Human chips more than skin-deepC Net August 23 2004
There's not a lot of middle ground on the subject of implanting electronic identification chips in humans.
Advocates of technologies like radio frequency identification tags say their potentially life-saving benefits far outweigh any Orwellian concerns about privacy. RFID tags sewn into clothing or even embedded under people's skin could curb identity theft, help identify disaster victims and improve medical care, they say.
Critics, however, say such technologies would make it easier for government agencies to track a person's every movement and allow widespread invasion of privacy. Abuse could take countless other forms, including corporations surreptitiously identifying shoppers for relentless sales pitches. Critics also speculate about a day when people's possessions will be tagged--allowing nosy subway riders with the right technology to examine the contents of nearby purses and backpacks.
"Invasion of privacy is going to be impossible to avoid," said Katherine Albrecht, the founder and director of Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering, or CASPIAN, a watchdog group created to monitor the use of data collected in the so-called loyalty programs used increasingly by supermarkets. Albrecht worries about a day when "every physical item is registered to its owner."
The overriding idea behind tagging people with chips--whether through implants or wearable devices such as bracelets--is to improve identification and, consequently, tighten access to restricted information or physical areas.
But on top of civil liberties and other policy issues, such technologies face visceral objections from many people who frown on the idea of being implanted with tags that can track them like migrating tuna. Complaints have led several companies to abandon plans to use RFID technologies in products, much less in human bodies.
The concept of implanting chips for tracking purposes was introduced to the general public more than a decade ago, when pet owners began using them to keep tabs on dogs and cats. The notion of embedding RFID tags in the human body, though, remained largely theoretical until the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, when a technology executive saw firefighters writing their badge numbers on their arms so that they could be identified in case they became disfigured or trapped.
Richard Seelig, vice president of medical applications at security specialist Applied Digital Solutions, inserted a tracking tag in his own arm and told the company's CEO that it worked. A new product, the VeriChip, was born.
Applied Digital formed a division named after the chip and says it has sold about 7,000 of the electronic tags. An estimated 1,000 have been inserted in humans, mostly outside the United States, with no harmful physical side effects reported from the subcutaneous implants, the company said.
"It is used instead of other biometric applications," such as fingerprints, said Angela Fulcher, vice president of marketing at VeriChip, which is based in Palm Beach, Fla. The basic technology comes from Digital Angel, a sister company under the Applied corporate umbrella that has sold thousands of tags for identifying pets and other animals.
VeriChip makes 11-millimeter RFID tags that are implanted in the fatty tissue below the right tricep. When near a scanner, the chip is activated and emits an ID number. When a person's tag number matches an ID in a database, the person is allowed to enter a secured room or complete a financial transaction.
So far, enhancing physical security--controlling access to buildings or other areas--remains the most common application. RFID chips cannot track someone in real time the way the Global Positioning System does, but they can provide information such as whether a particular individual has gone through a door.
Latin American customers are looking at both technologies for security purposes, which partly explains why some of VeriChip's early clients included Mexico's attorney general, as well as a Mexican agency trying to curb the country's kidnapping epidemic, and commercial distributors in Venezuela and Colombia.
The value of these technologies was underscored recently by a CNET News.com reader who wrote from Puerto Rico to inquire about their development. In her e-mail, Frances Pabon said she hopes that RFID or GPS technologies can be used for her husband, who must travel through neighborhoods in San Juan that are infested with crack dealers.
"I think safeguarding his safety doesn't necessarily violate his privacy," she wrote. "And if I am made to choose between keeping him safe versus keeping him private, I'd rather keep him safe and then change private data such as credit cards, bank accounts, etc., after."
Safety has been a primary driver in some U.S. applications as well. An Arizona company called Technology Systems International, for example, says it has improved security in prisons with an RFID-like system for inmates and guards. The company's products came out in 2001 and are based on technology licensed from Motorola, which created it for the U.S. military to find gear lost in battle.
TSI's wristbands for inmates transmit signals every two seconds to a battery of antennas mounted in the prison facility. By examining the time the signal is received by each antenna, a computer can determine the exact location of each prisoner at any given time and can reconstruct prisoners' movements later, if necessary to investigate their actions.
Since the technology was installed at participating prisons, violence is down up to 60 percent in some facilities, said TSI President Greg Oester, who says the wristbands are designed for the "uncooperative user." TSI, a division of security company Alanco Technologies, has installed the system in four prisons and will add a fifth soon.
