Saturday, July 28, 2007

Are ID chips too invasive?

Ivan Penn

Saturday July 28, 2007

It appears that the effort to implant microchips into humans is not only alive and well but moving ever closer to getting under everyone's skin.

Delray Beach firm VeriChip, the nation's only FDA-approved company allowed to produce microchips for injection into people, got a boost recently from the American Medical Association.

The AMA said such devices "may help to identify patients, thereby improving the safety and efficiency of patient care." But the council warned that the devices' safety and security are unclear.

That was enough to create a stir in the technology and medical worlds as well as among privacy and religious folks. And enough to put a smile on VeriChip's face.

Scott Silverman, chief executive officer of VeriChip, says the primary aim is to help high-risk medical patients such as those with diabetes, Alzheimer's, cancer and heart conditions.

The chip, implanted in the upper right arm, allows medical personnel to access a patient's medical history in the event the person is unconscious or otherwise unresponsive. The person's data is stored in VeriChip's database.

Sounds a little spooky, and makes George Orwell seem more like a prophet than a novelist.

Silverman says it could save lives, "it's fairly safe and there have been no side effects." VeriChip's sister corporation, Digital Angel Corp., has been implanting chips in pets for 15 years.

"It should be first and foremost voluntary," Silverman says. "No one should ever be forced to get an implantable microchip."

But Katherine Albrecht, a co-author of the book Spychips, whom I'm sure drives Silverman crazy, argues that VeriChip is taking us down a treacherous road.

"You can feel the writing on the wall that this is the direction our society is moving," said Albrecht, who received her doctorate in education from Harvard, specializing in adult development and consumer education.

The chip uses technology called a Radio Frequency Identification tag.

Albrecht points out that the RFID technology used in the chips is becoming increasingly pervasive throughout our society as merchants use it to track inventory and purchases.

"If everybody had a chip in them ... we would be blissfully unaware of Big Brother," Albrecht said.

She says the program is flawed because if there are problems accessing VeriChip's database, the chip will prove useless. And, she says, as the AMA pointed out, there are questions about patient security.

And the religious have concerns of biblical proportions: tagging people with such devices reads like a precursor to the "mark of the beast."

Silverman says his company's focus is on medical patients. And the chip they use is "passive" or, simply stated, it does not emit a strong signal. To read the chip, medical personnel must use a scanner and be within 12 inches.

And he says the data is stored in a facility as secure as any of the best. He does admit once you have a chip, it could be used for other "applications." You can tie financial accounts to them and other data.

He points out a year ago one company injected two employees with chips for security reasons. In addition, nightclubs in Barcelona, Spain, Rotterdam, Holland, and Edinburgh, Scotland, use them so patrons can access VIP lounges and make purchases.

A bit much for me. The only chip I want in my body is a potato chip, maybe a tortilla chip. Definitely not a microchip.