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California shelves RFID ban

State postpones further consideration of a bill intended to address privacy concerns over high-tech IDs.

Tech Industry
California legislators have shelved a closely watched bill that would temporarily ban driver's licenses and other state documents that incorporate wireless identification technology.

The Identity Information Protection Act of 2005, or SB 628, is designed to address concerns that new high-tech IDs could facilitate the broad monitoring of citizens. Members of the state's influential high-tech industry have lobbied against the bill, arguing that they're developing privacy and security safeguards.

On Thursday, the Assembly's Appropriations Committee decided to sideline the proposed law until next year.

A spokeswoman for the American Electronics Association, which opposes the bill, said the group is particularly concerned about any kind of broad ban on the technology, which it claims will help deter forgeries.

"This bill has moved far too quickly, is too complex and has not received thorough vetting or discussion," said Roxanne Gould, a spokeswoman for the association in California. "We're really pleased to have a time-out and a more thorough discussion of the benefits of the technology and the possible ramifications, positive or negative, of this bill."

The bill's author, Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, said he remains determined to advance the bill forward before the legislative session ends on Sept. 9.

The bill, which Simitian has amended several times in an attempt to quell industry opposition, has passed votes in the state's Senate and the Assembly's Judiciary Committee. In its current version, it would establish a three-year moratorium on embedding radio frequency identification devices in driver's licenses and other state-issued documents. It would also outlaw surreptitious interception of RFID signals. The bill's sponsors include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

The proposed law comes as the U.S. State Department draws up plans to put RFID devices in U.S. passports in an effort to deter forgery and theft. The U.S. government is also drafting national security standards for driver's licenses and other state-issued IDs. Schools and libraries are incorporating the technology into their IDs too in an effort to keep tabs on students and books.

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