"Inmates know they are being monitored and know they will get caught. The word spreads very quickly," Oester said. "It increases the safety in facilities."
In a California prison that uses the TSI technology, an inmate confessed to stabbing another prisoner 20 minutes after authorities showed him data from his radio transmitter that placed him in the victim's cell at the time of the stabbing, Oester said. A women's prison in the state has begun a pilot program to test whether the technology prevents sexual assaults.
Conversely, at an Illinois prison, Oester said, convicts have pointed to this sort of data as a way to prove that they weren't involved in prison incidents. Guards have similar tags, embedded in pagers rather than wristbands, which set off an alarm if they are removed or tampered with.
Tagging hospital patients...and alumni? Beyond law enforcement, the technology is drawing interest from a variety of industries that have pressing security needs. Companies that operate highly sensitive facilities, such as nuclear power plants, are looking at TSI's technology.
Hospitals in Europe and the United States are also experimenting with inserting tags in ID bracelets. The Jacobi Medical Center in New York, along with Siemens Business Services, has launched a pilot program that will outfit more than 200 patients with radio bracelets.
This technology is designed to enable various health care professionals to obtain patient information such as X-rays and medical histories from a database securely and more quickly. The system will also use antennas to track individuals as they walk about the hospital and send alerts if a patient begins to collapse. Other pilot systems are being tested specifically to monitor patients with Alzheimer's disease.
As such tagging systems become more widely known, some industries that hadn't been expected to use the technology are considering innovative applications of it. A South Carolina firearms maker, FN Manufacturing, is evaluating the technology for use in "smart guns" equipped with grip sensors that would allow only their owners to use them.
In a less violent but practical application, Ray Hogan of Princeton University's alumni association has contemplated distributing RFID bracelets among meeting attendees to track attendance at events that have multiple components. The technology would let organizers see which programs attendees find most valuable by virtue of how long they stay. Like others, however, Hogan says privacy issues may well keep the idea from becoming a reality.
When such technologies are employed, they can be even more effective if implanted in the body. Supporters and critics both say RFID tags under the skin would invariably increase the volume and quality of personal data, with the benefit of, at the very least, reducing the margin of error for misidentification in the event of a disaster.
The problem, detractors say, is that the vast quantities of accumulated data would be vulnerable to theft and abuse. They cite historical practices of retail establishments, which for years have listened in on customer conversations and viewed consumer behavior on remote cameras to improve sales. Supermarkets routinely collect data about individual shoppers' purchases and buying habits through "loyalty programs," along with credit card and electronic banking transactions.
Even random individuals could spy on those with tags, because today's RFID technologies do not yet have the processing power to encrypt information. "I don't see how you can get enough power into those things" to encrypt data, said Whitfield Diffie, a fellow and security expert at Sun Microsystems.
Some consumers have described scenarios in which a hacker could extract a person's identification number with an RFID reader, create a chip with the same number and then impersonate them. But even if such chip forgery were possible, alerts would probably be sounded as soon as a system detected that the same person was in two different places at once.
Still, implanting RFID chips could vastly increase the potential for police surveillance of ordinary citizens. Conceivably, every wall socket could become an RFID reader that feeds into a government database.
Critics contend that if tagging gets out of control, the day will eventually come when the cops will be able to trace junk thrown in a public trash can back to the person who tossed it.
"Do you want the people in power to have that much power?" Albrecht asked rhetorically. "The infrastructure obstacle has been overcome. It is called electricity and the Internet
As if the various other permutations and teensyness of RFID weren't wild enough, here comes Hitachi with its new "powder" 0.05mm x 0.05mm RFID chips. The new chips are 64 times smaller than the previous record holder, the 0.4mm x 0.4mm mu-chips, and nine times smaller than Hitachi's last year prototype, and yet still make room for a 128-bit ROM that can store a unique 38-digit ID number. The main application is likely to be anti-counterfit, but since the previous mu-chips could be embedded into paper quite easily enough, we're fairly certain Hitachi is just doing this for bragging rights and potential pepper shaker mixups. Hitachi should have these on the market in two or three years.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE May 31, 2006
WISCONSIN BANS FORCED HUMAN RFID CHIPPING Groundbreaking Law Spotlights Opposition to VeriChip
Civil libertarians cheered yesterday upon news that Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle signed a law making it a crime to require an individual to be implanted with a microchip. Activists and authors Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre joined the celebration, predicting this move will spell trouble for the VeriChip Corporation, maker of the VeriChip human microchip implant.
