Go Get Chipped - Part 1

For over 20 years, MG Michael and I have been researching the social implications of microchipping people. In 1996 as part of a final year major project in my Bachelor of Information Technology degree at the University of Technology, Sydney, I researched the potential for government identifiers to be implanted in the human body, with supervisor Prof. Jenny Edwards [1].

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Influenced greatly by the early works of Roger Clarke [2] and Simon Davies [3] in Australia, I became especially interested in “where to next?” A single image I had come across in the Library of Andersen Consulting headquarters in North Sydney while in my cooperative employment semester in April 1996, has stuck with me ever since. Depicted in a cartoon figure was the body of a man, with a computer “head.” No eyes, no ears, just a blank cathode ray tube (CRT). The headline of that report read: “The Human Metaphor” [4]. In December of that year I found myself working as a graduate engineer at Nortel Networks.

In 1997 Eduardo Kac became the first human to implant himself with a non-medical device in the performance art work titled “Time Capsule” [5]. After injecting an implant above his left ankle, Kac went on to register himself on a pet database. This performance piece was streamed live on the Internet. One year later in 1998 the company I worked for sponsored the Cyborg 1.0 project at the University of Reading and continued support for Cyborg 2.0, alongside Tumbleweed Communications, Computer Associates, and Fujitsu [6]. I learned of this cyborg project through the company's global hardcopy newspaper. I remember sitting at my desk turning to the back page and reading a short column about how implantables were destined to be our future. At the time I had begun a Ph.D. on the topic of “Smart Card Innovation in Government Applications,” but quickly redirected my focus to holistically study major automatic identification innovations, inclusive of chip implants. Dr. Ellen McGee and Dr. Gerald Q. Maguire, Jr., had begun to research ethical and policy issues around implantable brain chips as early as 2001, but I was more preoccupied in how this technology could be used for everyday banking and telecommunications applications as a blackbox implantable in the arm or upper torso.

Prof. Kevin Warwick had become the first academic to be implanted with a cylindrical transponder that not only identified him but also located him in his building [7]. After rigging up the corridors of the Cybernetics Department at the University of Reading, an interactive map would locate Warwick as he walked throughout the building. His office was also rigged up with readers, so that his presence was somewhat ambient — as he walked into the room, the lights would switch on and his computer would turn on to his favorite webpage. In 1999 British Telecom's Peter Cochrane wrote Tips for Time Travellers in which he described a microchip implant akin to something he noted would be a “soul catcher chip” [8]. The year Cochrane's monograph was published, the Auto-ID Center consortium at M.I.T. formally began research on the “Internet of Things,” a term coined by former Procter and Gamble assistant brand manager, Kevin Ashton [9]. Cyborg 2.0 followed on March 14, 2002, when Warwick had a one hundred electrode array surgically implanted into the median nerve fibers of his left arm [10]. Here Warwick showed the potential of brain-to-computer interfaces (BCI) but also the potential of brain-to-brain interfaces (BBI). During this whole period, I was busy working on projects related to telecommunications deregulation across Asia, seeing firsthand the right angle turn from voice to data, and the explosion of mobile telephony and later 3G mobile infrastructure. The world was changing rapidly and I knew I had to finish my Ph.D. as soon as possible. As chance would have it, I headed for academia.

Post the dot.com crash, we were all shocked by scenes such as those of September 11, 2001. It did not take long for people to emphasize the importance of security, and how to address risk on a large scale. Companies like Applied Digital Solutions [11], and later VeriChip Corporation [12] and Positive ID [13], described the potentiality of a unique ID being embedded in the right tricep. This was no myth. Applied Digital Solutions received U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for a personal health record identifier in 2004 [14]. The CEO of the VeriChip Corporation (and later PositiveID), Scott Silverman, pointed to the many benefits of such an implantable. He noted the possibility of such a device being tethered to an electronic bracelet being able to help first responders get out of hopeless situations, like a burning tower that was about to collapse. There were 2996 people killed and more than 6000 others wounded in the September 11 attacks. Silverman emphasized the potential for saving people who were incapacitated and could not tell first responders about their condition [15]. Situations could range from people having an allergy to penicillin, diabetics requiring insulin, or even wander alerts for those suffering from dementia. VeriChip was successful in some high profile chippings, such as New Mexico's Attorney General Rafael Macedo and some of his staff [16], in addition to the Baja Beach club chain in both Rotterdam and Barcelona [17], and later in the small number of voluntary employee chippings at Citywatcher.com [18].

