (taken from an earlier version of school bill) that would have instituted data protection protocols for RFID-based IDs. Simitian had hoped that removing these elements would convince the governor to sign SB 29.

"I said OK, the industry is opposed to this moratorium, it has been opposed to limitations on data stored on cards, opposed to privacy protections, so the least we can do is give parents the right of notice and parental consent," says Simitian. "The frustrating part to me is that I continue to believe that enlightened self-interest should lead industry to support something like this [parental consent bill]. There were no [technological] limits called for in the bill, just consent. The public will continue to resist emerging technology if limits aren't placed on its use."

In the past few days, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed an unprecedented number of bills, due to a backlog of legislation that had formed on his desk while he was working with lawmakers to finalize the state budget. In a statement, he said he believes the decisions on how to deploy RFID-based IDs should be left to the schools districts that choose to use them. However, he added: "I support parental consent and notification, and encourage school districts deciding to require consent prior to adopting the use of contactless based identification cards at their schools, to apply it equally in a way that is technology neutral—whether it is an RFID-enabled card or another type of identification card."

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