Perceived barriers for implanting microchips in humans


This quantitative, descriptive study investigated if there was a relationship between countries of residence of small business owners (N = 453) within four countries (Australia, India, UK, and the USA) with respect to perceived barriers to RFID (radio frequency identification) transponders being implanted into humans for employee ID. Participants were asked what they believed were the greatest barriers in instituting chip implants for access control in organizations. Participants had six options from which to select. There were significant chi-square analyses reported relative to respondents' countries and: 1) a perceived barrier of technological issues (X2= 11.86, df = 3, p = .008); 2) a perceived barrier of philosophical issues (right of control over one's body) (X2= 31.21, df = 3, p = .000); and 3) a perceived barrier of health issues (unknown risks related to implants) (X2= 10.88, df = 3, p = .012). There were no significant chi-square analyses reported with respect to countries of residence and: 1) religious issues (mark of the beast), 2) social issues (digital divide), and 3) cultural issues (incisions into the skin are taboo). Thus, the researchers concluded that there were relationships between the respondents' countries and the perception of barriers in institutional microchips.

SECTION I. Introduction

The purpose of this study was to investigate if there were relationships between countries of residence (Australia, India, UK, and the USA) of small business owners  and perceived barriers of instituting RFID (radio frequency identification) transponders implanted into the human body for identification and access control purposes in organizations [1]. Participants were asked what they believed were the greatest barriers in instituting chip implants for access control in organizations [2]. Participants had six options from which to select all that apply, as well as an option to specify other barriers [3]. The options for perceived barriers included:

  • technological issues-RFID is inherently an insecure technology
  • social issues-there will be a digital divide between those with employees with implants for identification and those that have legacy electronic identification
  • cultural issues-incisions into the skin are taboo
  • religious issues-mark of the beast
  • philosophical issues-right of control over one's body
  • health issues-there are unknown risks related to implants that are in the body over the long term
  • other issues.

There were significant chi-square analyses reported relative to respondents' countries and: 1) the perceived barrier of technological issues; 2) the perceived barrier of philosophical issues (right of control over one's body); and 3) the perceived barrier of health issues (unknown risks related to implants). There were no significant chi-square analyses reported with respect to countries and religious issues (mark of the beast), social issues (digital divide), and cultural issues (incisions into the skin are taboo).

RFID implants are capable of omnipresent electronic surveillance. RFID tags or transponders can be implanted into the human body to track the who, what, where, when, and how of human life [4]. This act of embedding devices into human beings for surveillance purposes is known as uberveillance [5]. While the tiny embedded RFID chips do not have global positioning capabilities, an RFID reader (fixed or mobile) can capture time stamps, exit and entry sequences to denote when someone is coming or going, which direction they are travelling in, and then make inferences on time, location, distance. and speed.

In this paper, the authors present a brief review of the literature, key findings from the study, and a discussion on possible implications of the findings. Professionals working in the field of emerging technologies could use these findings to better understand how countries of residence may affect perceptions of barriers in instituting chip implants in humans.

SECTION II. Review of Literature

A. Implants and Social Acceptance

In 2004, the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) of the United States approved an implantable chip for use in humans in the U.S [6]. The implanted chip was and is being marketed by a variety of commercial enterprises as a potential method to detect and treat diseases, as well as a potential lifesaving device. If a person was brought to an emergency room unconscious, a scanner in the hospital doorway could read the person's unique ID on the implanted chip. The ID would then be used to unlock the personal health records (PHR) of the patient from a database [7]. Authorized health professionals would then have access to all pertinent medical information of that individual (i.e. medical history, previous surgeries, allergies, heart condition, blood type, diabetes) to care for the patient aptly. Additionally, the chip is being touted as a solution to kidnappings in Mexico (e.g. by the Xega Company), among many other uses [8].

B. Schools: RFID Tracking

A rural elementary school in California planned to implement RFID-tagged ID cards for school children, however the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) fought successfully to revoke the program. Veritable risks were articulated by the ACLU including identity theft, or kidnapping if the system was hacked and resulted in a perpetrator being able to access locations of schoolchildren.

However, with school districts looking to offset cuts in state funding which are partly based on attendance figures, RFID technology provides a method to count students more accurately. Added to increased revenues, administrators are facing the reality of increasing security issues; thus more school districts are adopting RFID to track students to improve safety. For many years in Tokyo, students have worn mandatory RFID bracelets; they are tracked not only in the school, but also to and from school [9] [10]. In other examples, bags are fitted with GPS units.

