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Bill forbids mandatory microchip implants
MADISON, Wis. — Former Gov. Tommy Thompson was one of the first high-profile supporters of tiny microchips implanted in people's arms that would allow doctors to access medical information.
Now the state he used to lead is poised to become the first to ban governments and private businesses from forcing such implants on employees, privacy advocates say.
A proposal moving through the state Legislature would prohibit anyone from requiring people to have the tiny chips embedded in them or doing so without their knowledge. Violators would face fines of up to $10,000.
The plan authored by Rep. Marlin Schneider, D-Wisconsin Rapids, won approval in the Assembly last month. The state Senate is scheduled today to consider the measure, which would allow for the implants if the person gives consent.
Gov. Jim Doyle would sign the bill, a spokesman said.
Schneider aides say the legislator wants the law in place before companies and governments could use them to keep track of their employees.
"I don't think most people had thought about this as an issue, but it's scary. It's reality now," said Michael Schoenfield, an aide to Schneider. "Companies can or will be ordering their employees to have chips implanted. We want to stop that before it begins."
VeriChip Corp. of Delray Beach, Fla., is the only company with federal approval to implant such chips in people. The company so far has implanted 2,500 people worldwide with chips the size of a grain of rice under the skin of their upper arms, said spokesman John O. Procter.
Thompson endorsed this application last year as a way to give hospitals easy access to patients' medical records when he joined VeriChip's board of directors and vowed to "get chipped" himself.
Procter said Monday that Thompson has not undergone the procedure, which he likened to getting a shot, but plans to do so once more hospitals adopt the technology. The chips give off a radio frequency signal identifying a patient. The signal is used to access personal information in an Internet database.
VeriChip is also marketing the implants as a way for companies or governments to limit access to high-security areas.
In February, a Cincinnati surveillance equipment company became the first U.S. business to use this application when a handful of employees voluntarily got implants to allow them to enter secure rooms. Some employees in the Mexico attorney general's office have also been implanted with chips, whose signals are recognized by readers in doorways.
Procter said VeriChip supports the spirit of Schneider's bill and would not work with companies forcing employees to get implants. However, he said the implants are superior to employee badges or key chains as a way to limit access.
"It's more secure. It's discreet and it can't be lost or stolen," he said.
Privacy advocates say they are unaware of any companies forcing implants but are worried the technology is taking off with little debate about potential abuses.
Wisconsin would be the first state to ban mandatory implants, said Katherine Albrecht, a New Hampshire privacy advocate and co-author of "Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID."
Albrecht said she recently handed Thompson a copy of her book when he was in New Hampshire giving a speech.
"What an interesting irony that the foremost chip promoter in the world comes from Wisconsin and Wisconsin would be the first state to say, 'Hey, at least get our permission first,' " Albrecht said. "It's good that lawmakers in Wisconsin are paying attention to the fact that this technology even exists."
The proposal would leave the door open for the state to order implants to track sex offenders or for parents to track their children under an amendment offered by Rep. Scott Suder, R-Abbotsford. Such applications are years away because the chips do not yet allow for surveillance tracking.
"The bill may be a little ahead of its time, but I think it prevents some very onerous activity," Suder said. "It is groundbreaking."