Implanted Chips in Our Troops?
Implanted Chips in Our Troops?
A Florida company wants to get under the skin of 1.4 million U.S. servicemen and women. VeriChip Corp, based in Delray Beach, Fla., and described by the D.C. Examiner as "one of the most aggressive marketers of radio frequency identification chips," is hoping to convince the Pentagon to allow them to insert the chips, known as RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chips under the skin of the right arms of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen to enable them to scan an arm and obtain that person’s identity and medical history. The chips would replace the legendary metal dog tags that have been worn by U.S. military personnel since 1906.
The device is usually implanted above the triceps area of an individual’s right arm, but can also by implanted in the hand if scanned at the proper frequency. The VeriChip responds with a unique 16-digit number, which can correlate the user to information stored on a database for identity verification, medical records access and other uses. The insertion procedure is performed under local anesthetic, and once inserted it is invisible to the naked eye.
The company, which the Examiner notes has powerful political connections, is "in discussions” with the Pentagon, VeriChip spokeswoman Nicole Philbin told the Examiner. "The potential for this technology doesn’t just stop at the civilian level,” Philbin said. Company officials have touted the chips as versatile, able to be used in a variety of situations such as helping track illegal immigrants or giving doctors immediate access to patient’s medical records.
On Monday the Department of State started to issue electronic passports (e-passports) equipped with RFID chips. According to reports the U.S. government has placed an order with a California company, Infineon Technologies North America, for smart chip-embedded passports.
The Associated Press said the new U.S. passports include an electronic chip that contains all the data contained in the paper version name, birth date, gender, for example and can be read by digital scanners at equipped airports. They cost 14 percent more than their predecessors but the State Department said they will speed up going through Customs and help enhance border security.
The company's hefty political clout is typified by having former secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, on its board of directors.
Thompson assured the Examiner that the chip is safe and that no one — not even military personnel, who are required by law to follow orders — will be forced to accept an implant against his or her will. He has also promised to have a chip implanted in himself but could not tell the Examiner when.
"I’m extremely busy and I’m waiting until my hospitals and doctors are able to run some screens," he told the newspaper.
Not everybody agrees with Thompson, the Examiner reported, noting that the idea of implanting the chips in live bodies has some veterans’ groups and privacy advocates worried.
"It needs further study,” Joe Davis, a retired Air Force major and a spokesman for the D.C. office of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, told the Examiner.
And Liz McIntyre, co-author with Katherine Albrecht of "Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track your Every Move with RFID," said that VeriChip is "a huge threat” to public privacy.
"They’re circling like vultures for any opportunity to get into our flesh,” McIntyre told the Examiner. "They’ll start with people who can’t say no, like the elderly, sex offenders, immigrants and the military. Then they’ll come knocking on our doors.”
In an e-mail to the Examiner, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., wrote: "If that is what the Defense Department has in mind for our troops in Iraq, there are many questions that need answers. "What checks and balances, safeguards and congressional oversight would there be?” Leahy asked. "What less-invasive alternatives are there? What information would be entered on the chips, and could it endanger our soldiers or be intercepted by the enemy?”
The company, the Examiner wrote, is also unsure about the technology. According to company documents, radio frequencies in ambulances and helicopters could disrupt the chips’ transmissions. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, VeriChip also said it was unsure whether the chip would dislodge and move through a person’s body. It could also cause infections and "adverse tissue reactions,” the SEC filing states.
But Philbin downplayed the danger of the chips.
"It’s the size of a grain of rice,” she said. "It’s like getting a shot of penicillin.”