Apart from my thesis in 2003 [19], numerous papers written by academics became available on the chipping phenomenon in 2004 [20], and 2005 [21], including a landmark monograph titled SpyChips [22] written by Dr. Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre. There were several attempts to chip Alzheimer's patients at aged care facilities in 2007, which did not go ahead en masse [23]. Christine Perakslis and the late Robert Wolk wrote pioneering papers on microchipping humans after the VeriChip was FDA approved [24]. In the same year, the EU Opinion N° 20 on “Ethical Aspects of ICT Implants in the Human Body” was published, written by The European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE) chaired by the Swedish philosopher, Göran Hermerén, and adopted on March 16, 2005 [25]. Among the Group were Professors Rafael Capurro and the late Stefano Rodotà.

For the greater part of the mid 2000s and later, we observed a growing number of biohackers who chose to dabble in “DIY” (do-it-yourself) implantable technology. The Tagged Forum was set up to accommodate fellow tinkerers at the beginning 2006, which became the “go” to” place for learning about how to tinker with RFID implants and what applications to build with them. The Forum soon attracted more attention than it cared for, and was targeted with posts proclaiming members were heralding in the “mark of the beast.” As a result, The Tagged went underground, so they could be left alone to continue tinkering. Building on cross-disciplinary study from as far back as the 1980s [26], MG Michael coined the term “uberveillence” in 2006 denoting embedded surveillance devices, while teaching at the University of Wollongong [27]. An entry on uberveillance later appeared in the Macquarie Dictionary in 2008 [28], proliferating quickly across the web including in The New York Times [29]. In that same year, Pawel Rotter et al. published their paper titled: “RFID implants: Opportunities and challenges for identifying people” in IEEE Technology and Society Magazine (vol. 27, no. 2).

In 2007 M.G. Michael interviewed Professor Kevin Warwick [30], and biomedical device expert Professor Christopher Toumazou, Director of the Biomedical Institute at Imperial College London [31]. Among the popular implantees of that time were Amal Graafstra, Jonathan Oxer and Mikey Skylar. Graafstra was the author of RFID Toys, and was featured in an IEEE Spectrum issue in 2007 [32]. We invited him as a speaker to the IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society in 2010 [33] which was dedicated to implantables, and co-wrote a paper on implants published in the Proceedings of the conference [34]. An excellent debate on the future of microchipping people using RFID was chaired at ISTAS'10 by William A. Herbert [45]. Months prior to ISTAS'10, I interviewed both the IT Manager responsible for creating the e-payment application at Baja Beach Club [35], and the consultant to Citywatcher.com [36]. These primary interviews formed key foundations into the larger inquiry. By 2009 [37] and 2014 [38], Michael and Michael had authored and co-edited large reference volumes on the social implications of chip implants and dozens of peer reviewed research papers with colleagues and students at UOW (e.g., [39]). In between these two studies, Dr. Mark Gasson had also co-edited and excellent Springer publication in 2012, on Human ICT Implants: Technical, Legal and Ethical Considerations [40]. He was the General Chair of ISTAS'10 at the University of Wollongong, and presented a paper on the potential for humans bearing implants to become infected with a computer virus [41]. At this time, it was clear that IEEE SSIT was drawing in specialists not just in cross-disciplinary fields, but also encouraging proponents of the technology to consider the sociotechnical implications.

