19th Nervous Breakdown
Municipal Callousness

Chipping Away at Privacy

About the size of grain of rice, it is imbedded in the upper arm, transmits a unique number, can be scanned by monitors mounted anywhere or by anyone with a handheld reader, and lasts indefinintely. It’s an electronic VeriChip, radio-frequency indentification (RFID) technology, approved for use two years ago by the FDA and coming soon to a hospital or physician’s office near you.

Its value, say proponents, lies in saving lives. When a patient arrives unconscious or incoherent in an emergency room, his arm can be scanned for important medical data and family contact information stored in a secure computer.

Emergency room personnel can “…quickly check their blood type and find out if they are taking any medications or have allergies or other medical conditions. Nurses…could determine whether patients are organ donors or have living wills. Surgeons could scan patients on the operating table to make sure they are working on the right person.”
- Washington Post, 15 March 2006

It’s a godsend, they say, if your mother with Alzheimer’s Disease tends to wander. She can be tracked down with her VeriChip - just like the six million dogs and cats who have been “chipped”.

At least 80 hospitals across the country, thanks to free scanners from VeriChip Corp., are equipped with the RFID technology, and a few have already begun routine scanning of all patients.

This is a good thing, right? No one need be concerned, with a VeriChip implant, about getting the wrong medication or having the healthy breast removed.

Privacy advocates aren’t so sure. There is the question of security of medical records stored in a computer that is protected with a password. “Secure” computers are hacked every day. And the question of access is troubling:

“Can law enforcement have access? Can public health workers have access? Can employers have access? Given the recent efforts by law enforcement and data monitoring by the government, this is exactly the kind of technology that would be attractive,” says Janlori Goldman who heads the Health Privacy Project, a Washington-based research and advocacy group.
- Washington Post, 15 March 2006

VeriChip Corp. suggests physicians charge patients $200 to be chipped and of course, it is voluntary. But how long will that last?

In the same way that credit cards were originally marketed for convenience and are now the only method of payment accepted by many retailers, so it will become with the VeriChip: emergency medical use today, a 24/7/365 tracking device tomorrow.

The day will come when doctors no longer keep paper or office computer records and we will be warned that without the chip, our healthcare cannot be guaranteed. It is not inconceivable that chip implant will become a requirement for Medicare and Medicaid.

Felon and livestyle guru, Martha Stewart, complained of the bulky ankle bracelet she was required to wear as a condition of her parole during which she was allowed to leave home only a few hours a day. Not a problem in the near future. Insert a VeriChip in a parolee’s arm and he can be monitored anywhere. Someone, somewhere is thinking right now that it’s a great idea for sex offenders.

Before long, employers will require chips to replace those tacky, plastic access cards workers wear around their necks to get around the workplace. Oh wait. VeriChip employees already wear the chip and CityWatcher.com of Cincinnati controls access to the company’s surveillance-camera tapes with employee chips. The Mexican government uses them in high-security offices.

“Bars in Spain and Amsterdam, meanwhile, are offering the chips to patrons who want quick entry and to run electronic tabs.”
- Washington Post, 15 March 2006

Can the chipping of kids be far behind? Surveillance cameras are already ubiquitous, thousands of them mounted around major cities. But who needs cameras when everyone is chipped at birth? They can be replaced with chip readers inside and out of every building in town.

We will be told in the beginning that chip implantation is important for our health. Later, they will be marketed to us as a convenience: start your car, lock your front door, buy a beer. Retinal scans are old-fashioned even before they’re out the laboratory door. Shove a chip in everyone’s arm and every move we make will be tracked.

“Some people say, ‘Oh, my God. It’s 1984. It’s George Orwell,” said Jonathan Musher, a physician hired by VeriChip to recruit hospitals and physicians. “But this is a passive device. It’s not controlling or tracking anyone.”
- Washington Post, 15 March 2006

Well, not yet. Here’s to your health.


We give up some freedoms to get some security. But I beleive one of our founding fathers, in an interview out in the forest of America about 1710 during a minor dispute with England said, that if you trade freedoms for some security, you will end up with neither. Craps, it would be nice if we could keep America free for more than a couple of generations.

So people to hell with imbeded chips in grandma's arm. Face the fact that she will get lost if she gets out. You responsabillity as a citizen of America. No where else are you given this right. Savor it here and now and do not let it go. Grandma will be okay, even if she does not survive end of life times.

A late-stage Alzheimer residents in nursing homes may be fitted with electronic device on wrist or ankle--to notify nursing staff if the resident goes out an exit. I suppose that an alternative is one provided by Soylent Green. Sometimes, all alternatives seem inappropriate/repugnant. I'll let someone else use "my" chip, for now.

I find the whole idea really frightening. How can a country which finds the idea of an ID card revolting and an attempt to freedom, accept the idea of shoving something into your arm 'for your own good' I suppose?
Why does it remind me of a tattoo on your forearm? Maybe I am over reacting...

