California Research Bureau Convenes RFID Advisory Panel

Nov 09, 2007
Nicole A. Ozer

Page Media

ACLU of Northern CA

The California Research Bureau (CRB), the non-partisan government agency responsible for researching topics for the Governor and the State Legislature, has begun to tackle the thorny issue of RFID.

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags are tiny computer chips that can be encoded with any type of information. These chips are embedded within documents or objects to be used for monitoring or tracking purposes. When an RFID reader emits a radio signal, the RFID tags in the vicinity respond by automatically transmitting their stored information to the reader, at a distance, without alerting anyone that the tag is being read.

At the request of State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), the CRB has established the eleven person Radio-Frequency Identification Document Advisory Panel. The Panel will hold meetings on RFID and help the CRB issue a final report on the technology.

The Advisory Panel’s goals are to “provide technical advice and best practice approaches to the CRB regarding the use of radio-frequency identification (RFID) systems in their many different applications, and to outline the strengths and weaknesses of potential approaches to privacy and security using RFID technology.”

The first meeting of the Advisory Panel was held on Wednesday, October 31. The agenda included academics and computer security professionals who discussed vulnerabilities of RFID technology and demonstrated how RFID tags without protections such as encryption can be read at a distance. Lee Tien from the Electronic Frontier Foundation discussed the privacy and free speech implications of insecure RFID and Cindy Southworth from the National Network to End Domestic Violence discussed the impact of insecure RFID on the safety of women and children.

The CRB website also contains extensive materials submitted by both the public interest community and industry groups about RFID technology.

In recent years the ACLU has fought to ensure that Californians are not forced to carry state-issued identification documents containing RFID technology that transmits their personal information without their knowledge or consent. The ACLU is a co-sponsor and supporter of several RFID bills moving throug the California state legislature, including SB 30, which passed the Senate 33-3 last year and is expected to move through the Assembly in the next term.

In a partial victory for RFID-related privacy issues, Governor Schwarzenegger recently signed Senate Bill 362 which prohibits employers and others from forcing anyone to have an RFID device implanted under their skin.

For more information check out Don’t Chip Our Rights Away!, a collection of RFID information and resources compiled by the ACLU of Northern California and Rights Chipped Away: RFID in Identification Documents (forthcoming Stanford Technology Law Review).