In mid-August 2017, I returned from the outstanding IEEE Sections Congress 2017 that was hosted in the International Convention Center in Sydney. I cannot speak highly enough of this event. I presented as part of a panel chaired by SSIT Past President Greg Adamson on “Addressing Social Challenges to Technology” and spoke on the attention that non-medical implantables have received in recent times when compared with the previous decade. Out of the 50+ people present in the room only 4 people raised their hands when I asked the question “would anyone in this room get chipped” [42]? It is important to note that all of the people present were tech-savvy, many of them were entrepreneurs, working in industry or in academia. I contrasted this figure with the very unbelievable figures cited in The Australian that said a survey of 10 000 Pricewater-houseCoopers employees across major economies found 70 per cent would consider using “treatments to enhance their brain and body if this improved their employment prospects” [43]. I made the point that we need to challenge such “claims.” I also made the point that IEEE SSIT has been working in the emerging technology domain asking critical questions since its creation and has had much to do with the study of medical and non-medical embedded devices. That for us as SSIT members, speaking on emerging technologies is not new, and researching them using a plethora of approaches is something we are entirely comfortable with — legal, technical, societal, economic, etc. [44]. I urged people in the room to become members of SSIT, to bring their expertise to such urgent subject areas, to discuss the pros and cons, and add know-how where it was needed — e.g. spectrum, regulatory, health, business, etc. In the December 2017 issue of T&S Magazine, I will continue with a Part 2 to this editorial covering progress in the implantables domain since 2013 urging members to construct projects that will further interrogate the complexities of our technological trajectory.

We should remember and celebrate the contributions of our members and non-members to our Magazine, our annual conference and workshops, specific projects, and papers. Please search our corpus of outcomes on our upgraded web site which now contains a lot of free material, cite them in the future, and challenge people when they tell you that “x” or “y” is “brand new” or “has never been researched before.” It is a golden opportunity to connect people to SSIT, and bring in new expertise and volunteers to focus on our Five Pillars. We must know ourselves better, if we are to expect others to know who we are and what we stand for.

