Seeking a leadership role in defining biometric identification law, the California Bankers Association is backing a bill to deter high-tech identity theft.

The association joined with the Los Angeles-based Center for Law in the Public Interest in drafting a bill sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Kevin Murray. The state Legislature is expected to hold hearings on it this year.

Although most U.S. banks are only experimenting with biometric verification techniques such as fingerprint or voice recognition, the bill's sponsors wanted to act a bit ahead of the market, said Gregory Wilhelm, the California bankers group's senior vice president and director of government relations.

The bill's backers said they have not heard of similar measures in other states. Some observers suggested that more activity on the state level could contribute legitimacy and momentum, as has been the case with digital signature legislation in the electronic commerce realm. (Digital signatures use data encryption to authenticate parties to an on-line transaction.)

Erik Bowman, industry analyst at Cardtech/Securtech in Bethesda, Md., which follows the smart card and security technology industries, said the California bill could promote acceptance of biometrics by providing assurance that personal identifiers will not be misused.

"It is in the best interest of both financial institutions and consumers to work together to try to create an environment that promotes the wise use of biometric identification," Mr. Wilhelm said.

The bill would prohibit selling, exchanging, or providing biometric data bases; prohibit recording someone's voice for biometric identification without consent; and require that biometric templates be stored in the same secure way as other confidential information.

The same two organizations backed a bill last year that strengthened instant credit identification requirements. Californians applying for instant credit now must show photo ID and three other proofs of identification.

Motivated by the abuse of Social Security numbers as a means of identification, the groups want to protect biometric identifiers, said Ed Howard, the law center's executive director.

"The bill is designed to protect consumers and businesses from the next generation of identity thieves," he said. "It's an effort to learn from the mistakes we made in the past to secure the electronic transactions of the future."

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