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Technical and Moral Issues with VeriChip Implants

The Verichip is a particular kind of Radio-Frequency Identification chip, or RFID, designed to be implanted inside animals and humans. Having looked at some proposed uses for the VeriChip, this articles turns a spotlight on some of the concerns of this technology.

Technical Problems with the VeriChip

For all the enthusiasm of the VeriChip Corp there are some serious technical problems with the current version of the product. The ID programmed into each chip is unsecured and can be read by any person with the appropriate scanner. This also makes VeriChips easy to clone, thereby losing their uniqueness. The lack of meaningful data on the chip also means that the reader must have access to the database, something which even the company does not guarantee. A microchip can use a customized silicone part that is similar to the ones used for silicone rubber keypads.

Medical problems with the VeriChip

The first problem is one of migration; if the VeriChip were to dislodge from its point of injection it is so small that it could migrate to locations within the body that could cause health risks. Chip migration is a common complaint from owners of animals with similar implants. The second problem is one of radiation; this is, after all, a transponder of radio frequencies. The few studies done so far on animals have shown an increase in cancer rates at the location of the device. As usual, the company denies the validity of the data. Another medical concern is that people with VeriChip implants should not undergo an MRI scan for fear of interactions with the device. As the chip hides discreetly under the skin such people should wear a tag warning healthcare staff that they have the implant, thereby carrying two tags and making the need for the VeriChip redundant.

Identity Theft and the VeriChip

As the ID in the VeriChip can be read and copied by any competent electrical engineer, the idea of using a VeriChip for secure access needs careful thinking. There is no need for a criminal to have access to the database as they just need to transmit the ID signal at key locations. This also means that the idea that these implants should be widely used raises serious concerns about the ease of identity theft. Again, it is not the data itself that is important but the ability to impersonate another person whilst, for example, performing a crime.

Personal Freedom and Human Tagging

It seems as if governments and corporation are determined to go down the road of permanently tagging everything that moves. Unlike the simple barcode, an RFID can be inserted inside the product and be able to transmit data indefinitely, or until the tag is destroyed. The VeriChip is the human version and there are serious opponents to its adoption. The most prominent opponents are Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre, who label them as “spychips”.

Spychips

Their opposition is against not just VeriChips but all RFIDs used to track consumer products and hence the consumers themselves. The radio frequencies used can penetrate walls, briefcases, wallets, pretty much everything that we would normally think of as being private areas. The technology inside a VeriChip is very basic compared to some of the advanced RFIDs. Public discussions about these spychips need to be made now, before 'technology creep' results in compulsory human tagging.

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