The VeriChip is a glass encapsulated Radio Frequency Identification tag that is injected into the flesh to uniquely number and identify people. The tag can be read silently and invisibly by radio waves from up to a foot or more away, right through clothing. The highly controversial device is also being marketed as a way to access secure areas, link to medical records, and serve as a payment device when associated with a credit card.
"We're not even aware of anyone attempting to forcibly implant microchips into people," says Albrecht. "That lawmakers felt this legislation was necessary indicates a growing concern that the company's product could pose a serious threat to the public down the road."
Although the company emphasizes that its chip is strictly voluntary, recent statements suggest this could easily change. VeriChip Chairman of the Board Scott Silverman has been promoting the VeriChip as a partial solution to immigration concerns, proposing it as a way to register guest workers, verify their identities as they cross the border, and "be used for enforcement purposes at the employer level." He told interviewers on the Fox News Channel that the company has "talked to many people in Washington about using it."
The company has also confirmed it has been in talks with the Pentagon about replacing military dog tags with VeriChip implants.
Wisconsin's anti-human-chipping law comes at a particularly bad time for VeriChip Corporation because it has an initial public offering of its stock in the works, McIntyre observes. "The company has been losing millions of dollars and has been counting on public acceptance to stem its losses and prove its future. The people have spoken. They don't want RFID devices in their flesh, and we expect other states will join Wisconsin in prohibiting forced chipping."
Albrecht and McIntyre have dogged the VeriChip Corporation, revealing medical and security flaws in its human chip and warning about its serious privacy and civil liberties downsides in their book "Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID."
Wisconsin's new law was introduced as Assembly Bill 290 by Representative Marlin D. Schneider (D) and was passed unanimously by both houses of the Wisconsin State Legislature this spring. The law makes it illegal to require an individual to have a microchip implant and subjects a violator to a fine of up to $10,000 per day.
By Julia Scheeres Also by this reporter02:00 AM Nov, 19, 2002
The British government acknowledged Monday that it would consider using implanted ID chips to track sex offenders, raising the specter of forced chipping.
The news was first reported on Sunday by the The Observer. The paper reprinted portions of a letter from Hilary Benn, the minister responsible for supervising sex offender programs, to Labour MP Andrew Mackinlay.
Benn's letter said the British government was interested in the future potential of implants to track offenders' movements by satellite and measure their heart rate and blood pressure "to predict criminal activity."
Home Office spokesman Matt Brook on Monday confirmed both the existence of the letter as well as its content.
"Yes, we're looking at tagging as an option," said Brook. "All the letter is saying is that something like that would be worthy of consideration. Anything that will help us stop these people from re-offending would be welcome."
While not yet a reality, implants that can remotely check bodily functions and location are just around the corner: Microchips are being developed for a variety of health functions, and a Florida company is planning to develop a prototype of an implanted GPS device by the end of the year.
When the Food and Drug Administration green-lighted the use of ID chips in humans last month, civil liberties advocates worried that people could be forced to get chipped as a condition of employment or parole. News that the British government may implant sex offenders in the future fanned those fears.
"At a certain point you cross the line from privacy concern to human rights violation, and I think we're entering that territory," said Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
Even a nonprofit organization created to help victims of sexual assault expressed ambivalence about the use of the technology.
"Is monitoring appropriate? Certainly. But I don't know that this level of monitoring is appropriate," said Jamie Zuieback, spokeswoman for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. "There are questions of fairness and there are questions of efficacy that need to be answered."
Home Office spokesman Brook said any plans to chip offenders would have to pass muster with the British Parliament. The debate, he said, is far from over.
"Clearly a careful balance has to be struck between protecting the community and ensuring that sex offenders don't re-offend," said Brook. "It's a very difficult area."
Who's Pet Are You?
The Cashless Society and the Microchip
The world is moving towards a cashless society system, that will track and control all. The technology exists today through biometrics, direct deposit, and the implantable microchip to put this plan into play in the near future.
IBM, VERICHIP, and the FOURTH REICH