Imagine a world in which a wave of your hand could pay for your groceries, your missing child could be located immediately and John Doe doesn’t exist. It’s a world that is becoming ever more real.
In 2004, the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips, which would serve as identification devices similar to the conventional barcode. Originally intended for use in hospitals, RFID technology is branching out to include a wider range of capabilities.
From its inception in 2001, the VeriChip Corporation has been developing a human-implantable RFID microchip. It would function as a permanent identification badge, capable of much more than the average medical ID bracelet. This miraculous little device (containing a 16-digit verification number) would aid in patient identification, infant protection, wander prevention, emergency management and more.
Every year up to 20,000 cases of infant switching or snatching are reported, and 125,000 critical wandering incidents among Alzheimer’s patients occur. VeriChip’s GPS and security features would cause a significant decrease in these incidents.
But would the benefits outweigh the costs? In the past few years RFIDs have been under extreme scrutiny, and rightly so. The scientific and ethical implications of such a device are clearly cause for concern. While VeriChip’s GPS feature would allow parents to keep tabs on their children, or aid the police in missing persons investigations, it would give the government an unprecedented amount of control. Our First Amendment rights might serve no purpose in a world where the government has the ability to track our every move.
It would be like George Orwell’s dark prophecy fulfilled. Although VeriChip provides its users with encrypted, password-protected access, it would be possible for a skilled and patient individual to crack the code. This would give new meaning to identity theft; anyone could access our addresses, medical records, credit card information and much more.
VeriChip is also lobbying the Pentagon to replace military-issued dog tags with its implants. As if social security numbers and fingerprinting weren’t enough. In an age where terrorism is rampant and nuclear war is a looming threat, morphing the army into a giant target doesn’t seem like the brightest idea.
There has also been some skepticism over whether or not RFIDs cause cancer. Several clinical studies involving implanted mice and rats were conducted between 1996 and 2006, and although some mice were shown to have grown malignant tumors (all encasing the RFID capsules), there has been no substantial evidence that all RFIDs are health concerns.
Any possibility of contracting an incurable disease due to a fledgling product is hardly reasonble, especially when it comes down to the fact that corporate America is just out to make a buck.
These products can hardly be economical, and if mandated, would put quite a dent in the working man’s pocket.
It is a question of the value we place on our limited freedoms. In a time of ever-increasing government surveillance, is it worth it to take away what little privacy people have left in their lives? I can envision the slogan now: “VeriChip: Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.”
Information from verichipcorp.com, arstechnica.com and time.com.