References

1. K. Michael, The future of government identifiers, Sydney, Australia:School of Computing and Mathematical Sciences, University of Technology, Nov. 1996.
2. R. Clarke, "Information technology and dataveillance", Commun. ACM, vol. 31, no. 5, pp. 498-512, 1988.
3. S. Davies, Big Brother: Australia's Growing Web of Surveillance, East Roseville, NSW:Simon & Schuster, 1992.
4. R. Tren, "Trends in the cards industry", Andersen Consulting, pp. 1-99, 1995.
5. E. Kac, "Event in which a microchip (identification transponder tag) was implanted in the artist's left ankle" in Time Capsule, São Paulo, Brazil:Casa das Rosas Cultural Center, 1997, [online] Available: http://www.ekac.org/timec.html.
6. K. Warwick, M. Gasson, B. Hutt et al., "The application of implant technology for cybernetic systems", Arch Neurol., vol. 60, no. 10, pp. 1369-1373, 2003.
7. K. Michael, E. Lawrence, J. Lawrence, S. Newton, S. Dann, B. Corbitt, T. Thanasankit, "The automatic identification trajectory" in Internet Commerce: Digital Models for Business, Australia:Wiley, pp. 131-134, 2002.
8. P. Cochrane, Tips for Time Travelers, McGraw-Hill, pp. 7-57, 1999.
9. About the lab, Auto-ID Labs, [online] Available: https://autoid.mit.edu/about-lab.
10. Kevin Warwick, Project Cyborg 2.0: The next step towards true Cyborgs?, [online] Available: http://www.kevinwarwick.com/project-cyborg-2-0/.
11. J. Lettice, "First people injected with ID chips sales drive kicks off", The Register, [online] Available: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2002/06/10/first_people_injected_with_id/.
12. K. Albrecht, "Implantable RFID chips: Human branding", CASPIAN, [online] Available: http://www.antichips.com/what-is-verichip.htm.
13. Positive ID, Wikipedia, [online] Available: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PositiveID.
14. Medical devices; general hospital and personal use devices; Classification of implantable radiofrequency transponder system for patient identification and health information, Department of Health and Human Services: FDA, [online] Available: https://www.fda.gov/ohrrns/dockets/98fr/04-27077.htm.
15. "Implantable personal verification systems", ADSX, [online] Available: http://www.adsx.com/prodservpart/verichip.html.
16. Mexican officials get chipped, Wired, [online] Available: https://www.wired.com/2004/07/mexican-officials-get-chipped/.
17. K. Michael, M.G. Michael, "The diffusion of RFID implants for access control and epayments: A case study on Baja Beach Club in Barcelona", Proc. IEEE Int. Symp. Technology and Society, pp. 242-252, 2010.
18. K. Michael, MG Michael, "The future prospects of embedded microchips in humans as unique identifiers: The risks versus the rewards", Media Culture and Society, vol. 35, no. 1, pp. 78-86, 2013.
19. K. Michael, The technological trajectory of the automatic identification industry: the application of the systems of innovation (SI) framework for the characterisation and prediction of the auto-ID industry, 2003.
20. K. Michael, MG Michael, "Microchipping people: The rise of the electrophorus", Quadrant, vol. 49, no. 3, pp. 22-33, Mar. 2005.
21. K. Michael, A. Masters, "Applications of human transponder implants in mobile commerce", Proc. 8th World Multiconterence on Systemics Cybernetics and Informatics, pp. 505-512, Jul. 2004.
 Show Context  
22. K. Albrecht, L. McIntyre, "Spychips: How major corporations and government plan to track your every purchase and watch your every move" in Nelson Current, Nashville, TN:, 2005.
23. "Alzheimer's patients lining up for microchip", ABC News, [online] Available: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/OnCall/story?id=3536539.
24. C. Perakslis, R. Wolk, "Social acceptance of RFID as a biometric security method", Proc. Int. Symp. Technology and Society, pp. 79-87, 2005.
25. Ethical aspects of ICT implants in the human body: Opinion presented to the Commission by the European Group on Ethics, [online] Available: europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-05-97_en.pdf.
26. M.G. Michael, "Demystifying the number of the beast in the Book of Revelation: Examples of ancient cryptology and the interpretation of the “666” conundrum", Proc. IEEE Int. Symp. Technology and Society, pp. 23-41, 2010.
27. M.G. Michael, "On the virth of Uberveillance", Uberveillance.com, [online] Available: http://uberveillance.com/blog/2012/2/15/on-the-blrth-of-uberveillance.html.
28. M.G. Michael, K. Michael, S. Butler, "Uberveillance" in Fifth Edition of the Macquarie Dictionary, Australia's National Dictionary, Sydney University, pp. 1094, 2009.
29. Schott's Vocab, Uberveillance, The New York Times, [online] Available: https://schott.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/04/uberveillance/.
30. M.G. Michael, Kevin Warwick, The Professor who has touched the future, Feb. 2007, [online] Available: http://www.katinamichael.com/interviews/2014/1/23/the-professor-who-has-touched-the-future.
31. M.G. Michael, Christofer Toumazou, The biomedical pioneer, Oct. 2006, [online] Available: http://www.katinamichael.com/interviews/2014/1/23/the-biomedical-pioneer.
32. A. Graafstra, "Hands on - How RFID and I got personal", IEEE Spectrum, [online] Available: http://spectrum.ieee.org/computing/hardware/hands-on.
33. A. Graafstra, Invited Presentation on RFID Implants IEEE ISTAS '10, [online] Available: https.//www.youtube.com/watch?v=kraWt1adY3k.
34. A. Graafstra, K. Michael, M.G. Michael, K. Michael, "Social-technical issues facing the humancentric RFID implantee sub-culture through the eyes of Amal Graafstra", Proc. IEEE Symp. on Technology and Society, pp. 498-516, 2010.
35. K. Michael, Serafin Vilaplana, The Baja Beach Club IT Manager;, [online] Available: http://www.katinamichael.com/interviews/2015/3/20/r8vw5tpv8rr9tieeg7kgvej2racs5v.
36. K. Michael, Gary Retherford, The microchip implant consultant, [online] Available: http://www.katinamichael.com/interviews/2015/3/20/gary-retherford-the-microchip-implant-consultant.
37. K. Michael, M.G. Michael, Innovative Automatic Identification and Location-Based Services: From Bar Codes to Chip Implants., Hershey, PA: IGI, 2009.
38. M.G. Michael, K. Michael, Uberveillance and the Social Implications of Microchip Implants: Emerging Technologies., Hershey, PA:IGI, 2013.
39. A. Friggieri, K. Michael, M.G. Michael, "The legal ramifications of micro-chipping people in the United States of America-A state legislative comparison", Proc. IEEE Int. Symp. Technology and Society, pp. 1-8, 2009.
40. M.N. Gasson, E. Kosta, D.M. Bowman, Human ICT Implants: Technical Legal and Ethical Considerations, The Hague, The Netherlands: Springer, 2012.
41. M.N. Gasson, "Human enhancement: Could you become infected with a computer virus?", Proc. IEEE Int. Symp. Technology and Society, pp. 61-68, 2010.
42. K. Michael, "The pros and cons of implantables", IEEE Sections Congress 2017, Aug. 2017, [online] Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2J3NqhVmWuc.
43. E. Hannan, S. Fox Koob, "Worker chip implants ‘only matter of time’", theaustralian com, Aug. 2017, [online] Available: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/technology/worker-chip-implants-only-matter-of-tlme/news-story/If9f9317cc84f365410a089566153f51.
44. Jeremy Pitt, This Pervasive Day: The Potential and Perils of Pervasive Computing, London, U.K.:World Scientific, 2012.
45. "The debate over microchipping people with ICT implants", IEEE ISTAS 2010 @ UOW - Panel Discussion YouTube, Mar. 2011, [online] Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dl3Rps-VFdo.

