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Concern over microchip implants

Posted By Jon Dougherty On 07/30/1999 @ 1:00 am In Front Page | Comments Disabled

Researchers say the technology is currently available to implant
biometric devices in human beings, which can be monitored by government
satellites and utilized by private industry. In fact some developers are
currently attempting to bring the technology to the public and private
sector.

Though not yet generally available to the public, trials of sub-skin
implants have been under way for nearly a year. For instance, The London
Times reported in October 1998, “… Film stars and the children of
millionaires are among 45 people, including several Britons, who have
been approached and fitted with the chips (called the Sky Eye) in secret
tests.”

Critics, however, are worried about the increased support such
devices are receiving because of the inherent risk to individual
privacy. They contend that several governments, including the U.S.,
possess the ability to monitor such devices and, as a consequence, the
people who have them — even though they may not be wanted for a crime,
listed as a missing person, or considered dangerous in any way.

A recent study of
microchip implantation technology, written by Elaine M. Ramish for the
Franklin Pierce Law Center, examined at length
the ethical issue of privacy, which engulfs every debate surrounding
implanted biometric devices. The study provided details about current
research and development as well as marketing plans developers are
likely to use to “sell” the idea to a generally skeptical American
public and U.S. Congress.

In her study, though, Ramish said she believes the implementation of
such devices will eventually become a reality despite their
controversial identification role. But, she said, the concept is not a
new one; other researchers have advocated the widespread use of
biometric identification devices as early as 1967.

“Although microchip implantation might be introduced as a voluntary
procedure, in time, there will be pressure to make it mandatory,” Ramish
wrote in her research paper entitled, “Time Enough? Consequences of
Human Microchip Implantation.”

“A national identification system via microchip implants could be
achieved in two stages,” she said. “Upon introduction as a voluntary
system, the microchip implantation will appear to be palatable. After
there is a familiarity with the procedure and a knowledge of its
benefits, implantation would be mandatory.” Indeed, of the test cases in
Great Britain, so far benefactors have reported no negative
consequences.

Ramish believes that “legislative protection(s) for individual
rights” should be enacted by Congress and signed into law before any
such devices could be brought to market.

In her paper, Ramish said recent polls have found that if guaranteed
certain privacy protections, the number of Americans who would be
willing to accept a medical information implant “rose by 11 percent.”
Such tracking devices have already been available to pet owners for
nearly ten years, and biometric devices such as fingerprint scanners are
quietly making their way into the public sector.

Ramish noted that a few U.S. firms were already developing, or had
developed, implantable biometric devices capable of “read only,
read-write and read-write with tracking” abilities. IBM, Hughes
Aircraft, and Dallas Semiconductor are among several firms Ramish said
currently were working to develop such systems, but none of them
returned phone calls for comment from WorldNetDaily.

A spokesman for Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, also declined to comment
on the possibility that someday Congress may be faced with the decision
to mandate the implementation of such technology.

Though Smith is head of the House Ethics Committee — a committee
that normally examines only the ethical behavior of other House members
– his spokesman declined to say how Smith personally felt about the
implementation of biometric technology in humans.

“He (Smith) has never addressed that issue,” the spokesman said.

A spokesman for Democratic presidential nominee candidate and former
U.S. Senator Bill Bradley told WorldNetDaily his boss, too, had never
considered the possibility nor thought about the ramifications of
personal privacy.

But George Getz, the communications director for the Libertarian
Party, said party director Steve Dasbach “has considered the issue of
privacy on many occasions.”

“In fact,” he said, “that’s one issue we consistently address as
Libertarians.”

Getz said to the extent that this procedure is voluntary, “there
certainly shouldn’t be a law against it, because Libertarians believe
that individuals, rather than the government, should have sole control
over their own bodies.”

“But the concept of government-mandated microchip implants is
reprehensible,” he added.

Getz said he believes the inevitability of such a device lies in “the
government’s ability to make living a normal life without one
impossible.” Though the chip implantation procedure might legally
remain “voluntary,” he said it’s very likely that government at all
levels would eventually force everyone to have one.

“After all, the government has never forced anyone to have a
driver license,” he said. “But try getting along without one, when
everyone from your local banker to the car rental man to the hotel
operator to the grocery store requires one in order for you to take
advantage of their services.”

“That amounts to a de facto mandate,” he said. “If the government can
force you to surrender your fingerprints to get a drivers license, why
can’t it force you to get a computer chip implant? These are differences
in degree, not in kind — which is why it’s essential to fight
government privacy invasions from the outset.”

A spokesman for the House Science and Technology Committee, who
requested anonymity, told WorldNetDaily that indeed the committee has
“looked into the question of biometrics and the use of such technology
on society.” He said at present, however, no legislation requiring or
permitting the use of such devices in humans is being considered in the
House.

“We’ve looked at the issue across the board — whether to fight
fraud, fight crime, improve safety,” he said, “but as far as this
particular use of biometrics, I don’t think we’ve ever really addressed
it.”

Not everyone is opposed to the idea, however.

Amitai Etzioni, Director of a group known as the Communitarian
Network
and a professor of Sociology at
George Washington University, believes there are definite benefits to
society using biometric technology.

In an article
published recently, Etzioni — who has written extensively on the issue
of privacy — said, “Opposition to these new technologies is
particularly troubling given that the benefits are considerable.”

“Once biometric devices are more fully developed, and as unit costs
decline … a person may forget his password, pin number and access
code, and leave his ID card and keys at home,” wrote Etzioni.

A spokesman on science and technology issues at the Communitarian
Network, who also requested anonymity, confirmed that the organization
– and Mr. Etzioni specifically — “has done extensive work on
researching the benefits to society of biometric technology.”

“Communities … stand to reap considerable benefits,” said Etzioni.
“Once biometric devices are widely deployed, they will make it much more
difficult for the estimated 330,000 criminals to remain on the lam.
These fugitives not only avoid trial and incarceration but also often
commit additional crimes while they roam the country with little
concern.”

The group also expresses support for all forms of biometric
technology — from scanners to implants — as a way to increase benefits
to child care facilities, decrease losses to businesses, and protect
Americans who now fall prey to identity theft.


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