WASHINGTON – When former Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson joined the board of directors of a company promoting the broad implantation of microchips into Americans for identification purposes, he pledged to get chipped himself as an example.
But Thompson doesn’t appear to be in any hurry to get the implant.
Last July, Thompson, who now sits on the board of VeriChip Corp., the leading manufacturer and promoter of the technology, encouraged Americans to get chipped so their electronic medical records would be available in emergencies.
“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,” he told CBS MarketWatch.
When asked later by a CNBC reporter if he would take the chip himself as an example for Americans, he replied: “Absolutely, without a doubt.”
But when authors Liz McIntyre and Katherine Albrecht, who researched human chipping for their book “Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID,” contacted VeriChip Corp. earlier this month, they were told that the chipping never took place.
VeriChip spokesman John Procter said Thompson has been “too busy” to undergo the chipping procedure, adding that he had no clear plans to do so in the future. “I wouldn’t put any type of time line on it,” Procter said.
The VeriChip spokesman also attributed the protracted delay in the chipping to Thompson’s desire to investigate the procedure, according to the authors.
“He wants to see it [the VeriChip] in a real-world environment first,” said Procter, who said he’s trying to arrange a tour for Thompson at Hackensack University Medical Center, the first hospital to implement the technology in its emergency room.
But the authors question this explanation.
“We would expect Mr. Thompson to investigate the device before advocating it to others,” said McIntyre. “It sounds like he has wisely decided to put off the implantation, perhaps due to the serious privacy and civil liberties implications of such devices, or perhaps due to the serious medical downsides, like electrical risks and MRI incompatibility.”
Thompson may find himself under increasing pressure to get chipped in light of VeriChip Corporation’s recent IPO announcement. The company is relying on Thompson’s cooperation to give the much maligned human tracking chip an image boost.
“He said it on live television,” said Procter of Thompson’s chipping intentions. “We look forward to setting a firm date in accordance to his schedule and other commitments. … We want to maximize the impact of [Thompson’s chipping] event. … We’d certainly like to … really knock it out of the park.”
McIntyre is hoping that Thompson will resist the pressure.
“Our concern is that the VeriChip Company would like to chip every person on the planet, and they’re counting on Thompson to be their ticket to mass acceptance,” said McIntyre. “We’re hoping he will work for the best interests of humanity and refuse to be goaded into an ill advised action.”
According to Procter, only about 60 living persons in the U.S. have agreed to be chipped. In addition to the voluntary recipients, the company’s implants were injected into the deceased victims of hurricane Katrina, and there are plans to chip mentally disabled patients at a residential center in Chattanooga. VeriChip has also had talks with the Pentagon about chipping military personnel, though Procter said that “no formal agreements have been reached.”
The VeriChip is a glass-encapsulated RFID device designed to be injected into human flesh for identification purposes and for use as a payment device.
Two hospitals – Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston – currently are equipped to scan the chips, Silverman said.
Thompson predicted that people eventually will overcome their skepticism about having a chip implanted. The chip “will prevent babies from being picked up by the wrong people in a maternity ward and make sure people in nursing homes don’t walk away,” he said.