- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2003

If Applied Digital Systems gets its way, we could end up with microchips implanted in our arms so that we can buy stuff.

You’re thinking, “Fred’s gone paranoid-schiz and thinks the Martians put transmitters in his fillings.” No. I’m not making this up.

The idea is that, after you have a little circuit injected, store scanners will read your unique identification number coded into the device, and pass it to a networked computer with access to your credit-card account. Instead of fumbling with credit cards, you would just get your arm scanned.

People may be a bit squeamish about having a microcircuit injected into them. But the technology, called Verichip and made by Applied Digital Systems, does have advantages.

The heart of the technology is a radio-frequency identification device, or RFID. An RFID is about the size of a grain of rice and consists of a tiny capacitor and inductor, the elements of a resonant circuit. In the case of Verichip, they are enclosed in a glass tube. Glass being chemically inert, the device doesn’t cause allergic reactions or do anything other than just sit there.

When it comes close to a reader, it transmits the number encoded into it. Since the energy comes from the radio-frequency signal from the reader, it doesn’t need batteries. A computer then looks up the number in a database and knows who you are.

Now, why would anyone want one of these things? I mean, how hard is it to use a credit card? Wouldn’t an implanted RFID allow intrusive tracking of every move you made? Isn’t this a weird idea?

Well, yes. But so was the airplane until we got used to it. Maybe we’re going to get used to not having any privacy anyway, since dozens of technologies and applications are headed in that direction. But there is an upside to injected ID too.

Much of the nuisance of life comes from having to identify ourselves and supply information to others. With implanted ID, the hassle would go away.

For example, instead of carrying a passport, your RFID would be read by immigrations people at the port of entry. Your picture and other information would pop up on the screen, downloaded from a central database. Visas? Instead of giving you a paper visa, the Japanese Embassy would transmit your RFID number, plus details of your visa, to Japanese immigration.

Driver’s license? Same thing: The cop scans your arm (or hand, which would make more sense) and your license appears on his hand-held. If you fall over in insulin shock, the paramedic reads your implant and your medical records appear. Credit cards? Same thing.

Airline tickets? A thing of the past: The computer at the boarding gate will know that someone with your RFID number has bought first-class to Kansas City. Your picture would come up automatically.

Today, Verichip offers what it calls VeriGuard, which is a corporate-security system based on RFIDs. The company points out that implanted circuits cannot be lost or stolen and, since the scanners at doors are connected to a central computer, an employee’s access to different parts of a building can be changed in minutes.

I’m not sure things are quite so rosy. I can think of various ways of stealing an employee’s number. If Verichip can make a little circuit, so can anyone else with the money and interest. But combined with centrally stored information, such as picture and so on, it would be hard to fool.

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