Your pet can wander off. So can your child. But are we ready to use the same RFID technology to put microchips in humans?
I’ve heard all sorts of reports about radio frequency identification (RFID) microchips being used in people.
One “news” article said that all European newborns will be injected with a microchip by 2020.
Another stated that the government was going to require welfare recipients to be microchipped.
None of these reports are true. But it doesn’t mean we don’t have the capacity to put the rice-sized RFID microchips into people. We do.
Human traffickers have been known to implant a GPS tracker in their victims—the same chip injected into cats and dogs.
RFID enables short-range scanning by a transponder.
The technology, which can be traced back to World War II, was first patented in 1973. The U.S. Department of Energy funded RFID development for tracking nuclear materials. Not long after, the Department of Agriculture deployed passive RFID tags on cows, to track medication and hormone doses. The first implantable microchip was created in 1979.
Major retailers have adopted this “line of sight” identification system to streamline the shipping and receiving processes. Rather than using a scanner to read the barcodes on cases and pallets, the shipment can be identified more quickly as it passes by an RFID reader. Learn more about RFID Tracking here.
“Biohacking” uses technology to alter human biology, like genetic engineering.
“Body hackers” are putting microchips into their bodies (usually the hand) in order to enable their bodies to activate processes. A wave of a microchipped hand can authorize a payment, unlock a car door, or provide identification. It could also help to locate lost children or Alzheimer’s patients who have wandered off, as well as soldiers deployed in war zones.
The question is, do we want this bodily invasion?
Last year, Kaspersky presented a demonstration at a major consumer electronics show in Berlin. An employee of the global security firm volunteered to have a microchip implanted in his hand, between the thumb and forefinger. Activated with a four-digit PIN code, the chip enabled him to simply wave his hand rather than presenting a badge, anywhere at Kaspersky.
Hannes Sjoblad, one of the founders of the Swedish biohacking community, BioNyfiken, sees the process of microchip implants as a natural progression of technology.
“I consider the take-off of this technology as another important interface moment in the history of human-computer interaction, similar to the launches of the first Windows desktop or the first touch screen.”
You can purchase a do-it-yourself microchipping kit for about $150, if you’re so inclined. But is the convenience of being able to use it to open a door, turn off a light, or unock your phone equal to the potential risk? If a hacker can disable a pacemaker in someone’s chest, what can they do with the RFID microchip in your hand? And what happens when the manufacturers come up with the next generation of human microchip? Do you keep shooting those miniscule chips into your hand or do you have to have the old ones cut out? Ouch.
Have we become so spoiled by “modern convenience” that flipping a light switch or turning a key has become a bothersome task? Is it worth the risk of identify theft?
I can see applications for the human microchip, such as dementia patients and tracking soldiers and emergency responders, even paroled felons. But I’m not convinced that this type of biohacking is ready for mainstream use.
What do you think? I welcome your thoughts, both pro and con. Share with us on Twitter @LTronCorp.