VeriChip: Helpful Tracking Device or too "Big Brother"?
VeriChip: Helpful Tracking Device or too "Big Brother"?
You've heard about it, the possibility of implanting a microchip into a human body as a tracking device, but is this really just limited to science fiction? Sound too much like George Orwell? Not anymore. Using a Global Positioning System in the means of products like VeriChip may help save missing children or the elderly but is it a violation of privacy? Do the positives of such products justify the negatives of its use? By examining the uses of products such as VeriChip I hope to gain a better understanding of its intended use and the benefits it will provide, while taking into consideration the possible negative outcomes of its widespread use. Will such products provide safety and security at too great a cost? Are such products against one's constitutional rights no matter how good the intentions of its creators?
What is it?
Applied Digital Solutions, a Florida-based company, has been in the testing and production stages of microchip products called VeriChip and Digital Angel. VeriChip is a miniaturized, implantable identification device, with the potential to be used for security, financial, health, identification or other reasons. An encapsulated microchip the size of a grain of rice that contains a unique verification number. The microchip is energized and activated when passed by a specific VeriChip scanner. Previously, the chip used radio frequency to energize and transmit a signal of the verification number. (1) More recent tests have developed a chip that will use satellites to transmit signals globally. The newer product, Digital Angel, proposes to integrate wireless Internet technology with global positioning to transmit information directly to the Internet. The microchip is inserted under the fleshy part of the skin, typically under the upper arm. The chip and inserter are pre-assembled and sterilized for safety, and reportedly have little discomfort to administer. Once implanted, the microchip is virtually undetectable and indestructible. It has a special polyethylene sheath that helps skin bond to it to help keep it in place. The chip has no battery and thus no chemicals, and its expected life is up to twenty years. Contact with the body will enable the device to read body temperature, pulse, and even blood sugar content. (2) Research is being done to produce a micro battery that will generate energy through heat or movement. Currently, Global VeriChip Subscription is $9.95 a month as a form of universal identification. The information can be kept up-to-date by using the Applied Digital Solutions' website or calling a secure support center. (2) Currently some products are being manufactured by Applied Digital Solutions or other companies, that are not implants but worn in the form of wristwatches or badges. (3)
Uses and Benefits?
Some people have already begun using VeriChip as a means of providing identification and personal medical information. Through the use of such a microchip, medical records could be saved and carried with at-risk patients for emergency response. Such products would help track down abducted children or lost adults with Alzheimer's disease. Microchips would also help find lost pets or keep track of endangered wildlife, as well as find lost or stolen property. (3) VeriChip could also be used as a means for security. Heightened airport security, authorization for access to government buildings, laboratories, correctional facilities and the like. After September 11th, many feel a personal identification record would be beneficial in the probability of another terrorist attack. (4) Using VeriChip could also help track convicted criminal or possible terrorists from future attacks. Not only limited to health and security issues, the future of VeriChip and Digital Angel could lead to implantable mobile phones, and access to information found on personal computers and the Internet, such as email. (8)
Problems and Risk?
VeriChip and the future Digital Angel still need approval from federal health regulatory agencies to make sure there are no adverse effects to its wearer; however, there is already much controversy about its use. The biggest concern about the use of VeriChip and other similar microchip tracking devices is an invasion of privacy of the user. People fear the risk of third parties who would gain information on the Internet through resale or hacking. Groups like telemarketing companies could use such information for advertising. (3) Many have posed the possibility that if you were able to track down your own child through the use of a microchip, what would prevent other people from doing the same? How many false alarms would the police have to deal with from over-protective parents who thought their children were missing? (7) Parents may deem VeriChip's use in the best interest of their children but it may eventually lead to even more intense invasions of privacy, creating a society of parents who constantly survey their children. Despite the possibility of more easily tracking down abducted children, kidnappers and molesters alike could potentially disable or remove such microchips. (6) The idea that VeriChip will increase security and prevent such terrorist attacks, as September 11th is a difficult ethical question to pose. Would all prisoners on parole be forced to use VeriChip? How would you implant criminals and terrorists? If the government began implanting United States citizens with microchips that held their social security numbers what would happen to tourists, students, or even foreign dignitaries? (7) Currently, the microchips used and in production are passive chips, dormant until activated by a scanner. Future chips like Digital Angel will be active chips, beaming out information all the time. This leads to the problem of creating a continuous power source, as well as developing a chip that is small enough, yet still sensitive enough to receive signals form satellites thousands of miles out in space. (4) With the possibility of implantable mobile phones and personal computers comes the possibility of contracting viruses. (8) The risks of such possibilities are currently unknown; therefore possible solutions do not even exist. Most people fear an invasion of privacy as the greatest fault of implanting microchips. A recent CNN poll said that 76% of Americans said they would not want a devise like VeriChip implanted on their children, while 24% suggested they would. (3)
