Why RFID Implants Might Make Sense

Hurricane Katrina demonstrated why chipping people is not as farfetched as you might think.
Published: November 21, 2006

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned I changed my mind about implanting radio frequency identification devices in people after Hurricane Katrina. Let me explain why.

Prior to Katrina, I felt it was unnecessary and perhaps dangerous to use embedded RFID transponders for identifying people and linking them to their medical records. I thought it was unnecessary because a transponder could be worn, either in a ring or pendant, and have the same effect as an embedded implant.

I felt it was dangerous because for a system to be truly useful, it might be necessary for the government to maintain a single database of all medical records—how else could an emergency worker in one region find information about someone in a car accident in another region? Having the government maintain a single database could only lead to problems and compromised data.

My position changed after Hurricane Katrina because as the floodwaters rose in New Orleans, many left their homes in the middle of the night and didn’t have time to take identification with them. When they later went for treatment, there was no way to confirm their identity and retrieve their medical records. Moreover, many people had their physical medical records wiped out because their doctors’ offices were destroyed, so you had people who were literally left without a recorded medical history.

Some people have taken to recording their medical-alert information in pendants or rings worn on their person. However, jewelry can be lost in an emergency, such as a hurricane or earthquake. A transponder embedded under the skin would be much harder to lose. Linking a unique ID in a transponder to a person’s medical record stored in a secure remote location and backed up in another location would protect people from losing their medical history or being denied care because they can’t be identified.

I’m not suggesting for a minute that people should be required to be “chipped.” This is not something I would choose to do, and I would be against such a requirement. All I’m saying is that there are some sane reasons why someone might want to do it, even if many of us find it distasteful.