1. BIG BROTHER IMPLICATIONS

Q. Could the VeriChip be used to track someone's movements?

Yes, with a network of local readers the VeriChip could be used to monitor an individual's whereabouts. Even though the implant has a relatively short read range, readers could be placed in strategic locations to identify chipped people as they pass by. VeriChip has developed doorway readers specifically for this purpose.

Q. Have employers required workers to have VeriChip devices implanted?

We are aware of two cases of workers being chipped in order to perform their jobs. In 2004, the office of the Attorney General of Mexico chipped 18 of its workers (not 160 as was widely reported82) and required that they use the chips to gain access to a secure records room.

In 2006, a video surveillance company called City Watcher (which has since closed) implanted two of its workers for the same reason.

Q. Does the U.S. government want to chip the public?

To the best of our knowledge, no current member of the United States government has seriously suggested chipping the public. However, at least two high-ranking government-related individuals have discussed chipping, and that's cause for concern.

The first is Tommy Thompson, former Secretary of Health and Human Services and one-time candidate for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. Thompson was in charge of the FDA when it approved the VeriChip for medical purposes in 2004, then went on to become member of the VeriChip board of directors until March 2007.

In public appearances, Thompson has suggested injecting microchips into Americans to link to their electronic medical records, saying:

"It's very beneficial and it's going to be extremely helpful and it's a giant step forward to getting what we call an electronic medical record for all Americans."83

 The second government official to discuss chipping is U.S. Senator Joe Biden, who made this unnerving comment to Justice John Roberts during his Supreme Court Confirmation hearings on September 12, 2005:

"Can a microscopic tag be implanted in a person's body to track his every movement? There's actual discussion about that. You will rule on that—mark my words—before your tenure is over." 84

  • U.S. Sen. Joe Biden

Senator Biden was not entirely accurate, however. The antenna on a "microscopic tag" could not be used for tracking purposes, given the extremely short read range of such a device.

Q. Has the president of Colombia suggested chipping people?

It is unclear whether Colombian president Alvaro Uribe would like to chip the Colombian people or not, but he has made it clear that he is comfortable with the idea. According to testimony by U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, Uribe offered to microchip Colombian guest workers as they leave Colombia to work in the United States. Here are Specter's comments, as recorded in the U.S. Congressional Record:

President Uribe said he would consider having Colombian workers have microchips implanted into their bodies before they are permitted to enter the United States to work on a seasonal basis. I doubted whether the implantation of microchips would be effective since the immigrant worker might be able to remove them.85

  • U.S. Senator Arlen Spector

Colombian citizens were rightly upset by these comments. Perhaps out of political self-preservation, Uribe later refused to confirm the statements.86

 It should be noted that Sen. Specter did not reject the idea of human chipping on humanitarian, human rights, privacy, or health grounds, but for a more practical reason—he apparently wants the chips to be more difficult to remove.

Q. Are babies being implanted with VeriChip microchips?

As of this writing, there are no credible reports of babies being implanted with VeriChip or other implantable microchip devices. However, hospitals around the country (including half of the hospitals in Ohio) have recently begun affixing an RFID bracelet known as the "Xmark" onto babies' ankles at birth for identification and anti-abduction purposes. The RFID ankle bracelets are distributed by Xmark Corporation, a wholly-owned subsidiary of VeriChip Corporation. In May 2008, the VeriChip Corporation entered negotiations to sell the Xmark division to Stanley Works.87

It should be noted that baby abductions from hospitals are extremely rare. According to a January 2003 report by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), out of approximately 4.2 million births per year at 3,500 birthing centers in the United States, abductions by non-family members are estimated between 0 and 12 children per year. Of those, the baby is reunited with the mother 95 percent of the time.88

Ironically, relying on RFID to prevent baby abductions could actually wind up making a rare occurrence even more likely. Once hospital staffers rely on computer systems to track the human inventory in their care, they are likely to become less vigilant. According to the NCMEC, most abductions occur in larger, more impersonal hospitals.

Q. Could a microchip be implanted during a routine vaccination or other injection?

No. The VeriChip is a fairly large device that requires a special 12-gauge needle known as a cannula for implantation. Vaccines and other routine injections, in contrast, use much smaller needles, typically between 22 and 25 gauge in size. (Note: The larger the gauge number, the smaller the needle.)

