Concern Over Microchip Implants
New technology getting under some people's skin
By Jon E. Dougherty
© 1999 WorldNetDaily.com
Researchers say the technology is currently available to implant biometric devices in human beings, which can be monitored by government satellites and utilized by private industry. In fact some developers are currently attempting to bring the technology to the public and private sector.
Though not yet generally available to the public, trials of sub-skin implants have been underway for nearly a year. For instance, The London Times reported in October 1998, "... Film stars and the children of millionaires are among 45 people, including several Britons, who have been approached and fitted with the chips (called the Sky Eye) in secret tests."
Critics, however, are worried about the increased support such devices are receiving because of the inherent risk to individual privacy. They contend that several governments, including the U.S., possess the ability to monitor such devices and, as a consequence, the people who have them -- even though they may not be wanted for a crime, listed as a missing person, or considered dangerous in any way.
A recent study of microchip implantation technology, written by Elaine M. Ramish for the Franklin Pierce Law Center, examined at length the ethical issue of privacy, which engulfs every debate surrounding implanted biometric devices. The study provided details about current research and development as well as marketing plans developers are likely to use to "sell" the idea to a generally skeptical American public and U.S. Congress.
In her study, though, Ramish said she believes the implementation of such devices will eventually become a reality despite their controversial identification role. But, she said, the concept is not a new one; other researchers have advocated the widespread use of biometric identification devices as early as 1967.
"Although microchip implantation might be introduced as a voluntary procedure, in time, there will be pressure to make it mandatory," Ramish wrote in her research paper entitled, "Time Enough? Consequences of Human Microchip Implantation."
"A national identification system via microchip implants could be achieved in two stages," she said. "Upon introduction as a voluntary system, the microchip implantation will appear to be palatable. After there is a familiarity with the procedure and a knowledge of its benefits, implantation would be mandatory." Indeed, of the test cases in Great Britain, so far benefactors have reported no negative consequences.
Ramish believes that "legislative protection(s) for individual rights" should be enacted by Congress and signed into law before any such devices could be brought to market.
In her paper, Ramish said recent polls have found that if guaranteed certain privacy protections, the number of Americans who would be willing to accept a medical information implant "rose by 11 percent." Such tracking devices have already been available to pet owners for nearly ten years, and biometric devices such as fingerprint scanners are quietly making their way into the public sector.
Ramish noted that a few U.S. firms were already developing, or had developed, implantable biometric devices capable of "read only, read-write and read-write with tracking" abilities. IBM, Hughes Aircraft, and Dallas Semiconductor are among several firms Ramish said currently were working to develop such systems, but none of them returned phone calls for comment from WorldNetDaily.
A spokesman for Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, also declined to comment on the possibility that someday Congress may be faced with the decision to mandate the implementation of such technology.
Though Smith is head of the House Ethics Committee -- a committee that normally examines only the ethical behavior of other House members -- his spokesman declined to say how Smith personally felt about the implementation of biometric technology in humans.
"He (Smith) has never addressed that issue," the spokesman said.
A spokesman for Democratic presidential nominee candidate and former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley told WorldNetDaily his boss, too, had never considered the possibility nor thought about the ramifications of personal privacy.
But George Getz, the communications director for the Libertarian Party, said party director Steve Dasbach "has considered the issue of privacy on many occasions."
"In fact," he said, "that's one issue we consistently address as Libertarians."
Getz said to the extent that this procedure is voluntary, "there certainly shouldn't be a law against it, because Libertarians believe that individuals, rather than the government, should have sole control over their own bodies."
"But the concept of government-mandated microchip implants is reprehensible," he added.
Getz said he believes the inevitability of such a device lies in "the government's ability to make living a normal life without one impossible." Though the chip implantation procedure might legally remain "voluntary," he said it's very likely that government at all levels would eventually force everyone to have one.
"After all, the government has never forced anyone to have a driver license," he said. "But try getting along without one, when everyone from your local banker to the car rental man to the hotel operator to the grocery store requires one in order for you to take advantage of their services."
"That amounts to a de facto mandate," he said. "If the government can force you to surrender your fingerprints to get a drivers license, why can't it force you to get a computer chip implant? These are differences in degree, not in kind -- which is why it's essential to fight government privacy invasions from the outset."
A spokesman for the House Science and Technology Committee, who requested anonymity, told WorldNetDaily that indeed the committee has "looked into the question of biometrics and the use of such technology on society." He said at present, however, no legislation requiring or permitting the use of such devices in humans is being considered in the House.
"We've looked at the issue across the board -- whether to fight fraud, fight crime, improve safety," he said, "but as far as this particular use of biometrics, I don't think we've ever really addressed it."
Not everyone is opposed to the idea, however.
Amitai Etzioni, Director of a group known as the Communitarian Network and a professor of Sociology at George Washington University, believes there are definite benefits to society using biometric technology.
In an article published recently, Etzioni -- who has written extensively on the issue of privacy -- said, "Opposition to these new technologies is particularly troubling given that the benefits are considerable."
"Once biometric devices are more fully developed, and as unit costs decline ... a person may forget his password, pin number and access code, and leave his ID card and keys at home," wrote Etzioni.
A spokesman on science and technology issues at the Communitarian Network, who also requested anonymity, confirmed that the organization -- and Mr. Etzioni specifically -- "has done extensive work on researching the benefits to society of biometric technology."
"Communities ... stand to reap considerable benefits," said Etzioni. "Once biometric devices are widely deployed, they will make it much more difficult for the estimated 330,000 criminals to remain on the lam. These fugitives not only avoid trial and incarceration but also often commit additional crimes while they roam the country with little concern."
The group also expresses support for all forms of biometric technology -- from scanners to implants -- as a way to increase benefits to child care facilities, decrease losses to businesses, and protect Americans who now fall prey to identity theft.
Jon E. Dougherty is the author of "Illegals: The Imminent Threat Posed by Our Unsecured U.S.-Mexico Border."