PARK RIDGE, Ill. Personal identification took on a new twist Friday (Feb. 15) as four individuals who lined up to "get chipped" became what are believed to be the world's first consumers to ask for implantable IDs.
A Florida family said Wednesday (Feb. 13) they want to be the first to have radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips placed in their bodies, mostly as a means of dealing with medical issues. Also, a Brazilian official will travel to the United States Friday (Feb. 15) to announce that he, too, wants to be fitted with a personal RFID chip, mainly as a deterrent against kidnapping.
The Florida family a mother, father and 14-year-old boy will receive the implants after the electronic devices are approved for pilot testing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The Brazilian official will reportedly receive his implant in his left shoulder or arm after he returns to Brazil, in about a week.
All of the individuals will be fitted with a capsule-shaped device known as the VeriChip. Made by Applied Digital Solutions (Palm Beach, Fla.), the Verichip includes a 125-kHz RFID chip, an electromagnetic coil for transmitting data and a tuning capacitor, all in a silicone-and-glass enclosure measuring 11.1 x 2.1 mm.
The company, which is staking its future on the potential of implantable chips, has even trademarked the phrase "getting chipped" to describe the process of installing a human identification device.
Although researchers have implanted chips in themselves, this may be the first time four consumers have asked to have RFID chips implanted. As such, they will be the first to have chips that could automatically identify them to an electronic reader, much like a human bar code.
Experts said that the decisions of those four demonstrate the potential value of such electronic identification and simultaneously raise questions about loss of privacy.
"These people are choosing to do it, and they understand the risks," noted Stephen Keating, executive director of the Privacy Foundation (Denver, Colo.). "But the potential risks appear when a technology is widely adopted, and systems build up around it, and it gradually becomes less voluntary."
Even the staunchest privacy advocates, however, acknowledged that the announcements served as a powerful example of the potential of electronic personal identification. The Florida family Leslie, Jeff and Derek Jacobs of Boca Raton are having the chips implanted as a means of dealing with medical issues. Jeff Jacobs, who has survived Hodgkins disease and lymphoma, plans for the chip to carry medical information about himself and his son, who is allergic to antibiotics.
"If paramedics found me incapacitated, the chip could tell them about my medication, my heart condition, my spinal condition, my allergies and who to contact in case of emergency," Jacobs said. "We see these as important reasons to 'get chipped.' "
The reasons for "getting chipped" may be even more compelling for Antonio de Cunha Lima, a federal minister and senator from Sao Paulo, Brazil.
According to statistics from the Brazilian Ministry, there were 267 kidnappings in Sao Paulo in 2001, and there have already been 63 in 2002. The Ministry says that there is approximately one kidnapping every 35 hours in Sao Paulo alone, and kidnappers reportedly have started targeting children under ten years of age as kidnap victims.
"Kidnapping is epidemic in Brazil right now," said Grayson Walker, a liason for Antonio de Cunha Lima, who does not speak English and could not be interviewed.
De Cunha Lima is expected to appear at Applied Digital Systems headquarters in Palm Beach, Fla., Friday (Feb. 13) to make the case for implantable identification. "He's doing this to make a statement and to encourage others to do it," Walker said. "There's definitely a deterrent factor here."
Walker said that de Cunha Lima plans to use the chip in conjunction with the company's Digital Angel product, a cigarette-pack-sized global-positioning satellite (GPS) communication device that can be clipped on a person's belt and can automatically send alerts if that person travels outside a prescribed radius.
As the technology now stands, the VeriChip cannot be used to track a lost individual. Instead, it can only be used from within a few feet to identify people who are incapacitated. Walker said, however, that de Cunha Lima hopes to encourage development of an integrated, implantable GPS-RFID device that could be used to track lost individuals.
Such technology, while not available today, is theoretically possible in a form factor about the size of an implantable pacemaker, engineers say. To develop such systems, researchers must first create RFID chips that can communicate wirelessly with GPS units before some day integrating both systems in a single package.
"In South America and Central America, they are begging us to integrate these products," said Keith Bolton, chief technology officer for Applied Digital Solutions. "So we have a paradox. In the U.S., people worry about privacy. In South America, they say, 'We want this product because we want to be found.' "
Applied Digital executives believe that the market for such devices could eventually be enormous, ultimately reaching as high as $70 billion per year. The company is also proposing the VeriChip's use on implantable pacemakers, defibrillators and artificial joints, as a means of parts identification.
"The human market for this technology could be huge," Bolton said.