Monday, June 5, 2006

Implanting RFID tags in human

I just read from LiveScience about a proposal to implant RFID tags in immigrants. This proposal was made by VeriChip, a company which supplies such equipment. The reason for such move was that USA would need to know who were in the country and why they were there. The CEO of the company proposed using VeriChip RFID implants to register workers at the border, and then verify their identities in the workplace.

You may have heard about RFID, sometimes from me, and its increasing use and its danger on privacy. You may think that such equipment would be under tight control, especially in USA who claims to be the defender of human right. The biggest push we heard so far was from Walmart which demanded most of its suppliers to adopt RFID technology on their logistics systems. We also know that federal approval has been given to implant RFID tags in cattle and pets.

Think twice. RFID tags are actually being used in human at present. FDA approval was given to Applied Digital Solutions to sell VeriChip RFID tags for implantation into patients in hospitals. The intent is to provide immediate positive identification of patients both in hospitals and in emergencies. This is a breakthrough in the use of RFID tags in human. Just think about that all hospitals and ambulances will have RFID readers ready and scan patients to see if medical information can be found in their arms. If this saves lives in emergencies, and quickly allows doctors to give accurate diagnosis, then sooner or later the use of RFID tags on medical grounds will be widespread. Medical insurance companies may even mandate it.

There are also reports that parents implant their kids with RFID tags for their safety. Kids of course are not happy with their whereabout known to their parents anytime. I think the present state of the case is that the consent of the persons, or their parents if they are minors, is required before a RFID tag can be implanted. But there are already over 1,000 people willingly have RFID tags implanted on them.

You may think that the proposal of VeriChip may be just wishful thinking. Tagging immigrants may be viewed as a blatant discrimination, which will not be accepted by the Americans, nor by the home countries of the immigrants. Think again. Politics work in unpredictable way. In another report, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe allegedly remarked to visiting USA senators that he would consider having Colombian workers have microchips implanted in their bodies before they are permitted to enter the US for seasonal work. Arlen Specter, Senator of Pennsylvania, told Congress on April 25 of this proposal.

With people's mind changing, and weighing the benefits of RFID against its infringement on privacy, the business sector, political sector, welfare sector may eventually converge on the adoption of such technology. In a practical and a globalized world, we may need to give up some of our privacy and freedom in order to integrate as a small screw in this big machine.

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