California Law Outlaws RFID Implant Mandate Beginning Jan. 1, no one in California can be forced to get Radio Frequency Identification Devices — also called RFID implants. These tiny chips with miniature antennae can be implanted under the skin. They raise many privacy and health concerns. Advocates say laws might hamper important uses of the technology.
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California Law Outlaws RFID Implant Mandate

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California Law Outlaws RFID Implant Mandate

California Law Outlaws RFID Implant Mandate

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This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick with a story that sounds like science fiction or maybe just like California.

A new law here bans the employers from forcing workers to get RFID implants. RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification Devices. These are tiny little gizmos that can be embedded under your skin.

Here's NPR's Mandalit del Barco.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: You heard right. Radio Frequency ID tags with mini-antennas implanted in your body. If this sounds like something out of a movie, that's because it is.

(Soundbite of movie, "Casino Royale")

Mr. DANIEL CRAIG (Actor): (As James Bond) The name's Bond. James Bond.

DEL BARCO: In one scene of the last James Bond caper "Casino Royale," Agent 007 stick out his arm to get zapped by what resembles a high-tech staple gun.

(Soundbite of movie, "Casino Royale")

Mr. CRAIG: (As James Bond) Ow.

DEL BARCO: A tiny device gets implanted under his wrist. It's encoded with all sorts of identifying information and an antenna that can be read by a scanner back at headquarters.

(Soundbite of movie, "Casino Royale")

Mr. CRAIG: (As James Bond) So you can keep an eye on me?

Dame JUDI DENSCH (Actor): (As M) Yes. Don't worry about keeping in touch. We know where you are.

DEL BARCO: Now, most people don't have a boss like James Bond's, who orders their workers to get chipped. And State Senator Joe Simitian wants to make sure no one in California does. With the backing of such disparate groups as the ACLU, the PTA, and gun owners, he wrote the law outlawing mandatory RFID implants.

State Senator JOE SIMITIAN (Democrat, California): I know to a lot of folks this sounds like something out of a science fiction or fantasy movie. But the fact of the matter is it's very real and it's very current.

DEL BARCO: Simitian says some people have already agreed to implant RFID devices. But his law addresses those who do not volunteer.

State Sen. SIMITIAN: The forced tagging of individuals is really something we can't condone. It's the ultimate invasion of personal privacy.

DEL BARCO: The Food and Drug Administration has already approved the use of the subdermal RFID devices to allow a person's medical history to be read. A company in Florida that makes them, Verichip, reports that 2,000 people have had tags implanted. But requiring employees to have them is not a common practice, says RFID industry advocate Dan Mullen

Me. DAN MULLEN (President, AIM Global): I don't think there is a big influx of employers requiring it. In terms of implanting RFID, we see that as a fairly voluntary path. I know of probably 200 people in the whole United States have had a tag implanted for - mainly in medical cases. You know, families have consented and Alzheimer's patients have had them. That's the main one I'm aware of.

DEL BARCO: Mullen is president of AIM Global, an association for automatic identification and mobility companies. He points out that RFID technology has been used since the 1940s to be able to track airport baggage, freeway traffic and products.

Mr. MULLEN: Yeah, I'm not aware of people forcing anybody to get an implantable RFID. So it doesn't seem like it's a trend or something that the state's citizens need to be protected against.

DEL BARCO: Still, a video surveillance company in Cincinnati raised some eyebrows in 2006 when it injected two of its secure data center workers with glass-encapsulated RFID chips. The attorney general of Mexico and his staff members also reportedly got implanted with RFID chips to allow them into high-security areas.

State Sen. SIMITIAN: I'm not hostile to the use of RFID technology. I think it's a minor miracle and it's been on the scene for 60 years since World War II. But I think you have to be smart about how you use it.

DEL BARCO: Senator Simitian says despite the benefits of the technology, he worries that RFID information could easily be hacked into.

State Sen. SIMITIAN: Absent any protections, it's available to broadcast your personal information at any time without your knowledge.

DEL BARCO: RFID companies say the type of information encrypted into implants is very limited. And there are far easier ways of hacking into people's personal information. Still, to prevent future problems, California now joins Wisconsin and North Dakota in outlawing forced RFID implants.

Around the world, others are lobbying for similar legislation organized on the Internet as groups called and

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

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