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Under Your Skin Computer Chip Has Now Arrived

March 13, 2002 | 16,113 views
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A Florida technology company is poised to ask the government for permission to market a first-ever computer ID chip that could be embedded beneath a person's skin.

Applied Digital Solutions' new "Verichip," about the size of a grain of rice, is the first computer ID chip that can be embedded beneath the skin.

For airports, nuclear power plants and other high security facilities, the immediate benefits could be a closer-to-foolproof security system. But privacy advocates warn the chip could lead to encroachments on civil liberties.

The implant technology is another case of science fiction evolving into fact. Those who have long advanced the idea of implant chips say it could someday mean no more easy-to-counterfeit ID cards nor dozing security guards.

Just a computer chip - about the size of a grain of rice - that would be difficult to remove and tough to mimic.

Other uses of the technology on the horizon, from an added device that would allow satellite tracking of an individual's every movement to the storage of sensitive data like medical records, are already attracting interest across the globe for tasks like foiling kidnappings or assisting paramedics.

Applied Digital Solutions' new "VeriChip" is another sign that Sept. 11 has catapulted the science of security into a realm with uncharted possibilities - and also new fears for privacy.

"The problem is that you always have to think about what the device will be used for tomorrow," said Lee Tien, a senior attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy advocacy group.

"It's what we call function creep. At first a device is used for applications we all agree are good but then it slowly is used for more than it was intended," he said.

Applied Digital, based in Palm Beach, Fla., says it will soon begin the process of getting Food and Drug Administration approval for the device, and intends to limit its marketing to companies that ensure its human use is voluntary.

"The line in the sand that we draw is that the use of the VeriChip would always be voluntarily," said Keith Bolton, chief technology officer and a vice president at Applied Digital. "We would never provide it to a company that intended to coerce people to use it."

More than a decade ago, Applied bought a competing firm, Destron Fearing, which had been making chips implanted in animals for several years. Those chips were mainly bought by animal owners wanting to provide another way for pound workers to identify a lost pet.

Chips for Humans Aren't That Much Different

But the company was hesitant to market them for people because of ethical questions. The devastation of Sept. 11 solidified the company's resolve to market the human chip and brought about a new sensibility about the possible interest.

"It's a sad time ... when people have to wonder whether it's safe in their own country," Bolton said.

The makers of the chip also foresee it being used to help emergency workers diagnose a lost Alzheimer's patient or access an unconscious patient's medical history.

Getting the implant would go something like this:

A person or company buys the chip from Applied Digital for about $200 and the company encodes it with the desired information. The person seeking the implant takes the tiny device - about the size of a grain of rice, to their doctor, who can insert it with a large needle device.

The doctor monitors the device for several weeks to make sure it doesn't move and that no infection develops.

The device has no power supply, rather it contains a millimeter-long magnetic coil that is activated when a scanning device is run across the skin above it. A tiny transmitter on the chip sends out the data.

Without a scanner, the chip cannot be read.

Applied Digital plans to give away chip readers to hospitals and ambulance companies, in the hopes they'll become standard equipment.

The chip has drawn attention from several religious groups.

Theologian and author Terry Cook said he worries the identification chip could be the "mark of the beast," an identifying mark that all people will be forced to wear just before the end times, according to the Bible.

Applied Digital has consulted theologians and appeared on the religious television program the "700 Club" to assure viewers the chip didn't fit the biblical description of the mark because it is under the skin and hidden from view.

Even with the privacy and religious concerns, some are already eager to use the product.

Jeff Jacobs in Coral Springs, Florida has contacted the company in hopes of becoming the first person to purchase the chip.

Jacobs suffers from a number of serious allergies and wants to make sure medical personnel can diagnose him.

"They would know who to contact, they would know what medications I'm on, and it's quite a few," he said. "They would know what I'm allergic to, what kind of operations I've had and where there might be problems."

Applied Digital says technology to let the chip to be used for tracking is already well under development.

Eight Latin American companies have contacted Applied Digital and have openly encouraged the company to pursue the internal tracking devices. In some countries, kidnapping has become an epidemic that limits tourism and business.

Applied Digital Solutions' new "Verichip," about the size of a grain of rice, is the first computer ID chip that can be embedded beneath the skin.

USA Today February 27, 2002

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