Humans being microchipped
Strike me down! In a post just a few days ago, I told you about poor Leon, the French bulldog, and the possible dangers inherent in RFID technology. VeriChip is the US company at the centre of criticism over its plans to microchip medical patients. VericChip won approval from the FDA to implant microchips into humans. And it has started doing so.
VeriChip has just announced plans to conduct a 2 year pilot study to test their RFID technology. It will implant 200 Alzheimer’s patients located in Palm Beach County, Florida with tiny electronic capsules that contain a 16 digit unique patient identifier. The patients will be scanned and their medical and personal information held in a database, which can be accessed by medical staff.
I really do have a problem with this. VeriChip says that the patients have volunteered for the pilot study. Last time I looked, Alzheimer’s was considered to be a progressive form of dementia with symptoms of impaired thought and degeneration of brain function. This means that these patients may not be truly capable of giving informed consent. I’m wondering if this is exploitation of a group of people in society who really can’t stick up for themselves. We also know from my previous post that there are questions being raised about the medical safety issues of microchips, with animal studies pointing to a possible causal link with cancer.
VeriChip is saying that microchipping Alzheimer’s patients will give families peace of mind as any patient who wanders or gets lost can have their arm scanned to identify them. But it’s no secret that RFID technology can be used for tracking purposes and it’s no secret that hackers can nab medical data as it is transferred from chip to reader to secure database.
It’s the notion of tagging people that gets me. Tagging for folksonomies, okay; tagging for Flickr okay. But tagging humans? Not okay – very Orwellian. I think once you get acceptance of tagging a small population of medical patients, it’s an easy jump to say the prison population, then parolees or sex offenders, then perhaps to get through immigration – then the whole population. Always the argument would be – it’s to protect the population from criminals; it’s to protect military bases or nuclear power plants; we need to identify wandering Alzheimer’s patients and so on. And then it’s a small jump from the chip carrying medical information to holding other information about you, for example, chip-based payment for groceries would require your credit card details be recorded on the chip. I see no reason why airline tickets couldn’t be disposed of in a future of microchipped humans – pay for your ticket and when you get to the airport a scanner verifies payment and processes you through immigration. And to keep kids safe, how about a future where a baby is microchipped at birth – the parents can track their movements or police could find a missing child. One microchip in the human arm can hold an infinite number of potential uses to track and control humans albeit some uses might be beneficial or innocent. But well-meaning and innocent can often turn into exploited and abused.
No doubt a whole new crop of evasive technologies would spring up to evade the signals being emitted by RFID chips (if they’re emitting a radio signal) and a black market in avoidance. Special clothing material to block the signal from being omitted might be invented for instance and dodgy back street “implant extractors” (people who will surgically remove the microchip should you wish to avoid being tracked and monitored) will offer their services. The microchip black market would be full of counterfeit chips that you could swap for your implanted one and take on a whole new identity.
If you want to read more on a potential future of humans chipped like cattle or if you wonder if VeriChip’s microchip can be duplicated easily, go here and read the interview with Liz McIntyre, author of Spychips: How Major Corporations Plan to Track your Every Purchase & Watch your Every Move. The creepiest part of this interview is when you read that VeriChip, like vultures circling, swooped down on corpses following Hurricane Katrina and had coroners implant chips. Scary stuff; scary interview. I even find the slogan on VeriChip’s website creepy: “RFID for people” – I guess they point this out just in case we confuse ourselves with cattle or domestic pets!
Photo credit: Spychips.com