- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 28, 2002

Technologically speaking, what can be done often is done. This may be worth thinking about when it comes to implanting computer chips for identifying and tracking people.
The British government is seriously looking at implanted chips for controlling sex offenders, according to reports. Hilary Benn, the minister who oversees England's programs for sex offenders, has expressed interest in the use of implants to track offenders by satellite, as well as to measure their pulse rates and blood pressure "to predict criminal activity."
If this were blue-sky stuff, it would be of interest only to fans of science fiction. But implantable chips are already here.
Applied Digital Solutions (adsx.com) in Florida advertises them today, under the name VeriChip, for purposes of identification. They are about the size of a grain of rice.
It works like this: The chip is implanted in the fleshy part of the person's upper arm. Because the chip has no batteries, it will work for some 20 years. Being encased in polyethylene, it causes no reaction from the body.
A special scanner, which emits a radio signal, is passed over the arm. The chip picks up the radio energy and uses it to transmit an identifying number to the scanner. The principle is similar to that of the anti-shoplifting tags in stores, except that a human being is the merchandise.
The company sees the implanted chips as useful in all sorts of security applications, specifically including homeland security, which is turning into a considerable high-tech market.
The potential uses of such chips go beyond verification of identity, and have nothing to do with security. A chip that monitors physiological functions and sounds an alarm when, say, blood pressure falls too low would be of medical use in monitoring elderly heart patients.
These aren't here yet, but they are being developed. For example, Applied Digital Solutions has a variety of remote medical monitors.
Today VeriChip's customers can have their medical records linked to an ID number in the chip. Thus, an ambulance crewman who found you unconscious could read your ID number and check a database to get quick access to your medical records. In purely medical terms, this is a good idea.
Civil libertarians worry about ID chips because they fear they might become compulsory or semicompulsory.
If the identification provided by an chip allowed air passengers to board airplanes without being searched, the incentive to get one would be great. Much the same has happened with Social Security numbers, once said to be only for purposes of Social Security but now used almost as national ID numbers.
Spookier are implanted GPS chips. These are not here yet, but ADS is planning to develop one.
GPS (global positioning system) is a well-established program that uses signals from satellites to determine position within a few yards. GPS receivers for backpackers and such cost roughly $150 and work well. An implantable version would be trickier for many reasons, but the company thinks it is possible. This is what the Britons are looking at.
The idea of being tagged internally with a chip that not only told remote governmental watchers where you were, but indicated what your emotional state might be by measuring blood pressure, for example is more unsettling.
It seems to me that the reliability of chips for identification may be less than absolute. Could a surgeon transplant a chip from one person to another? Or get a person's ID number and make another chip with the same number?
It sounds like we will find out all of these things before long.


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