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A human microchip implant is an identifying integrated circuit device or RFID transponder encased in silicate glass and implanted in the body of a human being. A subdermal implant typically contains a unique ID number that can be linked to information contained in an external database, such as personal identification, medical history, medications, allergies, and contact information.
The first reported experiment with an RFID implant was carried out in 1998 by the British scientist Kevin Warwick. As a test, his implant was used to open doors, switch on lights, and cause verbal output within a building. The implant has since been held in the Science Museum (London).
Since that time, several additional hobbyists have placed RFID microchip implants into their hands or had them placed there by others.
Amal Graafstra, author of the book "RFID Toys," asked doctors to place implants in his hands. A cosmetic surgeon used a scalpel to place a microchip in his left hand, and his family doctor injected a chip into his right hand using a veterinary Avid injector kit. Graafstra uses the implants to open his home and car doors and to log on to his computer.
In 2002, the VeriChip Corporation (known as the "PositiveID Corporation" since November 2009) received preliminary approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to market its device in the U.S. within specific guidelines. The device received FDA approval in 2004, and was marketed under the name VeriChip or VeriMed. In 2007, it was revealed that nearly identical implants had caused cancer in hundreds of laboratory animals. a revelation that had a devastating impact on the company's stock price. Some time between May and July 2010, the Positive ID Corporation discontinued marketing the implantable human microchip.
In January 2012, the VeriTeQ Acquisition Corporation acquired the VeriChip implantable microchip and related technologies, and Health Link personal health record from PositiveID Corporation. VeriTeQ is majority owned and led by Scott R. Silverman, former Chairman and CEO of PositiveID and VeriChip Corporation. PositiveID has retained an ownership interest in VeriTeQ.
The PositiveID Corporation (previously known as The VeriChip Corporation; Applied Digital Solutions, Inc.; and The Digital Angel Corporation) distributed the implantable chip known as the VeriChip or VeriMed until the product was discontinued in the second quarter of 2010. The company had suggested that the implant could be used to retrieve medical information in the event of an emergency, as follows: Each VeriChip implant contained a 16-digit ID number. This number was transmitted when a hand-held VeriChip scanner is passed within a few inches of the implant. Participating hospitals and emergency workers would enter this number into a secure page on the VeriChip Corporation's website to access medical information that the patient had previously stored on file with the company.
According to some reports, in 2006 80 hospitals had agreed to own a VeriChip scanner provided by the company and 232 doctors had agreed to inject the devices into patients who requested them. However, the VeriChip Corporation/Applied Digital Solutions was sued by its shareholders for making "materially false and misleading statements" regarding hospital acceptance figures. According to Glancy & Binkow, the law firm that filed the class action suit:
"...on May 9, 2002, defendants [the then Applied Digital Corporation] claimed that nearly every major hospital in the West Palm Beach, Florida area would be equipped with VeriChip scanners, an indispensable component of the Company's VeriChip technology. However, one day later on May 10, 2002, the truth was disclosed that no hospital had accepted a scanner, an essential device for retrieving the VeriChip's information. Following the May 10, 2002, disclosure, the price of Applied Digital stock again fell sharply, dropping nearly 30% in a single day."
The VeriChip Corporation has marketed the implant as a way to restrict access to secure facilities such as power plants. Microchip scanners would be installed at entrances so locks only work for persons whose chip numbers are entered into the system. Two employees of CityWatcher, an Ohio video surveillance company, had RFID tags injected into their arms in 2007. The workers needed the implants to access the company's secure video tape room, as documented in USA Today. The company closed, but there is no word on what happened to the employees or their implants.
A major drawback for such systems is the relative ease with which the 16-digit ID number contained in a chip implant can be obtained and cloned using a hand-held device, a problem that has been demonstrated publicly by security researcher Jonathan Westhues and documented in the May 2006 issue of Wired magazine, among other places.
The Baja Beach Club, a nightclub in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, once used VeriChip implants for identifying VIP guests.
Theoretically, a GPS-enabled chip could one day make it possible for individuals to be physically located by latitude, longitude, altitude, speed, and direction of movement. Such implantable GPS devices are not technically feasible at this time. However, if widely deployed at some future point, implantable GPS devices could conceivably allow authorities to locate missing persons and/or fugitives and those who fled from a crime scene. Critics contend, however, that the technology could lead to political repression as governments could use implants to track and persecute human rights activists, labor activists, civil dissidents, and political opponents; criminals and domestic abusers could use them to stalk and harass their victims; slaveholders could use them to prevent captives from escaping; and child abusers could use them to locate and abduct children.
Another suggested application for a tracking implant, discussed in 2008 by the legislature of Indonesia's Irian Jaya would be to monitor the activities of persons infected with HIV, aimed at reducing their chances of infecting other people. The microchipping section was not, however, included into the final version of the provincial HIV/AIDS Handling bylaw passed by the legislature in December 2008. With current technology this would not be workable anyway, since there is no implantable device on the market with GPS tracking capability.
Anti-RFID advocates cite veterinary and toxicological studies carried out from 1996 to 2006 that found lab mice and rats injected with microchips sometimes developed cancerous tumors around the microchips (subcutaneous sarcomas) as evidence of a human implantation risk. However, the link between foreign-body tumorigenesis in lab animals and implantation in humans has been publicly refuted as erroneous and misleading.
According to the FDA, implantation of the VeriChip poses potential medical downsides. Electrical hazards, MRI incompatible, adverse tissue reaction, and migration of the implanted transponder are just a few of the potential risks associated with the Verichip ID implant device, according to an October 12, 2004 letter issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
According to the FDA's Primer on Medical Device Interactions with Magnetic Resonance Imaging Systems, "electrical currents may be induced in conductive metal implants" that can cause "potentially severe patient burns."
However, when the MythBusters TV show, in episode 18 of the 2005 season, Myth Evolution, tested a microchip implant in an MRI machine, neither test subject showed any signs of pain. Since MRI machines come in various strengths, it is possible that higher energy-emitting MRI machines may be more problematic. The model and make of the chip could affect possible outcomes as well.
Since nearly all implantable microchips are unencrypted, they are extremely vulnerable to being read by third-party scanners. By scanning secretly, someone could steal the information on a chip and clone the signal, enabling that person to impersonate a chipped individual. This could create security problems for building or computer access or potentially enable criminal misuse of a medical account held by an unrelated person. Also, the chip could easily be removed from the person, or the appendage containing the device could be removed. The Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs (CEJA) of the American Medical Association published a report in 2007 alleging that RFID implanted chips may compromise privacy because there is no assurance that the information contained in the chip can be properly protected.
Microchip implant in humans have raised new ethical discussions by academic groups, human rights organizations, government departments and religious groups.
RFID tagging has been criticised by believers of Abrahamic religions. In Christianity, a few believe the implantation of chips may be the fulfillment of the Mark of the Beast, prophesied to be a requirement for buying and selling, and a key element of the Book of Revelation. Islam also considers body modifications "haram", an Arabic term meaning "forbidden", because they involve changing the body, a creation of Allah. The health risks associated with implantable microchips described above may also invoke Islamic prohibitions.
On April 5, 2010, the Georgia Senate passed Senate Bill 235 that prohibits forced microchip implants in humans and that would make it a misdemeanor for anyone to require them, including employers. The bill would allow voluntary microchip implants, as long as they are performed by a physician and regulated by the Georgia Composite Medical Board. If the General Assembly passes the new Senate version, Georgia would join California, North Dakota and Wisconsin in banning mandatory microchip implant.
On February 10, 2010 Virginia's House of Delegates also passed a bill that forbids companies from forcing their employees to be implanted with tracking devices.