Identification technology is big business these days. Terrorism and security concerns, forgetful grandmothers, and lost dogs and children have given hard kicks to the ID industry to bring on more simple and certain ways of identifying things and people. This last week in Barcelona, Spain, ID companies from around the world gathered to demonstrate the most up-to-date ID technologies, including automatic data collection, smart cards, biometrics and radio frequency identification (RFID) technology.
ID technology has gone far beyond giving CIA agents access to top secret rooms deep in some governmental gopher hole. Now, major retail stores are using microchips on products to streamline inventory. Biometric identifiers are being included on passports and ID cards in dozens of countries. Right now, Belgium is busily standardizing an electronic identity card - the first European country to do so. Every Belgian citizen will be expected to get with the e-ID program and possess a card by the end of 2009. Pets have been walking around for years with microchips embedded under their skin to identify them in case they are lost, and people are now getting "chipped" as well. Two hundred employees in Mexico's attorney general's office were recently implanted with the VeriChip RFID chip in order to access to secure areas.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration just gave the thumbs up to ID technology in the medical field as well. In October, Applied Digital Solutions(ADS), a company in Florida, got FDA approval to market their VeriChip for medical purposes. This means that Americans can officially choose to get a chip implanted in one arm in order to be more quickly identified at the hospital. The chip holds a 16-digit identification number so that when the chip is scanned, medical personnel can access the "chipped" person's medical records in a central database. While ADS believes the chip can be used in a large variety of ways to help people and save lives - from offering quick access to the medical backgrounds of unconscious people brought into the hospital to tracking lost children - many people fear the potential privacy invasions that an implantable chip represents.
"For someone like a diabetic, it could be life-saving. If it could save a life, it would get into society quickly," said computer science and engineering professor Lawrence Holder. However, he added, "As soon as someone figures out a way to make something private, someone figures out a way to break it. They have to make sure they work hard to protect that information."
At the World ID Conference in Barcelona last week, ADS addressed the privacy concerns many people have over the advances of RFID technology. ADS CEO Scott R. Silverman presented his company's six-point privacy statement, the first point of which was that, "VeriChip should be voluntary and voluntary only. No person, no employer, no government should force anyone to get 'chipped.'" He assured his audience that his company would be working to make sure that privacy rights and concerns were a top priority, to guarantee that only authorized persons could access the VeriChip database and chipped persons could have their chips removed at anytime.
"We pledge to thoughtfully, openly and considerately engage government, privacy groups, the industry and consumers to assure that the adoption of VeriChip and RFID technology is through education and unity rather than isolation and division," Silverman concluded as his final point.
Unfortunately, while VeriChip and similar chips may provide many benefits, nobody can determine right now where the technology will lead us in the future. Who can say that companies in the future will not require all employees to be chipped? Who will stop future world leaders from using the technology to more completely control their citizens? As we grow used to being identified through microchips and they become a normal part of our every day lives, we are increasingly vulnerable to misuse of those chips by corrupt people, whether on the private level, or in the top seats of government.
Related Links: Get Ready to Go Digital - The Shorthorn Online - University of Texas at Arlington