June 23, 2008
The British government is developing a plan to track current and former prisoners by means of microchips implanted under the skin, drawing intense criticism from probation officers and civil rights groups.
As a way to reduce prison crowding, many British prisoners are currently released under electronic monitoring, carried out by means of an ankle bracelet that transmits signals like those used by mobile phones.
Now the Ministry of Justice is exploring the possibility of injecting prisoners in the back of the arm with a radio frequency identification (RFID) chip that contains information about their name, address and criminal record. Such chips, which contain a built-in antenna, could be scanned by special readers. The implantation of RFID chips in luggage, pets and livestock has become increasingly popular in recent years.
In addition to monitoring incarcerated prisoners, the ministry hopes to use the chips on those who are on probation or other conditional release. By including a satellite uplink system in the chip, police would be able to use global positioning system (GPS) technology to track subjects’ exact locations at all times. According to advocates of such a measure, this could help keep sex offenders away from "forbidden" zones like schools.
Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, blasted the measure as degrading to the people chipped and of no benefit to probation officers.
"Knowing where offenders like pedophiles are does not mean you know what they are doing," Fletcher said. "Treating people like pieces of meat does not seem to represent an improvement in the system to me."
Shami Chakrabarti of the civil rights group Liberty had even stronger words:
"If the Home Office doesn’t understand why implanting a chip in someone is worse than an ankle bracelet, they don’t need a human-rights lawyer; they need a common-sense bypass."
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