While companies like Applied Digital Solutions have good intentions I feel that at this stage in development there are still many ethical questions that will prevent the widespread use of products like VeriChip and Digital Angel. Although saving children and the elderly from kidnapping and sickness are admirable causes, the encroachment of privacy by such devices makes me feel that the negatives greatly outweigh its positive intentions. I feel the devices, which may start out favorably, have a lot of potential to be corrupted by outside parties, criminals, or yes, even over-protective parents. I think the widespread use of implantable microchips for security use would be extremely beneficial but could also lead to higher and newer forms of prejudice against people who do or do not use them. I feel many Americans would be strongly opposed to the possibility of the government having full knowledge of their whereabouts at all times. The use of VeriChip would be extremely useful in hospitals but how long would it take before hospitals would invest money in specific scanners for widespread use? Currently VeriChip costs $9.95 a month for standard identification purposes, but with increased technology, would its price go up or down? Would people who decide they do not want VeriChip, or better yet, cannot afford it, be prejudiced against by people or companies that do use such technology? What about the possible viruses or effects that might be caused by microchip use? Would such products affect your body? Your thinking? While I feel there are certainly many Americans who would condone the use of VeriChip and similar products, I feel for the time being that I'd rather take my chances with safety for a little more freedom.
1) http://www.adsx.com/prodservpart/verichip.html, VeriChip Corporation website, part of Applied Digital Solutions.
2) http://www.adsx.com/faq/verichipfaq.html, VeriChip Frequently Asked Questions.
3) http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/technology/human_tracker_000814.html, States News Service article by Alex Canizares on Space.com website.
4) http://abcnews.go.com/sections/scitech/DailyNews/chipimplant020225.html, article by Paul Eng on ABC News website.
5) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/1869457.stm, article by Jane Wakefield on BBC News website.
6) http://www.futurecompany.co.za/2000/09/15/gillmor.htm, Can Parents Love too Much? by Dan Gillmor on Future Company website.
7) http://www.thehawkeye.com/columns/Saar/Saar_0728.html, opinion piece by Bob Saar on The Hawk Eye Newspaper website.
8) http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/10/technology/10SLAS.html, Voices in your Head? Check that chip in your Arm by Matt Richtel New York Times Online.
9) http://home.wanadoo.nl/henryv/biochipnieuws_eng.html, Bio-Chip Technology in the News (Links to other articles).
(to contribute your own observations/thoughts, write Serendip)
10/03/2005, from a Reader on the Web
I realize that these tracking devices mentioned are for humans, but what about pets. I recently had a scare and thought I lost mine animal, cat, and I have saw specials ran on television about tracking devices being placed underneathe the animals' skin. Is these, the ones mentioned in your article, also for animals? If so, I would appreciate more information on possibility getting this done for my animals. Thanks...
It would be nice to use this for property also, example: guns, computers, electronics or anything that might be stolen. The only problem I see is the 9.95 each for an item. Could you get 25 chips at a reduced rate and would this be feasible for stolen property?
Can this be used for pets? ... Katherine Farless, 18 October 2006
I was wondering abought puting these in dogs? If so I would be very interested! ... Ross Woods, 5 December 2006
I am looking for a small device that can be used in helping find lost or stolen chidren. Can a V-chip be purchased and does it come with software to use it or how does it work if not implanted in the skin? Thank you for your assistance ... Cindy, 1 January 2007
I did research on the company it does not do GPS just give medical info etc ... Donald, 13 January 2007
I think that installing a microchip into my children gives me the peace on mind that should my child go missing, I will know his/her whereabouts immediately instead of waiting to fill a missing persons report within 24-48 hours. I do understand the concerns that the majority of Americans have with the government knowing there whereabout, but this should only apply to children between the ages of 0-16 years ... Nancy Pillai, 8 May 2007
Sorry but this is just wrong.... the world should never have to come down to this. God never intended for this to happen, and if you are a Christian you should agree with that ... Reader on the web, 5 November 2007