I think it's frightening and you'd have to really trust your government to even consider it. Nowhere have they even admitted who all they have spied on as possible terrorists or was it just those who were disruptive? No answers and this would make it all so easy for big brother to carry it to the next step. Americans today seem to be such suckers anytime they say it's more secure. Very disillusioning times.

Regarding the voluntary use of chips, Los Angeles County now requires a chip in your pet for an animal license.
It is not paranoia to view any proposal that involves "trust me" with extreme prejudice.

Ack! Re Rain, "...you'd really have to trust your government to to even consider it." Well as far as I'm concerned that will happen when toads fly and I let Cop Car stick her ID chip in my other arm. I'm just waiting to hear the new chip has been dubbed: 666ICU. Again re Rain, "Very disillusioning times."

Heh. Stuff like that can always be reprogrammed, you know. All this fuss over illegal aliens? Gone, with a few good fake chip vendors. We can all be "citizens", whether we really are or not.... Heck, get four or five, and confuse people over your real identity! The fun is endless....

great post; this type of "surveillance" works well in some situations and not in others...let's pray we continue to know the difference...stop by my place sometime. thanks...


today i sat in criminal court in new york city. i find the efforts to limit freedom of speech just as frightening as chip implantation. why are 18 grandmothers on trial for trying to enlist in the army last october?

after 3 hearings, the trial is moving very slowly. their crime: disorderly conduct. and this is a blue city in a blue state.

I'm 100% opposed to any sort of foreign object imbedded in my body for the reasons of "security" and/or with my medical information. Just because we have a technological capability doesn't mean we have to use it, especially on human beings.

There simply is no reason to justify such an identity V-Chip. I would be the first to admit many tradeoffs are required in life, but there are some tradeoffs I am not willing to make.

What really creates anxiety and distress over issues such as this for me is, that there seem always a group of people who are willing to "go along and get along" with all sorts of ill-conceived plans. Once they get started, as Ronni described so well, then what I call "the ooch factor" kicks in -- the practice "ooches" itself from one thing to another in such gradual insidious fashion that before I know it, it's the law of the land for everybody and I no longer have a choice.

Dag nab it, I like choices! I even like the opportunity to make the wrong choice, which I've been known to do on occasion. So, no chip implants for me. If that ends up with adverse effects for me I'll be more than willing to accept the consequences.

And name your first born son "Chip"

Chancy - I spit my Dr.Pepper on my screen at that one!

'Course, Big Brother can always track you now via your cellphone. Couple that with a debit card, and you might as well glow in the dark.

THAT's just one more reason why I want to move out to the Big Lonesome and OFF DA GRID!

Gee, with technology like this I would no longer need to write my mobile number on my son's arm at large festivals incase he gets lost. Only joking!

This kind of thing worries me because it can always be used to our detriment in some way.

Yikes ... is George W. Bush the mastermind behind this thing? Oh, no, sorry: any reference to "mastermind" and Dubya in the same sentence cannot be right.

Technology scares me sometimes.

George Orwell was there before us. The chip is only the latest after credit cards, eazypass, caller ID and the myriad of electronic tracings of what used to be our private ways and byways. And our °rulers° are not benign, alas, although I would not want even benign rulers to have such total knowledge of my private life.

Can't say I agree with you all. I do agree that it should be voluntary and if available to me, it's something I would do. I'm a former EMT - I can't tell you how frustrating it was to me as a medical provider to not have medical history available to me for accident victims or elderly who live alone and unsure of their medications and contact info.

I'm also a heart patient on multiple drugs - should I become disabled and unable to communicate, I would want my history and contact info including my docs phone number available immediately.

Yes - this can be abused. But I'll go with the risk vs reward formula...

I am very freaked out about the implanting of RFIDs in people -- and also about national ID cards which soon enough will have all sorts of biometric data imbedded in them. It seems very likely that these forms of "smart identifiers" are going to be made universal in the next few years.

Yet what we now think of as our privacy has mostly depended on the technical incapacity of the authorities to keep as good track of us as they might wish to. We really can't depend on technical incapacity to save us -- the problem is political and deserves the kind of discussion throughout society like the one happening here. Fat chance!

Wrote up a lot more about this here.

I'm not defending the technology (I wouldn't be chipped for any amount of money), but your perception of it is a little wild-eyed. RFID is a passive technology. It must be activated by a radio signal. The Orwellian idea of a 24x7x365 tracking system would require a massive national investment in RFID scanners on a scale that hasn't been imaged since rural electrification (and probably larger than that).

Not only that, but there's enough fundie religious objection to this kind of thing to kill any move to make it as ubiqituous as credit/debit cards (and for the record, no retailer can legally refuse to accept cash). So perhaps it's worth backing up and taking a breath and looking at this a little more objectively. It is ultimately controllable technology that has some worthwhile uses. Whether or not one of them is chipping humans is open for debate, and it's right to look askance at anything with this much potential for abuse.

But given that the debate is taking place, this is hardly the end of privacy as we know it.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)