Big Brother under the skin
Canada Free Press | September 23 2005
By Judi McLeod
It's 2005 and Big Brother is not watching you; he's under your skin.
A company is implanting Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags in corpses in Mississippi to help identify the dead in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Principals of Florida-based VeriChip said RFID tags had already been implanted into 100 corpses on behalf of the Mississippi State Department of Health. (1993-2005 Red Herring Inc.).
Those who lost their lives to Katrina not only suffered in life when rescuers didn't arrive, but suffer the loss of dignity as chipped corpses.
More than 700 souls were claimed on the Gulf Coast during the storm.
Already angling to RFID the rest of the corpses, the company, a subsidiary of publicly traded Applied Digital Solutions, is now negotiating with Louisiana health authorities.
"These bodies are in an advanced stage of decomposition," said John Procter, VeriChip's director of communication. "Many of them have no identification marks, no wallets, no IDs. In some cases a toe tag is not even viable."
Small comfort indeed to surviving family members who cannot be sure of the fate of missing loved ones.
Although the company is providing the chipping services for free, Proctor says it costs $200 to tag each corpse.
Using RFID to identify corpses is the latest trend in the expanding field of RFID, which is expected to someday replace the kind of barcode technology you see at your local supermarket. The growing RFID market, which commonly tracks goods in a supply chain and streamlines factories, is estimated to become a multibillion-dollar industry by 2010.
But corpses unlike commodities, call for dignity and respect.
Looks like the people who predicted it weren't "Internet conspiracy theorists" after all.
Last October, the company received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a rice-sized chip that's implantable in humans. In a practice that's straight out of the movies, the company implants the device with a syringe under the skin of its customers.
With an infinitesimal chip, you can be tracked down anywhere as the chip can be read by reader enabling applications in fields that require location tracking and speedy identification. The company has been selling its services to both the security and health industries.
The process of implanting identification tags under live skin began in the pet industry. But the concept didn't seem so Orwellian when it was used to find the family pet.
Critics of the chip are raising concerns around the issue of privacy because the radio signal emitted from the tag could be tracked by any unknown source. A wife, hiding from a physically abusive husband, for example, could be tracked down no matter how far she flees. An implanted chip could potentially expose the implanted to anyone looking to use the information for harm, if the chip could unlock personal or medical information.
Blackmail could find a new lucrative breeding ground.
Detractors of the process have been complaining that the millions of pets, which already have a similar system, would someday lead to mandatory RFID for humans.
Executives offering to be chipped have become part of the company's marketing. On Sept. 19, the company was to publicly chip a "senior executive" of the investment bank Merriman Curhan Ford in downtown San Francisco.
In July, Tommy Thompson, the former head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services joined the company's board as a booster of chipping health and security customers. Thompson promised to have the company's RFID tag implanted when his busy schedule allows it.
It was a public relations exercise that launched RFID for human application when VeriChip chipped patrons of a bar in Spain, enabling them to use a bar tab by swiping their arms under an RFID reader.
Meanwhile, industry has closed off the gap between you and the long-waited Big Brother.