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Doctor, I've got this little lump on my arm . . . Relax, that tells me everything

Anjana Ahuja / London Times | July 24 2006

PREDICTIONS have a habit of not coming true. We don’t holiday on Saturn. Jacques Cousteau claimed in the Sixties that we would soon live underwater, using surgically created gills. We still don’t glide to work in personal, airborne pods. Come to think of it, wasn’t it supposed to be leisure, not work, that was 24/7?

But one technology is crawling towards realisation — the idea of human beings being “chipped”, or implanted with a microchip containing personal information. One of America’s largest medical insurance companies is sponsoring a two-year trial in which chronically ill patients will be implanted with a chip containing their medical information.

The chip, inserted in the upper arm, is the size of a grain of rice and will reveal, when scanned, a 16-digit number that links to the patient’s medical records. It could provide all the information needed in an emergency.

Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, an insurer, has invited members to participate in the project at Hackensack University Medical Centre. The company hopes that it will “save lives and provide a measure of comfort to our members with chronic conditions and to their families”.

Laudable stuff — but in its wake trail issues of privacy, power and autonomy. Will future patients have to be chipped as a condition of insurance cover? Also, these chips, which can be read through clothing, are RFIDs — radiofrequency identification devices. The signals they emit can be picked up 30ft away without the “chippee” knowing; a delight for stalkers.

VeriChip, the company providing the chips, has already seen its products used by anxious parents wishing to track their kids, by employers who want their workers to have keyless access to secure areas and by Hurricane Katrina rescue workers, who chipped unidentified bodies.

Now consider that Scott Silverman, president of Verichip, recently suggested that the US Government use the RFIDs to track migrant workers coming from Mexico. Interestingly, Tommy Thompson, the former US Secretary for Health and Human Services, skipped over to VeriChip’s board after leaving office, and then suggested that every American should be chipped. With ID cards in Britain on the verge of being scrapped, and Home Office hysteria over unwanted visitors, could identity chips take over as the fresh scourge of the civil libertarians?




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