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Lawmakers aiming to safeguard 'bioprivacy'

ATLANTA - The House soon will take up a bill aimed at protecting Georgians from invasive electronic snooping made possible by technological innovation, the head of a legislative study committee said Tuesday.

"Georgians want to be forward looking with technology,'' said Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, chairman of the House Biological Privacy Study Committee. "But they want to make sure that basic privacy rights are protected.''

The study committee was formed to examine the impacts emerging technologies such as retinal scans, DNA profiling and radio frequency identification - the implanting of personal data into ID cards that can be downloaded from a remote location - could have on individuals' right to privacy.

Setzler presented the panel's findings on Tuesday, outlining legislation he plans to introduce later this week setting limits on "biometric'' information government agencies, schools or private businesses could obtain from employees, students, customers or criminal defendants.

The bill would allow businesses to fingerprint workers if it is related to their work duties. For example, a bank could require fingerprints for employees to access its vault, Setzler said.

But schools would not be allowed to require fingerprinting of students, nor would retail businesses be permitted to require customers to be fingerprinted to enter their stores or complete a sales transaction.

The bill also would prohibit the tracking of individuals through "remotely readable'' microchips implanted into ID cards.

"That is a profound violation of individual privacy,'' Setzler said.

Setzler said the bill would not seek to widen the permissible use of DNA profiling in crime fighting. Current law already allows authorities to take DNA samples from convicted felons and - with a warrant - from criminal suspects.

"Our biggest concern is if they change it to allow the taking of DNA prior to a conviction,'' said Sara Totonchi, public policy director for the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights. "(But) that's not even on the table.''

The legislation also will include a provision requiring collectors of biometric information to give written disclosures to those whose data they have on file. Personal information could only be used for specific purposes.

To prevent identity theft, third parties that seek personal information on individuals from a data collector would have to get the person's permission. Felony violators could receive up to three years in prison and be fined up to $5,000.

Maggie Garrett, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said her organization is excited about the bill.

"We think it's important to protect people's privacy."