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Is a law needed to ban microchip implants in humans?

The Journal Times/Tom Sheehan | April 11 2005

MADISON - State Rep. Marlin Schneider doesn't want government getting under your skin.

The Wisconsin Rapids Democrat is introducing a bill that would prohibit anyone, including the government and employers, from requiring microchip implants in people.

Sound far-fetched, like something from a sci-fi flick? It might be. But Schneider, who's known as a privacy advocate, isn't waiting until the first case to be reported. Technology once reserved for tracking records on pets and livestock is migrating to the human race in medical, security and identity verification applications.

Is Schneider's bill necessary?

So far, only willing participants are known to have had the rice grain-sized devices implanted just below their skin. But Schneider said it's just a matter of time before someone takes the technology too far.

"Eventually, people will find reasons why everyone should have these chips implanted," Schneider said.

Schneider's biggest concern is that government will use the devices to track and monitor

citizens.

"We're living in a surveillance society, where nobody is free to do anything ... At least with Orwell, you had to talk to a TV in the wall," Schneider said.

VeriChip Corp., a division of Florida-based Applied Digital Solutions, manufactures the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) microchips. When activated by a hand-held scanner, the chip emits a 16-digit code on a radio frequency that can be picked up by the

scanner.

Applied Digital sold about 7,000 chips for use in humans last year, compared with more than three million sold for use in animals, according to Electronic Engineering Times, a trade publication.

The product has met with some success with parents who want to be able to have their children identified in case of an emergency. But other human applications seem poised to take off.

Late last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved VeriChip for medical applications, most commonly to connect patients with medical records.

Other applications aren't regulated by the FDA, however. Applied Digital also touts security, defense and homeland security applications, such as linking travelers to their luggage, flights and airline, or law enforcement records. The company said the technology could be used to control access and functionality of computers, cell phones and vehicles as well.

Applied Digital's privacy policy and vendor contract prohibits involuntary implantation of the device, said Angela Fulcher, a company spokeswoman. "It should always strictly be a voluntary procedure," Fulcher said.

Among the most prominent known recipients of a VeriChip is John Halamka, the chief information officer for Harvard Medical School. If Halamka was ever incapacitated and needed immediate medical attention, properly equipped emergency room staff could simply scan his upper right arm and call up his medical history on a computer. Halamka wouldn't have to say a word.

Halamka, who considers himself a walking experiment, said he embraced the idea of being "chipped," in part, to spur discussion about the emerging technology. But he said no one should be involuntarily injected.

Chips can be programmed to reveal other information, but Halamka's chip only serves as a "pointer" to his medical records at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. Without access to other related information, the number is largely meaningless, Halamka said.