The Future: Identify Yourself

2004-12-08 12:00:00 +0000

On October 12, 2004,

Applied Digital, a provider of Security Through Innovation™ and Digital Angel Corporation announced … that VeriChip™, the worldʼs first implantable radio frequency identification (RFID) microchip for human use, has been cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for medical uses in the United States.

The chip had already been implanted in humans in Mexico over three months previous. With the recent legality of this process, different concerns about the technology have resurfaced. Many opponents of the identification implant consider it a serious violation of privacy, citing moral and sometimes religious reasons for rejecting the idea. Supporters of the chip admit the chance for abuse, but believe the possible positive applications warrant the further development and use of it.

The VeriChip device is about the size of a grain of rice. The implant procedure is as simple as getting a shot. Once implanted under the skin, the chip lies dormant. It has no internal power supply. It is activated by a small amount of radio frequency energy. When it is exposed to this energy it responds by emitting its own radio signal, transmitting a unique identification code. The chip itself does not contain any personal data, only an identification number.

In abstract, the system is similar to the UPC barcode system. A UPC barcode itself does not contain information about the price of the product; its place of origin; whether or not there is a special sale; or when that particular product was packaged. It only identifies the product. The real information is stored in a database local to the supermarket, and a scan of the UPC barcode initiates a lookup into that database.

Similarly, a scan of the radio frequency identification implant would initiate a lookup into the local database of the particular scanner. Each hospital, clinic, bank, supermarket, clothing store, school, workplace or prison that used the implant for identification could maintain its own database of information about the particular individual. The only information accessed by the scan would be the information provided by the “chipped” individual.

The possible applications for this identification method are endless, and

uses have ranged from the whimsical to deadly serious. In Barcelona, Spain, club-hoppers with the chip get instant entry to a barʼs VIP room and can use the same chip to put drinks on their tab. In Mexico City, VeriChip gives the attorney general and his associates access to documents on top-secret drug investigations. [source]

Naturally, any other type of identification such as driving licenses, social security cards and bank cards can be replaced with this tiny chip. The identification number is 16 digits long, and 1016 unique numbers can identify quite a large number of people.

The VeriChip system provides many benefits over traditional identification methods. Because it is an implant, the individual cannot lose or forget the chip. Personal information is safer when accessed through the chip, which cannot be stolen or altered like an ID card. The chip improves upon other biometric identifiers such as fingerprint, retina and facial recognition because there is never a false positive. As mentioned previously, the individual decides who has access to his stored information.

Critics of the chip see it as a serious invasion of privacy. Katherine Albrecht, the founder of Spychips.com, is working hard to introduce legislation that will keep chips out of humans. She says:

[I]t isnʼt hard to see what a microchip future would look like. Something similar has already begun at Bammel Elementary School in Spring, Texas. There, students were required for the first time this fall to keep with them ID cards equipped with radio-controlled devices that monitor their locations. School officials and police can keep track of each time a student gets off a bus or enters a school. Eventually, the communityʼs entire 28,000-student population is expected to begin carrying the devices. Albrecht fears that the progression will be to install chips inside children, then inside workers at large companies. Then comes a future in which anyone can be tracked anywhere …

Especially in the case of the children at Bammel Elementary School, finding a balance between privacy and safety is extremely difficult. A parent may feel unsettled that the police can determine exactly where a child is in the school, but in emergency cases that same parent may be grateful that the technology was able to locate a missing child.

In my opinion, all technology is a tool that can be readily used for good and bad purposes. Every technological advancement has been used for purposes not originally conceived by its designers. A few ways of protecting privacy while benefiting from the convenience of the chip implant come to mind.

The broadcasted radio signal could be shielded somehow, so that it is only detected when the scanner is in a specific orientation in relation to the chip. In this way, the individual has a much greater control over who he identifies himself to. All identification scans would be deliberate. Confining the broadcasted radio signal to a small area around the chip is also a possibility. Companies such as mobileCloak.com market fabrics that are designed to block any and all wireless communication.

Legislation would also be important. Some proposed ideas are:

  1. Getting an implanted ID chip should always be voluntary, without coercion. No one should ever be forced to get an ID chip. Schools, businesses and governments should be banned from offers that pressure people.
  2. There has to be an “off” switch, or a way the device can be deactivated or removed. Deactivation or removal should be available on demand, no questions asked, and should be free; the fee for inserting a chip should include a reserve fund to pay for removals.
  3. Scanners canʼt be hidden. There needs to be a universal symbol showing the location of ID scanners, and that symbol must be shown wherever a scanner is present.
  4. Individuals must be in full control of what information goes into computer databases linked to their ID number, and who has access to that information.
  5. Government canʼt snoop without a court order. Law enforcement agencies would need to convince a judge of their legitimate interest in looking at your ID database in the same way they need court orders today to look at phone and bank records.

All of these are policies that I agree with. I am willing to get a VeriChip implant when I know that my information will be protected and that I can opt out at any time. The convenience of the identification technology overwhelmingly surpasses any legitimate risks that I can perceive.