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Microchip On My Shoulder

Mon, 08/30/2004 - 1:16pm

Ern Worthman, Technology and Editorial Director

A few years ago I wrote a column about a company in Florida, VeriChip Corp., that introduced implantable microchips for humans. Originally designed to track livestock and wildlife, the company said the purpose of the next generation of these chips were for medical reasons. At the time I agreed that in some medical situations, Alzheimer's for example, these chips was an excellent idea. However, I was also afraid that 'Big Brother' would find other uses, and those uses wouldn't be too far down the road. I hate it when I'm right. At least the 'Big Brother' using it first is South of the Boarder.

Last year, the Attorney General of Mexico and about 160 other employees of his office were implanted with a microchip. Due to the high levels of corruption of government officials, he claims, the microchip will only allow authorized personnel into high security areas. And, wasn't it kind of the taxpayers to pay $150 for each chip for these officials? Unfortunately, it seems that the words 'government' and 'corruption' often have ties to each other, regardless of the country. I'm not sure implanting microchips into every government official is going to solve the corruption problem.

The microchips are about the size of a grain of rice and are implanted near the shoulder. They lie dormant under the skin until read by a scanner. Each chip has a unique identification number. According to ABI Research, Inc., theoretically, these chips could be as secure as employee badges that are in wide use. However, these badges include encryption technology, whereas the chips do not. The company claims that the implantable chips are just as safe since they can only be read using a proprietary scanner that the company produces. Sure, and it will never be replicated by any hacker.

VeriChip's implantable microchips cannot be easily removed and are contained in glass capsules designed to break and are unusable when removed. The company is also working on implantable devices that will tell an employee's location at any given time.

This industry never ceases to amaze me. Over the last couple of years, many devices besides employee badges have been designed with similar technology for security and location, and don't require implantation. These include watches, jewelry, and other wearable accessories. This past August Infineon introduced a jacket that contained your MP3 player in the fabric — complete with volume control, an earpiece and much more. Ok, all of these devices could be easily stolen or left behind somewhere. But, I'm still opting for these alternatives rather than implanting a chip on my shoulder. The one I have is big enough!

All of this said, and beyond the whole 'Big Brother' paranoia that I seem to be plagued with, I doubt that the implantable chips will eliminate corruption altogether. Cold, hard cash still speaks very loud and clear... and unfortunately I'm sure there are people who, if the price is right, would use their chips to gain access to the secure areas, and sell the information to the highest bidder.

Our company relocated to a new facility this summer and there were enough grumblings over security badges. I can't imagine how these microchips would have been received. At least the chips can't be forgotten at home.

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