In 2012, the Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas began a pilot program to track 6.2% of its 100,000 students through RFID tagged ID-cards. Northside was not the first district in Texas; two other school districts in Houston successfully use the technology with reported gains in hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue due to improved attendance. The school board unanimously approved the program, but not after first debating privacy issues. Chip readers on campuses and on school buses will detect a student's location and authorized administrators will have access to the information. At a cost of 525,000 to launch the pilot program and approximately 1.7 million in the first year due to higher attendance figures, as well as Medicaid reimbursements for the busing of special education students. However, students could forget or lose the cards which would negatively affect the system [3]. One of Northside's sophomore students, Andrea Hernandez, refused to wear the RFID tag round her neck based on religious reasons. Initially, the school expelled her but when the case went to court, she was reinstated, a judge ruling her constitutional rights had been violated [11].

C. Medical Devices: RFID Implants

Recent technological developments are reaching new levels with the integration of silicon and biology; implanted devices can now interact directly with the brain [12]. Implantable devices for medical purposes are often highly beneficial to restore functions that were lost. Such current medical implants include cardiovascular pacers, cochlear and brainstem implants for patients with hearing disorders, implantable drug delivery pumps, implantable neurostimulation devices for such patients as those with urinary incontinence, chronic pain, or epilepsy, deep brain stimulation for patients with Parkinson's, and artificial chip-controlled legs [13].

D. RFID in India

Although India has been identified as a significant prospective market for RFID due to issues with the supply chain and a need for transparency, some contend that the slow adoption of RFID solutions can be tracked to unskilled RFID solution providers. Inexperienced systems integrators and vendors are believed to account for failed trials, leaving companies disillusioned with the technology, and subsequently abandoning solutions and declaiming its benefits loudly and publicly. A secondary technological threat to RFID adoption is believed to be related to price competitiveness in India. In such a price-sensitive environment, RFID players are known to quote the lowest costs per tag, thereby using inferior hardware. Thus, customers perceive RFID to be inconsistent and unreliable for use in the business setting [14]. The compulsory biometrics roll out, instituted by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) is in direct contrast to the experience of RFID (fig. 1)

Fig. 1. Taking fingerprints for Aadhaar, a 12-digit unique number has been issued for all residents in india. The number will be stored in a centralized database and linked to basic demographic and biometric information. The system institutes multimodal biometrics. Creative commons: fotokannan.

Fig. 1. Taking fingerprints for Aadhaar, a 12-digit unique number has been issued for all residents in india. The number will be stored in a centralized database and linked to basic demographic and biometric information. The system institutes multimodal biometrics. Creative commons: fotokannan.

E. RFID in Libraries

In 2010, researchers reported that many corporate libraries had begun deploying RFID. RFID tags are placed into books and other media and used in libraries for such purposes as to automate stock verification, to locate misplaced items, to check in/check out patrons without human interaction, and to detect theft. In India, several deployment and implementation issues were identified and they are: consumer privacy issues/ethical concerns, costs, lack of standards and regulations in India (e.g. data ownership, data collection limitations), user confusion (e.g. lack of training and experience with the technology), and the immaturity of the technology (e.g. lack of accuracy, scalability, etc.) [15].

F. RFID and OEMS/Auto Component Manufacturers

In India, suppliers are not forced to conform to stringent regulations like those that exist in other countries. In example, the TREAD Act in the U.S. provided the impetus for OEMs to invest in track and trace solutions; failure to comply with the regulations can carry a maximum fine in the amount of $15 million and a criminal penalty of up to 15 years. Indian suppliers are not only free from such regulations of compliance, but also cost conscious with low volumes of high value cars. It is believed that the cost of RFID solutions is not yet justified in the Indian market [16].

G. Correctional Facilities: RFID Tracking

A researcher studied a correctional facility in Cleveland, Ohio to evaluate the impact of RFID technology to deter such misconduct as sexual assaults. The technology was considered because of its value in confirming inmate counts and perimeter controls. In addition, corrections officers can utilize such technology to check inmate locations against predetermined schedules, to detect if rival gang members are in close proximity, to classify and track proximity of former intimate partners, single out those inmates with food allergies or health issues, and even identify if inmates who may attempt to move through the cafeteria line twice [17].