In fact, the VeriChip cannula is so large that implantation would be extremely painful if it were not preceded by several injections of local anesthetic. The anesthetic is administered through a much smaller, standard-sized hypodermic needle prior to the chipping procedure.

Though nearly microscopic RFID tags have been developed by Hitachi and other companies, those devices are not encapsulated in glass and would not be suitable for human implantation. Such "dust-sized" RFID tags also have extraordinarily small antennae and are unable to transmit a signal more than a few millimeters. In order to read their signals, RFID readers have to get so close that they almost make contact with the tags. Extremely small RFID tags would be useless for human tracking or identification purposes, since they could not be read from outside the body.

Q. Has anyone ever been chipped without consent?

Yes. As part of an ongoing medical experiment with the VeriChip Corporation, a care facility called Alzheimer's Community Care, Inc. in West Palm Beach, Florida, has been implanting elderly patients with VeriChip devices since 2007.89 This chipping occurs with the consent of family members and guardians, but in many cases without the fully informed consent of the patients themselves, as their disease prevents them from understanding or consenting to the procedure. It is also likely that patients and their family members are not  being told that the implants are known to cause cancer in laboratory animals, since VeriChip officials have repeatedly denied this fact.

Several years ago, the VeriChip Corporation (then known as Applied Digital Solutions) also attempted to chip mentally incapacitated adults at the Orange Grove Center in Tennessee.90 Those patients would likewise have been unable to grant informed consent due to their disability. Public outcry and opposition from family members caused the center to cancel the plan.

To the best of our knowledge, no mentally competent adult or child has been forcibly implanted with a VeriChip implant or other tracking or monitoring device without consent.

Q. I believe I have been implanted with a microchip. Can you help me?

Probably not. Unless you are part of a VeriChip trial (in which case we would very much like to hear from you), we are unlikely to be much help. We are not specialists in finding implants in people and have never done so.

The good news is that your concerns are probably baseless. There would be little to gain from surreptitiously implanting someone with a VeriChip, since its read range is just inches, and the device cannot be accessed remotely. An implanted VeriChip could not emit, record, or transmit sounds, nor could it control a person's thoughts, movements, or physical state.

An X-ray would reveal the presence of an implanted VeriChip device, as can be seen from X-ray photographs of microchips that hobbyist Amal Graafstra has implanted in his hands.91 However, we have received no credible evidence of any person being implanted with a microchip without his or her knowledge and consent. As a result, we now only accept inquiries from the doctors or attorneys of individuals who are concerned about surreptitious chipping.

Q. Are pet owners being forced to chip their pets?

Yes, in many places pet owners are being forced to have microchips implanted into their animals. Governments, including those of Portugal, New Zealand, Singapore, Bangkok, Los Angeles County, and El Paso, Texas, have passed ordinances requiring that all dogs under their jurisdiction be microchipped (though in New Zealand, farm dogs are specifically exempted). El Paso has even extended the chipping mandate to cats and ferrets. Other cities and town across the U.S. are considering similar mandates.

Fortunately, some government officials, such as those in Waco, Texas, have opted not to impose mandatory chipping on pet owners in light of the evidence linking microchips to cancer in laboratory animals.92

Q. What about tagging criminals with VeriChip?

A VeriChip implant would have little value in deterring crime, since its read range is only a few inches. But even if implants could one day be used to remotely identify and track people, the medical risks of implantation alone would be enough to prevent their use.

There are also serious societal issues to consider. When discussing technologies with a clear potential for abuse, we would do well to heed this Chinese warning: "The fire you kindle for your enemy often burns you more than it burns him."

If mandatory chipping were allowed for prisoners, government-mandated chipping of others would soon follow. It would not be long before lawmakers began mandating chips for nuclear power workers, scientists handling biological or chemical agents, drivers transporting hazardous materials, gun owners, people working with children, people preparing food for public consumption, and so on, until it eventually included all of us.

Being tagged and tracked by government officials would be a privacy and civil liberties nightmare that could spell the end of privacy and freedom. There are some lines that should never be crossed in a free and democratic society. Mandatory microchipping—of anyone—is one of them.

 

   
 
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