- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2002

A Florida company is preparing to ask the Food and Drug Administration for permission to sell microchips that can be implanted in people's bodies.
The chips, which would be voluntarily inserted, could be read by scanners for identification or medical information while embedded in people's arms, legs or other parts of their bodies.
Applied Digital Solutions' new "VeriChip" is another sign that the September 11 terrorist attacks have catapulted the effort to secure America into a realm with uncharted possibilities and new fears for privacy.
"The problem is that you always have to think about what the device will be used for tomorrow," said Lee Tien, a senior attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy advocacy group.
"It's what we call function creep. At first a device is used for applications we all agree are good, but then it slowly is used for more than it was intended," he said.
Applied Digital, based in Palm Beach, Fla., says it soon will apply to the Food and Drug Administration for approval to sell the VeriChip, and intends to limit its marketing to companies that ensure its human use is voluntary.
The company also is developing another implant device that would work in conjunction with the chip to allow satellite tracking of an individual's every movement.
"The line in the sand that we draw is that the use of the VeriChip would always be voluntary," said Keith Bolton, chief technology officer and a vice president at Applied Digital.
"The people who use this technology want that medical information known. There is security within the technology. It lies dormant in the body until it recognizes the scanner. The reader is used very close to the body, about two inches."
But the company gives up control of the devices when they are sold to customers, which could include government agencies.
Groups like the Cato Institute, a libertarian public policy foundation, warn that the government protects its own interests first.
"History proves that government database and ID systems are often abused by government officials when the 'crisis' of the moment illegal immigration, handgun ownership, terrorism, drugs, etc. trumps the protection of every American's basic civil liberties and privacy rights," Cato said in a policy statement.
Hughes Aircraft Co. has developed a similar microchip that could be implanted with a syringe and used to identify workers with an alphanumeric code.
More than a decade ago, Allied Digital bought a competitor, Destron Fearing, which had been making chips implanted in animals. Those chips were bought mainly by animal owners wanting to provide another way for pound workers to identify a lost pet.
Veterinarians in the D.C. area commonly implant the microchips. The surgical procedure, with the devices, cost about $40 to $60. The microchips are sold under brand names like "Home Again" and "Avid."
"The advantage is that you got some kind of permanent ID that can't come off," said Jerry Goldfarb, a veterinarian at Fairfax Animal Hospital.
Most animal shelters that pick up lost pets have scanners for reading the implants. The scanners display numbers linked to a national registry of names, addresses and phone numbers of pet owners.
Chips for humans aren't much different.
Dr. Goldfarb, who works weekends as an emergency medical technician at a West Virginia ski resort, said the chips would help treat people who lose consciousness because of diabetes or other medical conditions.
However, even he wonders about the "Big Brother" privacy issues of personal information being available to anyone with a scanner.
Applied's management was hesitant to market the chips for people because of ethical questions until the terrorist attacks.
"It's a sad time … when people have to wonder whether it's safe in their own country," Mr. Bolton said.
The risk of government abusing the technology is small, he said.
"I find it hard to believe anyone in the government would want information about my pacemaker or my artificial hip," Mr. Bolton said. "I guess I would be foolish not to say nothing is impossible but I don't think it's realistic."
The way the implant would work would be something like this:
A person or company buys the chip from Applied Digital for about $200 and the company encodes it with the desired information. The person seeking the implant takes the tiny device about the size of a grain of rice and as long as a quarter, to his doctor, who inserts it.
The device contains a millimeter-long magnetic coil that is activated when a scanning device is run across the skin above it. A tiny transmitter on the chip sends out the data with a radio signal.
Without a scanner, the chip cannot be read. Applied Digital plans to give away chip readers to hospitals and ambulance companies, in hopes they will become standard equipment.
A company spokesman said a VeriChip could have helped Rep. John D. Dingell, Michigan Democrat, to avoid an unpleasant incident at an airport recently when he was ordered to strip to his underwear to be searched. A surgical implant in his hip set off metal detectors.
A scan of a VeriChip containing his medical information would have allowed him to pass through the security checkpoint without interruption, the spokesman said.
The chip has drawn attention from several religious groups.
Theologian and author Terry Cook said he worries the identification chip could be the "mark of the beast," an identifying mark that all people will be forced to wear just before the end times, according to the Bible.
Applied Digital has consulted theologians and appeared on the religious television program the "700 Club" to reassure viewers.
Food and Drug Administration officials said they would not discuss the VeriChip because of legal restrictions on trade secrets.
This story is based in part on wire service reports.


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