Americans starting to implant RFID chips in humans

Americans
starting to implant RFID chips in humans

(Chicago Tribune (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) CHICAGO _ Say you
have a high-security workplace and worry about the wrong people getting
in.

Forget badges that can be lost or stolen. Why not tag employees with a
radio-transmitting chip.

From about a foot away a special device will read the implanted chip’s
16-digit number _ and zap, doors open and close.

That Orweillian-sounding idea is exactly what an Ohio security firm’s
boss has done with two of his workers and himself.

"We wanted a way to say, `Hey, we are a little different in the way we
take our security,’" explained Sean Darks, chief executive of
CityWatcher.Com in Cincinnati, who also is wearing a chip. "I wouldn’t
have my employees do something, if I didn’t do it myself," he added.

His glee is not shared by workplace and privacy experts, who shudder at
the idea that Corporate America might decide to brand employees with
the latest technology, known as Radio Frequency Identification Device.

"This may be appropriate for cattle, pets or packages, but for humans
it is a very different issue," said Lee Tien, an attorney for the
Electronic Frontier Foundation, a technology and civil liberties group
in San Francisco, Calif.

Besides Darks and his tagged employers, about 70 others in the United
States have the tags implanted in their bodies _ mostly for medical
reasons _ or because they work for VeriChip Corp., the Delray Beach,
Fla., firm that makes the chip, according to company spokesman John
Procter.

The United States seems a little behind in embracing the technology.

Workers at the organized crime division of Mexico’s Attorney General in
Mexico City, for example, wear the chips to try to maintain top
security.

So do about 2,000 patrons of nightclubs in Barcelona, Spain, and
Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The chips allow them to avoid long waits in
lines and to even run tabs at the clubs, which are owned by the same
firm. Waiters scan the chips and a computer automatically draws the
amount due from their checking accounts.

More than 30 years old, the technology has been used by businesses to
track items, farmers to locate missing animals and by libraries to keep
tabs on books. Runners have worn them in races to clock more precise
times.

There’s also an Internet site for so-called taggers, people who
allegedly have the devices intended for other uses implanted in them.

In October 2004, VeriChip, a subsidiary of Applied Digital, received
U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for implanting chips in
humans, said company spokesman John Procter. A researcher at Applied
Digital was struck by sight of firefighters writing their badge numbers
on their arms during the 9/11 tragedy in case they were lost.

Now VeriChip has begun to set up a network of hospital emergency rooms
with readers equipped to read the devices. The chip reader costs $600,
but the company is donating the first 200, Procter added.

Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, N.J., is already
using the equipment; 68 other facilities have also signed up for the
readers.

VeriChip recommends that doctors charge a $200 fee for implanting
chips. The technology is especially useful, the company says, as a
preventative measure for patients who may not be able to communicate,
suffering from diseases such as Alzheimer’s. In an emergency room, the
patient’s history would be immediately opened by the scanner.

In the case of workers like those at the Ohio security firm, the signal
from the chip triggers the reader to search for a password, which, in
turn, can open a door, for example.

The technology does not provide a person’s location from a distance as
in the case with cell phones, the company said.

Procter said the chip "cannot be lost or stolen. It is inconspicuous,
and it is there under your arm when you need it."

Critics worry that the signal can be picked up by any reader, allowing
unauthorized persons to access private information.

But Procter disputed that, saying the scanner would need to be able to
breach coded information to reach the databases.

Paula Brantner, an attorney for Workplace Fairness, a workers’ advocacy
group in San Francisco, said she expected workers would resent having
chips placed under their skin.

"This is incredible. It raises something out of `1984.’ It is a very
invasive way of keeping tabs on your workers," she said.

(EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE)

But that is not the way Darks, of CityWatcher, Com., sees it. His
4-year-old, seven-worker firm stores images captured by police, public
officials and businesses on their security cameras _ and he wanted to
control access to his facility.

After deciding that the chip was the way, Darks had one installed on
his right arm. "It took five seconds to install it," he said,
describing the device as about a half-inch long.

An avid basketball player, he said he has been hit several times in his
right arm and the chip hasn’t been damaged.

As for his workers, they haven’t complained. They volunteered for the
chips, he said.

"There’s nobody watching me and I’m not watching my employees with it."

___

(c) 2006, Chicago Tribune.

Visit the Chicago Tribune on the Internet at http://www.chicagotribune.com/

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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