Getting Chipped: A Dangerous Practice

By Stephen Bryen and Rachel Ehrenfeld
Tuesday, April 4th, 2017 @ 9:22PM

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Left: Microchip implant demonstrated in Helsinki Finland,  posted on Biohax Facebook page, March 9, 2017.

Injecting Near Field Communication (NFC) chips between the thumb and index finger of volunteer workers is becoming an unsettling trend in Scandinavia.  For now, the chips contain ID information allowing the employees to access certain facilities, purchase goods and operate equipment such as computers, printers, and copiers. “It basically replaces a lot of things you have, other communication devices, whether it be credit cards or keys,”  a Swedish CEO told the Brtish Telegraph.  But “chipping” workers could endanger the privacy of the carrier.

Using ID chips is not new.  Injectable chips have been around for some time.  A prototype injectable ID chip was invented in 1979 by Mike Beigel.  The chip is essentially a passive RFID device –which stands for Radio Frequency ID chip.  The chip in its simplest form contains only a number and it is not self-powered.  However, when a compatible radio-signal is beamed at the chip, the chip receives power from the beam through induction, activates and transmits its number.  Otherwise the chip does remains quiet.

In 1991 zoos started injecting chips into their animals.  By 2000,  to obtain a pet license, many states required injecting pets – excluding chicken, duck, hamster and rat.

Our personal experience with our golden retrievers proved that a biochip transponder, which is what an injectable RFID tag is, can be handy.  Our dogs liked digging under the fence in the yard, headed off to the park and wandered around.  Thanks to the chip, not only were the dogs found, but we got a call telling us where to go fetch them.  In a pet dog or cat, the biochip is generally inserted in the back of the neck, between the shoulder blade and the dorsal midline.  A pet owner can usually feel the chip by lightly pressing the skin in this area.

The military has proposed more sophisticated biochips with sensors that can monitor such things as heart rate and blood pressure, even location.  And biochips can play a related role in medicine, and in keeping track of children.  Corporations want to use some biochips to track customers and their preferences and habits.

Biochips like those proposed by the military are RFID transponders plus sensors of different kinds.  Such biochips can even store some information, so they are not necessarily tied to an external database for validation.But there are problems.  Biochip numbers can be read externally, cloned, duplicated, so security is a problem.  Such chips also make it easy to follow someone, better than trying to track (for example)a cell phone because the chip and the person are, seemingly inseparable.  Once a person is identified, say with a face ID system, then the RFID-stored number and the face are linked. This makes tracking easy, whether it is done by law enforcement or by a nefarious terror group or by criminals.  In short, there are many privacy and personal security issues connected with chipping.

But Biochipping present many privacy and personal security issues. The chip numbers can be read externally, cloned, duplicated or stolen, creating security threats. Such chips also make it easy to follow someone, better than trying to track (for example) a cell phone because the chip and the person are, seemingly inseparable.  Once a person is identified, say with a face ID system, the RFID-stored number and the face are linked. This makes tracking easy, whether it is done by law enforcement or by a terrorist or a criminal group. If a person with an implanted chip is kidnapped, the device could be extracted and reinserted in someone else, allowing hostile forces to fool the system and gain access to secrets.

In humans, the chip is typically inserted under the skin between the thumb and index finger and can be easily felt.  The hand is used because waving a biochip with a near-field sensing activates devices or access sensors.

Does stealing an implanted chip sound impossible? Today, when stealing kidneys and other body parts os going on, the theft of an implanted RFID relatively easy and quick.

As the biochips trend evolve additional sensors with more information including medical, digital photos or other biometrics will be integrated into them. More information would make them much more risky to the carrier, and more lucrative to steal.

Privacy in America and elsewhere has been increasingly diminishing. The limited assurance of privacy in the Constitution is guaranteed in the Fourth Amendment that provides protection from abusive searches and seizures, particularly of one’s property. But it says nothing about the person himself.

In the late 18th century, when our Founding Fathers set the concepts intended to protect freedom and liberty, they did not anticipate the vast revolution in electronics and the growth of massive surveillance-driven institutions that exploit technologies such as chipping to invade and eliminate our privacy.  It is time to enact new laws, and possibly new Constitutional prohibitions against their use. Do you think our lawmakers are up to the task?

* This commentary has been posted on Bryen’s Blog, on Aril 4, 2017

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