Implant That RFID Chip: We Want To Know Where You Are!
Not many people seem to realize that the implantable RFID chip that your vet put in Rover last year is also approved for humans. The FDA issued such approval in 2002 and then, in 2004, expanded the approval to medical applications, after their self-declared very careful consideration of patient privacy issues.
The ICs are the 11-mm long product of VeriChip and the conventional location for the implant is under the arm. A life of twenty years is claimed although I personally don't understand what would eventually kill what is essentially a passive device (for 99.9999% of the time).
The company is pushing the technology for patient data, to protect and identify infants, and to offer a service for those that might suffer from some kind of illness that makes them wander off from their caregivers.
But the implications go well beyond the identification of a patient's name and his/her allergies, current treatment and personal data. The implanting of an infant does nothing to help anybody find the child; it only allows for a positive ID when one is brought to the equivalent of a human dog pound. But the potential commercial uses are the ones that might be scary.
The Bush administration has sought for six years to impose biometric data in passports in the form of an RFID IC and many passports now have such features. Only one country, that I know, has actually revealed what is being stored on the chip; that is Holland who officially say they have a thumbprint and facial image stored. Considering the US government's paranoia over traveler data being held in the PSN section of airline computers, it seems rather doubtful that they will limit the information to two benign pieces of information.
Lukas Grunwald has already shown that he can clone the passport, and can even make the readers crash, literally at will. Whatever level or type of security governments try to enforce will always, if they rely on technology, be defeated.
People have had implants to be able to open their front door automatically; you have to take an implant as a guest/visitor at the Baja Beach Club on the Algarve, in Spain, so that you may more easily order drinks and adjust your tab. Surely the next big thing will be a general desire of employers to get over the problem of lost and fake ID cards to insist you take an implant: that has already happened with employees at a security company. Following that ATM operators will insist you take an implant to make their machines more secure; and how about voting machines? There will be no end to it.
There is also the serious question of RF ID sensitivity. With the equipment that is in use today (that we know of) ranges of operation are quoted in the 10s of centimeters. But there is absolutely no reason why that should not be extended dramatically. Although the general public (and the vendors, as a marketing concern) always describe the external devices as readers, we engineers know very well that they are actually transceivers. The power radiated from the reader generates the return answer of data from the tag. There is no limit, theoretically, to the distance that could be used -- but getting it to meters, instead of centimeters, is hardly a big deal.
Do you want someone stealing your ID by reading your passport data in the arrivals hall at an airport? Or stealing the coding needed to persuade an ATM to cough up twenty dollar bills? And how would you like it if the human resources department scans you to make sure you don't have herpes, or are carrying a pacemaker?
And, of course, we are heading for the implant at birth scenario (under the guise of protection -- fear works so well, doesn't it). But hopefully the implant won't be in the forehead: we don't want to encourage the Mark-of-the-Beast nutters.
I don't know how many watts of RF, at what distance, would fuse the antennas of these nasty little things. But I would encourage someone to develop a nice handheld unit with a highly focused antenna -- so it doesn't zap the user instead. Then we can wander up and down the aisles of Wal*Mart really screwing up their inventory records. How satisfying.