Will you get ‘chipped’?

By Kelly Hollowell

Whether you’re finding the proverbial Pvt. Ryan on the front lines of combat or in search of a recently disappeared Marine held hostage in Iraq, warfare tactics make a good case for creating a global technology to identify the location of active military personnel anywhere, anytime and automatically.

Such a technology would have obvious civilian use as well. For example, “tagging” our children would catapult the largely ineffective Amber Alert System into the 21st century giving a huge disincentive to child-predators and would-be kidnappers.

Of course, the idea of tracking people isn’t new. It’s been used for years by families of Alzheimer’s patients. Currently the device is similar to a wristwatch and a module worn on the belt. But such obvious tracking devices are easily removed, so the necessary innovation is a system that can be hidden on the body.

Enter the technology known as a Verichip, a radio frequency identification microchip that can be embedded beneath the skin. The chip is only the size of a grain, of rice but it contains a millimeter-long magnetic coil designed to carry information. Currently, the device has no power of its own; rather it is activated by a scanner that can be linked to almost any database system in the world.

Verichip technology has been around for about a decade in the U.S. Its most familiar use is in the EZ-Pass system that helps speed drivers through tollbooths on many East Coast highways. But human use in the U.S. was halted by the FDA a few years back with a much-anticipated clearance expected by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, beyond the reach of the FDA and around the globe, a night club in Spain has jumped ahead of the technology curve offering its members an implant of the chip instead of a membership card. Inside this club the chip acts as an ID that can also be used to pay for food and drinks.

To hear chip proponents talk, there is no end to the uses and convenience of such a modern-day wonder. It could be used to store individual medical records such as allergies, current medications, medical history and contact information in case of an emergency; at border checkpoints to prevent entry of illegal immigrants or terrorists and by the pharmaceutical industry to ID counterfeit drugs.

It could even be used by busy moms who would never wait in the checkout line of the grocery store with a crying baby again because both the mom and every product in her shopping-cart would have a chip implant. All she would need to do is walk through a portal reader. Her purchases would be recorded and her personal account debited.

So, how will they convince people to implant these chips?

First they’ll hype the convenience of leaving your money, credit cards and wallet at home. Then they’ll automate everything giving faster service as well as VIP treatment to those with the chip. From a medical perspective, they’ll hype improved health care. From a security standpoint, they’ll hype protection against fraud, identity theft, even the presence of terrorists.

This line of persuasion is so effective and so familiar, according to one source, it’s developed a name. It’s called “function creep.” That’s the case where a product or a technology is created for a particular purpose that all agree is good. Then comes the nefarious after-market with its unintended and sometimes unanticipated uses.

For example, since the events of 9-11 and the New York City blackout, how hard is it to imagine a catastrophic event capable of destabilizing the entire world economy? Once technology like the Verichip is in full swing it could be one of the very first systems used to restore order in the face of national or even global disaster.

You can be sure the government would immediately commandeer the technology. And what may start out as a voluntary, hip and trendy, economic convenience will become a mandatory identification system for participation in the world economy.

I know people argue we live in a free society and any such government coercion would collide with the First Amendment. But in the face of global disaster or any disaster sufficient to topple the world economy, the rules and roles of government would change making these once-valid objections obsolete.

Now don’t get me wrong on this one. I am not a scaremonger, and I actually like technology. Even if I didn’t, the plain fact of the matter is we can’t run or hide from this stuff – neither should we. Still, I think it’s important we not delude ourselves about the possible nefarious use of such technology. Neither should we overlook the biblical prediction written thousands of years ago that one day just such technology will regulate the world economy.

As for “tagging” children or active military, a GPS tracking device for people is already under development by Applied Digital Solutions, the makers of Verichip.