What\’s this deal with RFID chips in humans?

Arstechnica is reporting that RFID chips for humans have received FDA approval. The question for me is, what benefit do we get from this?RFID, for the uninitiated, is a computer chip used for tracking. Wal-Mart wants to use them to track merchandise, because they’ll know exactly where all of the merchandise is in the store. This makes good sense. No more scanning barcodes to keep track of the merchandise. And, in theory, when a telephone ends up in the socks section of the store–things like this happen–the store’s computer system is going to know about it, so lost merchandise can get put back where it belongs.

Presumably, it’ll also make it possible to track the movement of the product in the store. If something makes its way out of the store without passing through a checker’s hands, then, well, it’s stolen, right? So it could eliminate shoplifting.

If implemented properly, it could also stop people from buying a piece of merchandise, taking it home, replacing it with another piece of similar merchandise, and returning it.

It also ties in with Wal-Mart’s philosophy of knowing what items sell better in what stores, so it can adjust its warehousing.

It makes a lot of business sense. Any retailer that can implement this is going to have a huge advantage over any retailers who don’t. Kmart would stand a chance of making a huge comeback if it could manage to implement this first.

So now you know what RFID is. So now let’s think about RFID in humans.

The selling point of it is that medical records are instantly accessible. But I don’t want my medical records to be instantly accessible. I want my doctor to have them. I do not want my employer or insurance company to have them. What if some insurance adjuster sees the phrase “could benefit from ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery” in my records? I can’t count on that flunky knowing what ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction is. Might I get denied coverage or employment because of that really serious-sounding condition?

A phone call to my doctor will tell you that phrase means you really don’t want me playing right field for the company softball team if you can avoid it, because I have a weak elbow in my throwing arm. But aside from that, I lead a pretty normal life.

Insurance companies and employers do enough practicing medicine without a license as it is. We don’t need to be giving them access to this kind of information.

Imagine the other possibilities. My employer can know exactly how many times I go to the bathroom. Or how much time I spend in my cubicle versus the server room or test lab. Do I really want vast herds of management dolts knowing that I spent 43 minutes longer in the server room this week than last week and then asking me why?

But that’s a minor annoyance. Imagine this scenario.

Any idiot driving around in a car can stop at a house and quickly know how many people are inside. This person might even know the identities of the people inside.

Parents, do you really want anyone who wants to know to be able to find out when your children are home alone?

It’ll also be possible to keep track of what kinds of seedy places politicians visit when they’re supposed to be in session, representing us. We might not want to know that information. There’s little chance of that, though. Once they read that, they’ll exclude themselves from this, of course.

Proponents of RFID for humans argue that you have to be within a few centimeters to read the chip. This has already been demonstrated not to be true, and as time goes on, the maximum distance of today will only increase. Early adopters of wireless networking quickly figured out that they could extend its usable distance to a mile or more by using Pringles cans.

Some people are speculating the Department of Homeland Security wants this so they can know where terrorists and suspected terrorists are.

But if knowing where the terrorists are all the time means anyone who wants to know can know where anyone else is, as well as their entire medical history and other details, the downside more than eliminates any possible upside.

2 thoughts on “What\’s this deal with RFID chips in humans?

  • October 13, 2004 at 9:59 pm
    Permalink

    We should use this technology to keep an eye on anyone that could be involved in terrorism. Any group that has been linked to terrorism should be implanted with this device.
    The technicians could brag they served over one billion on their resumes and the world would be safer.
    I don’t believe that the Europeans should be implanted because their terrorists use terrorism as a form of political speech. We should be careful in hindering speech.
    Being Scots-Irish, I don’t believe the government should track me and mine.
    I would enjoy reading the view of R. Collins Farquhar IV on this subject. I would imagine the chip would not have room to imprint Jacques Pierre Cousteau Vermouth Bouillabaisse le Raunche de la Stenche. Monsieur de la Stenche would be RFID free.

    "It is hard enough to remember my opinions, without also remembering my reasons for them!"
    Friedrich Nietzsche

  • October 15, 2004 at 7:53 am
    Permalink

    Personally, I think the RFID stuff is good if the system is properly designed. If, for example, the RFID is only used as an ID chip, then that’s one thing. Link the RFID to a biometric scan (for example, your thumb print and RFID chip must be present for you to withdraw money from your ATM – with, of course, your card. Sure, it’s not going to prevent someone from removing your thumb, RFID chip, and ATM card, but psychos will be psychos), for information access.

    I know, I know – someone can hack the database. But they can now. What if my medical records are secured so that only my doctor can access them – anyone else must have my thumbprint and RFID there?

    If, on the other hand, data is stored on the RFID chip, then that’s a problem.

    I do see Dave’s point on the RFID chips being used to identify the number of people in a house. But if these chips are as inexpensive enough to be embedded and implanted, it’ll be a narrow window. Soon enough, people will scan the house and each cell phone, cordless phone, person, pet, computer, laptop, hand-held, and countless other Wal-mart purchased products will respond. So that might actually scare off the burgler – especally if the dog’s RFID is implanted in my giant killer rottweiler stuffed animal… 😉

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