Skip the chip

December 13, 2009 at 2:27 am Leave a comment

I’ve blogged about VeriChip before.  If you have no idea who or what VeriChip is, let me briefly tell you. VeriChip was (and I say was because VeriChip has a new name) a Florida, US-based company that had grand plans for inserting microchips under the skin of humans. Back in 2007, they announced plans to implant 200 Alzheimer’s patients in Palm Beach County. The microchip implanted is a radio-frequency identification chip that contains a 16-digit patient identification number and if someone with Alzheimer’s is lost, the chip will identify and track.

I suggested from chipping patients, it’s an easy jump to say the prison population, immigrants guest workers, 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 blah blah. 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. 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.

And speaking of credit card details – guess what type of company VeriChip recently acquired? ooooh, shock: a credit monitoring and anti-identity theft company known as Steel Vault.  The combined company will now operate under a new name: PositiveID. Let’s pause for a sec and look at the name: PositiveID. I think that’s pretty clever actually. Any negative or Orwellian thoughts one might have had about a company called VeriChip is now replaced by a fairly innocuous, positive sounding name.

But let’s look at what this acquisition might mean. PositiveID will not only stick chips in patients and link the chips to personal  health records (through their HealthLink chip), there is the potential to cross-check patient health records to people’s credit scores (because Steel Vault is the company behind, which is a credit reporting, monitoring and scoring service. The company is also into identity theft products).

So what I hear you say? Well, here’s some scenarios for you:

  • it’s a no-brainer to suggest that the old VeriChip company would wish to integrate the two services – so the implant could determine your credit rating or worthiness;
  • using RFID technology to identify every human being in America, heck the whole planet (and they’d market this under the guise of protecting your identity because the chip would be embedded with all your personal details. Heck I can name the chip for them – call it RealID);
  • you wouldn’t need to worry about leaving your credit card at home, just scan your arm. Forgot your Driver’s License? no problem: wave your arm over a scanner;
  • potentially there will be one chip carrying two things: a link to your personal health record and your credit score or rating. No doubt they will prattle on about how the two types of information will be kept apart (so that for example, doctors treating you won’t be able to snoop into your financial health) – mind you, I can’t find any statements about how this security would be put into place;
  • I’m sure you’ve read about how so-called secured data has been lost. I don’t wish my private health or financial details being hacked or scanned by some portable scanner;
  • what’s to stop clever hackers from changing say the dosage of medication recorded on the chip?
  • basically you could end up being a walking credit or debit card. Eeeew.
  • VeriChip is the company that said back in 2004 that its chip would one day be used as a credit card.

And in this fear-driven age we live in, it will be relatively easy to make everyone think they should be chipped. In fact, if you’re not chipped, you’ll be suspect. The chip will be marketed under the name of safety and protection. If your kid has a microchip, they’re safe from abduction or getting lost. A school in Rhode Island is already busy chipping the kids. If your elderly parents are chipped, they’re safe from wandering off or forgetting their medicine dosage and history. If you have the chip, you don’t need to carry a wallet anymore or a Driver’s License. You can wave your arm and get into a nightclub. You won’t need a passport because the chip will carry all your personal details and travel history.

Our armed forces and police will get the chip. There was a recent suggestion that every Metropolitan police officer in the UK would be microchipped so their movements could be tracked. The US Department of Defense has been studying how to develop a rice grain-sized chip in soldiers so if they are wounded on the battlefield, vital medical signs can be relayed back to their unit.

In fact, I can envision a time in the not too distant future when you will not be able to buy, sell or trade anything without a chip embedded in you. And many of you might say bring it on, who cares if I’m chipped. So if I can’t persuade you that chipping humans will lead to the total loss of human rights, then let me try the medical argument.

There are studies that suggest a causal link between implanted microchip transponders and cancer in laboratory rodents and dogs. We chip our pets for identification purposes. It would be pretty harrowing to think that malignant tumors, typically sarcomas, could arise at the site of the implant you have innocently agreed to have your dog chipped with. It’s suggested that tumors grow around the site of the implant to fully encase it.

Of course, results in animals do not necessarily apply to humans. Or do they? What could happen within your body if you get a glass-encased chip? At the very least, the animal tests should raise red flags and more research should be conducted into human cancers and microchips.

““There’s no way in the world, having read this information, that I would have one of those chips implanted in my skin, or in one of my family members,” says Dr. Robert Benezra, head of the Cancer Biology Genetics Program at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. He’s a doctor, head of a Cancer Biology Genetics program – guess he might know what he’s talking about.

I read the other day that a South African inventor has incurable cancer. It’s a story out of the X-Files really. Earlier this year, he noticed a small, hard lump had appeared under the skin of his right shoulder but ignored it until he found that a weak signal was picked up by an EMF meter on the bench in his lab. No equipment or devices were running at the time and he tracked the signal back to his shoulder – where a doctor found a microchip and…a rare form of cancer was found in the site from where the microchip was removed (the surgery apparently disturbed the cancer cells and were then released into the man’s bloodstream). I haven’t been able to find out why on earth a microchip was implanted in his shoulder. The man was not aware of its presence. So it all sounds very mysterious.

So until studies can prove otherwise, I’d be skipping the chip.

Entry filed under: Biometric identification, Surveillance society. Tags: , , , , .

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