|Florida firm seeks to microchip Americans
Reuters 11/17/02: Laura MacInnis
Original Link: http://in.news.yahoo.com/021116/137/1xv2g.html
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Washington forum debated on Friday the benefits and hazards posed by a new way of identifying people with a microchip implanted under their skin to replace conventional paper identification.
The heated debate at the National Academies, a non-profit think-tank advising the government on matters of technology and science, focused on the threat to individual privacy versus the convenience of switching to a chip.
Implanted microchips have long been used in the animal kingdom, to track wildlife and to help pet owners recover their lost animals, but the idea of using them on humans has sparked fierce criticism from scientists and privacy advocates alike.
"We have absolutely no data about this particular product and about the implications over the long term if Americans are chipped," Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, said.
Applied Digital Solutions Inc. says its glass capsule the size of a grain of rice, injected into forearms and other fleshy body parts, could help authorities find missing persons and speed up medical diagnosis treatment.
The VeriChip, a scannable device worn under the skin and encrypted with personal information like medical records and emergency contacts, was unveiled last year in Florida.
So far about 20 people have been "chipped", including an entire family in Florida.
"I can't feel them at all," said Richard Seeling, an Applied Digital executive who has implanted two microchips into his right forearm to test the product. "Most of the time I forget they're there until someone asks about it."
Seeling said the chips were both painless and safe but scientists at the National Academies said too little was known about the device and warned it could pose health risks like infections and immunity disorders for bearers.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruled in October it would not regulate the device so long as it was not used for medical purposes such as diagnosis.
This left Applied Digital free to market the chip for personal identification and security, for instance locating missing children or identifying car accident victims.
"I do think there could be beneficial uses, particularly for Alzheimer's patients, but on a large scale this is essentially a system of control," Rotenberg said.
Privacy advocates worry the microchip could spell the end of anonymity in the United States, particularly if authorities began requiring people to wear them to meet conditions of parole, employment or border crossings.
Seeling said each chip costs about $200, and that scanner devices needed to read the data would be targeted for sale to police, hospitals, schools and other agencies across the United States.