Chipping Your Kid

PC Magazine editor-in-chief Lance Ulanoff thinks it's a good idea to implant RFID tags in children.
Published: August 31, 2007

I’ve never been a big fan of implanting radio frequency identification transponders in people, but the editor-in-chief of PC Magazine has come out in favor of “chipping” kids (see Should You Chip Your Children?). No doubt, he will soon receive an angry flood of e-mails from people who think implants are the beginning of the end for humankind as we know it. Although I don’t agree with Ulanoff, I think it’s great that someone has come out in favor of RFID implants and explained is reasoning.

Still, there are some issues of concern regarding Ulanoff’s view. For one thing, technology doesn’t do what he suggests—there is no RFID transponder today that has a GPS transmitter for locating a lost child or near-field communications for financial transactions and other benefits. Implants are strictly short-range devices used for identification.

And even if there were a supercharged RFID transponder that could do all that, RFID implants might not be the right technology for finding kidnapped kids anyway. Imagine some wacko cutting off a kid’s arm because he doesn’t want the kid tracked, or gouging a transponder out of a child’s back with a butter knife.

Instead, you could track a youth’s location by giving that child a cell phone and having police locate its GPS signal. True, a kidnapper would toss away the phone, but that’s better than having him mutilate a child.

There are only two reasons for using RFID implants that make any sense to me. One would be for people who want to be cool and pay for food or drinks with the wave of their hand, or who want to control doors, computers and other secure areas or items.

The other would be linking a person to secure electronic medical records. If one were to lose everything in a natural or manmade disaster, including all identification documents, that person could still prove his or her identity, and emergency medical teams could retrieve an unconscious individual’s records.

Of course, both of these applications would have to be completely voluntary. In my view, it’s probably best to let children grow up and make their own decisions about whether they want a transponder stuck under their skin. But I’m glad there are people out there willing to express their views, and who are not intimidated by privacy advocates.