By Peter Chowka
Purported medical benefits have recently been cited as among the more compelling reasons why people should receive an implanted microchip or biochip. On May 10, three members of a family in Florida (“medical pioneers,” according to a fawning report on the CBS Evening News) became the first people to receive the implants. Each device, made of silicon and called a VeriChip™, is a small radio transmitter about the size of a piece of rice that is injected under a person’s skin. It transmits a unique personal ID number whenever it is within a few feet of a special receiver unit. VeriChip’s maker describes it as “a miniaturized, implantable, radio frequency identification device (RFID) that can be used in a variety of security, emergency and healthcare applications.”
The May 10 development was headline news around the country, with most of the coverage decidedly positive and uncritical of the potential ramifications of the technology.
For several years the American public has been softened up to accept the microchip implant concept. In the late 1990s, thousands of Americans’ pet dogs and cats began to receive small, surgically implanted microchip identifiers. If a cat or dog that had received an implant became lost, it might be identified and reunited with its owner if a veterinarian, animal shelter or animal control officer had special equipment and scanned the animal. This equipment has quickly proliferated and it is now the policy of the Animal Humane Society to implant all animals it makes available for adoption and to scan all lost or homeless animals it picks up
On May 10, the human biochip era was born as volunteers Jeff Jacobs, 48, his wife Leslie, 46, and their son Derek, 14, received the VeriChip implants in their arms while under local anesthesia. According to Applied Digital Solutions, the company that manufactures and markets the VeriChip, the Jacobs’ were the first people to be “chipped.” At the company-sponsored chipping event, Leslie Jacobs told the assembled press, representing 40 major media organizations around the world including a live national audience watching on NBC’s Today show, “We’re doing this as a security for us, because we’ve worked so hard to save my husband’s life.” She was referring to the fact that her husband has been treated for cancer, injuries suffered in a car accident, a degenerative spinal condition, chronic eye disease and abdominal problems. Derek, meanwhile, is reportedly allergic to certain antibiotics. The theory is that, if any of the Jacobs’ become ill, or are injured or impaired, their medical histories can be accessed by professionals who can scan their microchip implants.
The Jacobs family chipping was performed by Jeff Jacobs’ physician, David Wulkan, MD, at the Surgical Associates of Palm Beach County in Boca Raton, Florida. According to an Applied Digital Solutions (Nasdaq: ADSX) press release, Surgical Associates, located in Boca Raton, Florida, is the first “Authorized VeriChip Center.” A second chipping procedure took place on May 10 involving another volunteer, Nate Isaacson, an 83 year old retired building contractor with Alzheimer’s. The procedure to implant the microchip in Isaacson’s upper back was performed by Harvey Kleiner, MD at The Family Health Place, the Authorized VeriChip Center located in Sunrise (Broward County), Florida.
According to a company news release, ADSX “president Scott R. Silverman said that the VeriChip rollout would follow the successful business model used by Applied Digital’s sister company, Digital Angel Corporation, with the introduction of the now familiar companion animal identification system (HomeAgain™).”
ADSX announced that Wulkan also performed the “chipping” procedure on three of the company’s senior executives: Silverman; Richard J. Sullivan, Chairman and CEO; and Dr. Keith Bolton, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer. Silverman commented: “All three of us wanted to ‘get chipped’ to experience for ourselves just how safe and easy the procedure is and to demonstrate to the world our complete confidence in the success of this exciting, life-enhancing technology.”
ADSX foresees a growing market for chipping (which it terms the “emergency information and verification market”) “exceeding $15 billion,” starting with millions of Americans who might be sold on a perceived medical or personal security need (for example, Alzheimers patients -there are an estimated 4 million people in the US with the disease -and young children). “The entire VeriChip program is designed to save lives in an emergency and enhance the peace of mind of Subscribers and their loved ones,” reads an ADSX news release. ADSX’ business model is based on demand for the $200-per-patient chipping, and providing expensive proprietary scanning equipment to scan the chips and a database of information on chipped individuals linked to the chip’s ID number maintained by Digital Angel™, the ADSX associated company. The database is called “the Global VeriChip Subscriber (GVS) Registry service” and according to ADSX it “provides immediate access to a secure database containing vital Subscriber personal verification and Subscriber-provided information.” It costs each patient or subscriber $10 a month to store their information.