Keywords

implants, Radiofrequency identification, Mobile communication, National security, Surveillance, Integrated circuits

Citation: Katina Michael, 2017, "Go Get Chipped?: A Brief Overview of Non-Medical Implants between 1997-2013 (Part 1)", IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, 36(3), pp. 6-9.

The State-Society Relationship: Big Data's Big Future - But for Whom

When we ponder on the future, scenario-based planning is one of a number of approaches we can employ to consider the “what-might-be” possibilities. These are plausible scenarios that let us peer into the future, not with certainty of what will eventuate but with a spirit of consideration and preparedness.

Recently, Katina was invited to participate in Australia's Prime Minister & Cabinet series of workshops on the state-society relationship. A number of fundamental questions were posed at the workshops relating to futures. Some of these are highly pertinent to the thought-provoking Special Section guest edited in this issue by the studious Associate Editor Jeremy Pitt, Ada Diaconescu, and David Bollier, addressing matters of the digital society, big data, and social awareness. The questions included:

  1. What can governments use crowdsourcing for?
  2. How does government operate in a networked environment?
  3. Can Big Data help government solve problems?
  4. How will government respond to the empowered individual?
  5. How can governments effectively manage cities to meet the challenges of urbanization?
  6. How will the government communicate with its citizens given instant communications?

To some degree answering one of these questions provides insights into answers for others. For the purposes of this editorial, we'd rather ask:

  1. What can citizens use crowdsourcing for?
  2. How can companies effectively manage cities to meet the challenges of urbanization?

It should come as no surprise that in the last 12 months, T&S Magazine has published articles on a variety of themes relevant to the above-mentioned questions, relating to smart grids, smart homes, smart meters, energy monitoring, public technical means, public sector information, open government, big data, geosocial intelligence, the veillances (data-, sous- and uber-), future government, crowdsourcing, collective awareness, participatory government, and design science and development.

What binds all of these topical themes together is the emphasis on finite resources available to serve a growing highly mega-urbanized networked glocal population that places immense pressures on the natural environment. Take for example the Beijing-Shanghai corridor fueled with several megacities that are each suffering dire environmental problems. Scientists internationally have especially attempted to raise alarm bells as they report on increases in carbon emissions and air pollution, on rising sea levels (e.g., Jakarta), on changing weather patterns (El-Niño), on dying species of plants and wildlife, on the need for recycling and unacceptable means of waste disposal (especially e-waste), and on the fundamental necessity for clean drinking water.

