In October the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), approved the VeriChip,™ an inert, encapsulated, microchip the size of a grain of rice, implanted by a syringe under the skin in the flesh of the upper arm. To be used for medical identification purposes the information contained in the chip is accessed through a special reader, not unlike a barcode scanner. Applied Digital Solutions, the company making the chips say it will save lives and limit injuries from errors in medical treatment. However the company has much larger plans. In a recent New York Times interview they expressed hope that such medical uses would accelerate acceptance of the chip as a security measure. It’s easy to see where they’re coming from. Or going to. Before finding the perfect medical vehicle to introduce their technology, Applied Digital developed a transdermal tracking implant called a Digital Angel. The company said the chip could be used to wirelessly monitor a person's key body functions -- such as temperature and pulse -- and transmit that data along with the accurate location of the person, to a web-enabled ground station or monitoring facility. The product was discontinued because of low consumer acceptance.
But by stepping back a little, redefining their product applications or at least the public’s perception of them and gaining FDA approval, the company is now on the path to success.
Applied Digital’s website says the VeriChip is a universal means of identification with a variety of applications beyond the medical, including financial and transportation security, residential and commercial building access, military and government security.
Mexico is the first country to take up the technology. Earlier this year the Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha and at least 160 people in his office were implanted with a microchip that gives them access to secure areas. Key members of the military, police and the office of the president are also in line to be chipped. While in April a nightclub in Barcelona introduced the chip as a means of identifying their VIP’s and their credit balance. The clubs owner likened the device to piercings, tattoos or silicone.
But not everyone is so quick to endorse chipping. A quick scan of the Internet shows that mind control is a big fear among anti-chippers. The ‘mark of the beast,’ said to herald the end-times, is also a popular belief. In a surreal twist, the Scotsman Newspaper reported that Applied Digital had consulted theologians in their attempt to assure consumers the chip did not fit the biblical description of the mark of the beast because it is under the skin and hidden from view.
Conspiracy theories aside the Barcelona club’s use of chipping epitomizes the theory behind the technology. Those who have it will have access to special privileges. You may give up your privacy; health status, personal and financial information, but in tradeoff your sub dermal implant could be like an all-access/backstage pass, classifying individuals according to their right receive social services, medical care, special treatment at banks and institutions, or even access to utilities. While the company says marketing will be limited to businesses that ensure its use is voluntary, the line between voluntary and involuntary may be lucent. Does a nervous parent implanting a child to enable tracking or families chipping a grandparent with Alzheimer’s constitute consent? Would welfare recipients, prisoners, those on parole or the military have the right to refuse to be chipped? The potential is far reaching. Passports would become a thing of the past. Only the chipped could leave their countries and move about the world, albeit to places they have pre-approved access to. Living in New Zealand could become a penalty rather than a choice. The old paradigm of ‘nothing to hide, nothing to worry about’, would no longer be relevant as people became classified according to the political dictates of the day.
It could be argued that the VeriChip is an update on the IBM punch-card technology used by Hitler to automate persecution of the Jews. Each card recorded information on an individual’s gender, religion, nationality and occupation and was processed and reprocessed through counting machines to render a portrait of an entire population. Writer Edwin Black says the technology enabled the Nazis to achieve scale, velocity and efficiency in their selection and persecution. But that pales in comparison to the reach and power of a government with a chipped populace.
With surveys showing that up to 80% of Americans would consider having the implant if the question was framed to show its medical use, Applied Digital says it is already setting up authorized VeriChip centers throughout America.
But for now the chip is approved only for medical purposes. Although as the earlier development of the more sophisticated Digital Angel shows, the medical use may be little more than a grain sized Trojan horse, the doorway to a mandatory connection between not only a person and the State but between an individual and the electronic. As an Applied Digital scientist proclaimed last year. “We will be a hybrid of electronic intelligence and our own soul.”
Barbara Sumner Burstyn is an award winning freelance writer who commutes between Montreal, Quebec and The Hawkes Bay in New Zealand. She has contributed to a wide range of media, and is currently working on a new novel. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website to read more of her work: www.sumnerburstyn.com/. © 2004 Barbara Sumner Burstyn
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