VeriChip Sees Attention from Mainstream Media

The Associated Press yesterday published a lengthy and balanced article on VeriChip, which serves as a worthwhile overview of the primary developments and debate surrounding the controversial technology. For your convenience, this article has highlights.
Published: July 23, 2007

This article was originally published by RFID Update.

July 23, 2007—The Associated Press yesterday published a lengthy article on VeriChip, which serves as a worthwhile overview of the primary developments and debate surrounding the controversial technology. Following are highlights:

  • VeriChip is an encapsulated RFID chip designed for subdermal implantation in humans. (The manufacturer of the technology goes by the same name.) While relatively new, VeriChip is based on very similar technology that has been used in animals (pets, livestock, etc.) for years.
  • The most vocal opponents of the technology can be categorized into two camps. The first is driven by concerns that the VeriChip could gradually encroach on personal privacy, providing overzealous governments or corporations with a tool to monitor the citizenry. While certain applications today may seem harmless enough, there is the dangerous possibility of a slippery slope of people tagging. “Chipping might start with Alzheimer’s patients or Army Rangers,” reads the AP article, “but would eventually be suggested for convicts, then parolees, then sex offenders, then illegal aliens – until one day, a majority of Americans, falling into one category or another, would find themselves electronically tagged.”
  • The second anti-VeriChip camp is driven by a Christian belief that the technology represents the Mark of the Beast, which the Book of Revelations in the Bible warns is a harbinger of the Endtimes.
  • Katherine Albrecht, founder of consumer group CASPIAN (Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering), is the most vocal and visible individual to oppose VeriChip (and RFID in all its forms). While ostensibly falling into the camp that is distrustful of the government and corporations, Albrecht is also a Christian and believer in the Endtimes. But because she has been so discreet about her religion when publicly denouncing the technology, many do not realize that she actually straddles both camps (see Katherine Albrecht: Religiously Motivated?).
  • While there is no official position by the greater RFID industry about VeriChip, most vendors, end users, and other RFID proponents seem irked by the technology because it creates a negative perception toward RFID among the public. This is especially frustrating given that it attracts more attention than the many beneficial applications of RFID with which most industry participants are involved. Furthermore, many RFID proponents themselves shun the idea of chipping human beings.
  • The VeriChip is easy to receive — just a quick, relatively painless injection. So trivial is the procedure that a club in Barcelona administered it on premises as a promotional gimmick. Clubgoers that “got chipped” were offered VIP services and streamlined drink ordering. While the Barcelona club has been the one to receive most of the press, there are in fact others in Rotterdam, Edinburgh, and Miami that have done something similar.
  • Much like a tattoo, removing the VeriChip is considerably more involved than receiving it. The encapsulated chip may over time migrate deeper into the flesh, requiring an X-ray to locate it and a plastic surgeon to cut it out.
  • VeriChip the company has tried to cultivate demand by forwarding a number of applications for the chip. One is patient identification, wherein the chip contains an identification number associated with the patient’s medical records. In the event that the patient arrives at a hospital unconscious or otherwise unable to communicate his name or identification information, the VeriChip ensures that the hospital will be able to retrieve his records anyway. Another application is so-called “wander prevention”. Alzheimer’s patients at assisted living facilities receive a chip that signals an alert if they approach a building exit.
  • VeriChip has also proposed much more controversial applications, such as the chipping of illegal immigrants. This idea was met with revulsion by many, who regarded it as an opportunistic tactic to capitalize on the immigration debate in the US (see Two Victories for the Anti-RFID Crowd).
  • Despite the all the headlines VeriChip has made, the technology has yet to gain much traction. The AP article reports that only 7,000 chips have been sold worldwide, 2,000 of which were implanted in humans.
  • The company went public earlier this year, and trades under the ticker symbol CHIP.
  • As for cost, VeriChip sells a starter kit for doctors, which includes 10 syringes, 10 chips, and a reader. It costs $1,400.
  • Concern about the technology has become large enough to attract the attention of a few lawmakers. The states of both Wisconsin and North Dakota passed legislation banning the forced implantation of chips. Other states have similar laws in the works, according to the AP.