There is no such thing as the “land of plenty.” Pristine artesian wells are being drilled as a last resort to supplying water to the impoverished. Oil reserves are fast depleting but stockpiles are in the hands of the accumulators. Rich minerals like coal and iron ore are being mined amidst a flurry of research activity into affordable renewable energy sources. Categorically our present actions will have a direct impact on our livelihoods (economic, health, social), and those of our children, and our children's children.

But we are living in the “upgrade generation” fueled by mass production, instantaneous consumption, and enough waste generation to land-fill entire new nations. The core question is whether technology can help solve some of the biggest problems facing our earth or whether the rhetoric that says using technology to correct economic externalities is a misnomer.

PetaJakarta.org team survey damage along the Ciliwung River using GeoSocial Rapid Assessment Survey Platform (#GRASP) via Twitter, as neighborhood children look on.

PetaJakarta.org team survey damage along the Ciliwung River using GeoSocial Rapid Assessment Survey Platform (#GRASP) via Twitter, as neighborhood children look on.

Let us ponder on the affirmative however. What role can big data play in civic infrastructure planning and development? Can citizens contribute data via crowdsourcing technologies to help service providers and government have better visibility of the problems on the ground?

For example, in the Chinese megacities that have emerged, capturing data that indicates where there is a pressing need for cleaner drinking water is imperative for the health and welfare of citizens. Doing this systematically might mean that citizens contribute this knowledge via a text message or through the use of social media, giving municipal and provincial governments and specific agencies in charge of waterways, such as environmental protection authorities, an ability to better plan and respond in a timely manner.

Similarly, if we can monitor zones prone to flooding that affect tens of millions of people, we might be able to lessen the burden on these citizens by informing civil infrastructure planners in the government to respond to the underlying problems perpetuating the flooding during monsoon season. Refer here to the work of Etienne Turpin and Tomas Holderness of the SMART Infrastructure Facility www.petajakarta.org. Here citizens send a text message using Twitter, some with location information and others with photographs attached, allowing partner organizations such as NGOs to get a complete picture of trends and patterns at a dwelling level, and collectively assess areas of major concern affected by banjir (i.e., floods). Is it possible to use this data to drive change?

Socio-technical systems in their purest form are there to fulfill user-centered aims, and not to act against an individual's freedom and human rights. Will we be able to convert the present senseless surveillance fueled by mega-companies and governments to a net-neutral opt-in detection and alert system toward access for basic needs and longer term sustainability for communities far and wide? At what point will citizens be able to donate their mobile and Internet and general utilities data without the risk of potential harm to themselves and their families? Or are we blindly being led down a utopian scenario that will ultimately be used to control or manipulate the masses even further?

Additionally, what will be the repercussions on private enterprise? To date utility companies have been taking advantage of their own inability to offer services that run on efficient energy redistribution to their subscribers. Of course it has never been in their best interest to “rob from the rich to feed the poor,” precisely because by offering this kind of redistribution, utilities companies would negatively be impacting on their bottom line. What will all this big-data achieve? An ever-greater ability to scrutinize the subscriber, based on smart meter data, in order to generate even more revenues for private companies who have taken on once government-based responsibilities.

We must not be myopic – big data can be used for us or against us. This issue presents the positive value of “collective action,” a fundamental ability to commandeer resources together, often self-organized, toward the benefit of our community at large. This is not a new phenomenon but with the aid of technology, both data collection and analysis have become possible at granular levels of detail. It is up to us to anticipate the risks associated with such engineering design principles, and introduce safeguards that will make such an approach work.

Citation: Katina Michael, Xi Chen, 2014, "The State-Society Relationship: Big Data's Big Future - But for Whom", IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, Volume: 33, Issue: 3, Fall 2014, pp. 7-8. DOI: 10.1109/MTS.2014.2349572

Converging and coexisting systems towards smart surveillance

Automatic identification technologies, CCTV cameras, pervasive and mobile networks, wearable computing, location-based services and social networks have traditionally served distinct purposes. However, we have observed patterns of integration, convergence and coexistence among all these innovations within the information and communication technology industry.