On April 4, 2002, ADSX announced that it had received written guidance that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not consider VeriChip’s personal verification device to be a regulated medical device. According to the Los Angeles Times (May 10), “Company officials said they were free to proceed because the implant contains identification numbers that correspond to personal medical information in a separate database” and does not contain the information in the chip itself.
The next step in the evolution of this technology is the placement of additional personal information, and “Global Positioning (tracking) Capability,” in an implantable microchip that would be a bit larger than the VeriChip. ADSX is working on such a device and tests are scheduled to begin before the end of the year. (Reports have circulated for a number of years that some U.S. military personnel and covert operatives working in dangerous areas or behind enemy lines have been implanted with sophisticated microchips that allow the host to be tracked by orbiting American spy satellites.)
Digital Angel Corporation, formerly wholly owned by ADSX (ADSX now owns a sizable percentage of Digital Angel’s stock), already has such capability in its wristwatch-sized Digital Angel™ device. According to ADSX, “Digital Angel™ technology represents the first-ever combination of advanced biosensors and Web-enabled wireless telecommunications linked to the Global Positioning System (GPS). By utilizing advanced biosensor capabilities, Digital Angel will be able to monitor key body functions – such as temperature and pulse – and transmit that data, along with accurate emergency location information, to a ground station or monitoring facility.”
In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America and the new interest in ensuring “homeland security” and in preventing future attacks, there has been growing political and public interest in and support for new and supposedly more effective methods of identifying people, primarily by mandating a national ID card. Public opinion polls last fall reported over 70 percent of Americans supported the national ID concept. Taking the concept further, some analysts have even advocated chipping everyone in the country.
With the political climate now as it is, it looks like it could be a short hop from “medical safety” to “security” (both concepts already widely accepted) to national ID to “voluntary” or ultimately mandatory biochip implants. As New York Times columnist William Safire wrote last December 24, “In the dreams of Big Brother and his cousin, Big Marketing, nothing can compare to forcing every person in the United States – under penalty of law – to carry what the totalitarians used to call ‘papers.’
“. . .Hospitals would say: How about a chip providing a complete medical history in case of emergencies? Merchants would add a chip for credit rating, bank accounts and product preferences, while divorced spouses would lobby for a rundown of net assets and yearly expenditures. Politicians would like to know voting records and political affiliation. Cops, of course, would insist on a record of arrests, speeding tickets, E-Z pass auto movements and links to suspicious Web sites and associates.”
Safire cautions, however, that “A national ID card would be a ticket to the loss of much of your personal freedom. Its size could then be reduced for implantation under the skin in the back of your neck.”
“We’re going to track everything.”
On February 7, 2002, Charlotte A. Twight, professor of economics at Boise State University, in an article “Why Not Implant a Microchip?,” wrote, “Over half of the population now supports some form of national identification. If Americans accept a National ID system as they accepted SSNs [Social Security Numbers], and if the intrusiveness of such a system expands as did government-mandated SSN usage, ten years from now the idea of a national microchip system may not seem as alien and repugnant as it does today. As with SSNs, people will get used to it.”
Jeffrey Rosen, an associate professor at George Washington University Law School and the legal affairs editor of The New Republic, wrote a chilling article, “Silicon Valley’s Spy Game,” published in the New York Times Magazine on April 14 about the technological imperative that is helping to accelerate what seems like an unstoppable momentum for both a national ID and combining private and government databases into one massive, inescapable mega database that will eventually include data about everyone on the planet.
“The technology for integrated databases already exists,” Rosen writes, “waiting to be activated by the flip of a switch. In the wake of Sept. 11, few politicians or judges seem willing to keep the forces of centralization in check. And no one should count on the technologists to police themselves.”
Among the people Rosen interviewed was billionaire Larry Ellison, the founder and CEO of Oracle Corporation, which describes itself as “the world’s leading supplier of software for enterprise information management.” Last October, Ellison wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “The single thing we could do to make life tougher for terrorists would be to ensure that all the information in myriad government databases was integrated into a single national file.” Ellison proposed that the federal government adopt a digital national ID database with a card for each citizen. In several interviews, he offered to provide the software to make it all happen to the government for free.
In the Times article, Rosen writes, “I had one last question for Larry Ellison. ‘In 20 years, do you think the global database is going to exist, and will it be run by Oracle?”’
”’I do think it will exist, and I think it is going to be an Oracle database,’ he replied. ‘And we’re going to track everything.'”
By Peter Chowka