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The Microchipping of People and the Uberveillance Trajectory

First came i-mode and then the iBook. Next the iPod, iPhone and iPad. Is it only a matter of time before we see the iPlant suddenly make its debut onto the global market? This is a real possibility for your future: a subdermal microchip implant that will potentially give you ubiquitous connexity- always on, always with you, 24x7x365.

The term “uberveillance”, coined by MG Michael in 2005, is defined in the Macquarie Dictionary as an omnipresent electronic surveillance facilitated by technology that makes it possible to embed surveillance devices in the human body. In that same year, the Parliament of Australia’s Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs published: "The Real Big Brother: Inquiry into the Privacy Act 1988”. Chapter three on “emerging technologies” addresses the role that microchip implants in humans could play in the future.

The idea of implanting technology into people is not new. The first implantable cardiac pacemaker was created in 1958. Since then, we have seen the introduction of the cochlear implant to help the deaf to hear and the brain pacemaker to aid those suffering with epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, major depression and other diseases.

However, human implant technology is getting cheaper, easier to access and looks increasingly like it is going to be part of your everyday future life.

So-called “do-it-yourselfer implantees”, like Jonathan Oxer of Melbourne and Joe Wooller of Perth, have had implants inserted their bodies using a short procedure and is similar to getting one’s cat or dog chipped.  Oxer modified his house so that his self-inserted implant would act as an automatic key.  Wooller can open the doors to his house, car and motorbike with a swipe of his hand.

The microchip implant, most commonly a passive radio-frequency identification (RFID) tag, carries a unique pin that identifies the chip.  How does this let you open a door?. An antenna in close proximity to the chip triggers the RFID tag embedded in the body and the unique ID is transmitted to a reader, which is programmed to grant access to the person transmitting that ID (but may also do so for a potential hacker).

Opening doors using a unique RFID tag is elementary when compared to the role that microchip implants play in brain pacemakers. But the potential for implanting citizens with microchip technology has been considered to be beneficial on several fronts. Proponents of microchipping people often state that implants would signal the end of credit card fraud, losing your keys, kidnapping, even a partial solution to reducing carbon emissions. The most popular argument is often connected to national security. This is despite the reality that RFID is the most insecure ID technology in the market. The loss of privacy in any of these or other contexts is an issue which needs to continually be addressed.

Microchips are set to bring new life to a whole gambit of control applications. It was only a few months ago that wearable GPS monitoring devices were embraced by the Queensland State Government for use by paedophiles and sufferers of mental illness. Australian cricketers have been using body wearable technologies to record their match fitness levels and productivity since 2006. We are now talking about the mainstream commercialisation of such technology solutions, along with a movement from wearable to implant technology.  Microchips will provide us with the ability to locate, track and monitor people and provide data such as longitude and latitude coordinates of an individual down to a metre, as well as their speed, distance, time stamps, altitude, direction, temperature, heart rate, pulse rate and other physiological measures.

RFID implants for humans are now clearly on the political agenda. Recently, South Australia’s Police Commissioner Mal Hyde stated that there were quite a few different groups of people he’d like to see microchipped.  And Sunshine Coast MP Peter Wellington was widely cited as saying that he would like to see child sex offenders microchipped.

The question is how long it will take for integrated solutions based on microchip implants to surface in everyday applications and how the law will deal with the continued rise of new and disruptive technologies which have the capacity to change just about everything. The problem is that, in many instances, legislation will offer few permanent or secure solutions, leaving the question open to the broad spectrum of ethics and debates involving moral judgments.

Citation: An adapted version of this piece was published as follows: Katina Michael, September 12, 2011, "The Microchipping of People and the Uberveillance Trajectory", The Social Interface, http://socialinterface.blogspot.com.au/2011/08/microchipping-of-people-and.html

Predicting the socioethical implications of implanting people with microchips

Privacy, security, trust, control and human rights are all concerns that need to be addressed before widespread diffusion of advanced identification technologies. Implants for humans are not new... Today we have even realised the potential for microchip implants to be embedded inside the human body for the purpose of acting as unique lifetime identifiers (ULIs).

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