The results of the study indicated that RFID did not deter inmate misconduct, although the researchers articulated many issues that affected the results. Significant technological challenges abounded for the correctional facility as RFID tracking was implemented and included system inoperability, signal interference (e.g. “blind spots” where bracelets could not be detected), and transmission problems [18] [17].

H. Social Concerns

Social concerns plague epidermal electronics for nonmedical purposes [19]. In the United States, many states have crafted legislation to balance the potential benefits of RFID technology with the disadvantages associated with privacy and security concerns [20]. California, Georgia, Missouri, North Dakota, and Wisconsin are among states in the U.S. which have passed legislation to prohibit forced implantation of RFID in humans [21]. The “Microchip Consent Act of 2010”, which became effective on July 1, 2010 in the state of Georgia, not only stated that no person shall be required to be implanted with a microchip (regardless of a state of emergency), but also that voluntary implantation of any microchip may only be performed by a physician under the authority of the Georgia Composite Medical Board.

Through the work of Rodata and Capurro in 2005, the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies to the European Commission, examined the ethical questions arising from science and new technologies. The role of the opinion was to raise awareness concerning the dilemmas created by both medical and non-medical implants in humans which affect the intimate relation between bodily and psychic functions basic to our personal identity [22]. The opinion stated that Information and Communications Technology implants, should not be used to manipulate mental functions or to change a personal identity. Additionally, the opinion stated that principles of data protection must be applied to protect personal data embedded in implants [23]. The implants were identified in the opinion as a threat to human dignity when used for surveillance purposes, although the opinion stated that this might be justifiable for security and/or safety reasons [24].

I. Increased Levels of Willingness to Adopt: 2005–2010

Researchers continue to investigate social acceptance of the implantation of this technology into human bodies. In 2006, researchers reported higher levels of acceptance of the implantation of a chip within their bodies, when college students perceived benefits from this technology [25]. Utilizing the same questions posed in 2005 to college students attending both private and public institutions of higher education by the aforementioned researchers, the researchers once again in 2010 investigated levels of willingness to implant RFID chips to understand if there were shifts in levels of willingness of college students to implant RFID chips for various reasons [25] [26]. In both studies, students were asked: “How willing would you be to implant an RFID chip in your body as a method (to reduce identity theft, as a potential lifesaving device, to increase national security)?” A 5-point Likert-type scale was utilized varying from “Strongly Unwilling” to “Strongly Willing”. Comparisons of the 2005 results of the study to the results of the 2010 research revealed shifts in levels of willingness of college students. A shift was evident; levels of willingness moved from unwillingness toward either neutrality or willingness to implant a chip in the human body to reduce identity theft, as a potential lifesaving device, and to increase national security. Levels of unwillingness decreased for all aforementioned areas as follows [26]. Between 2005 and 2010, the unwillingness (“Strongly unwilling” and “Somewhat unwilling”) of college students to implant an RFID chip into their bodies decreased by 22.4% when considering RFID implants as method to reduce identity theft, decreased by 19.9% when considering RFID implants as a potential lifesaving device, and decreased by 16.3% when considering RFID implants to increase national security [26].

J. RFID Implant Study: German Tech Conference Delegates

A 2010 survey of individuals attending a technology conference conducted by BITKOM, a German information technology industry lobby group, reported 23% of 1000 respondents would be prepared to have a chip inserted under their skin for certain benefits; 72% of respondents, however, reported they would not allow implantation of a chip under any circumstances. Sixteen percent (16%) of respondents reported they would accept an implant to allow emergency services to rescue them more quickly in the event of a fire or accident [27].

K. Ask India: Are Implants a More Secure Technology?

Previously, researchers reported a significant chi-square analysis relative to countries of residence and perceptions of chip implants as a more secure technology for identification/access control in organizations. More than expected (46 vs. 19.8; adjusted residual = 7.5), participants from India responded “yes” to implants as a more secure technology. When compared against the other countries in the study, fewer residents from the UK responded “yes” than expected (9 vs. 19.8), and fewer residents from the USA responded “yes” than expected (11 vs. 20.9). In rank order, the countries contributing to this significant relationship were India, the UK and the USA; no such differences in opinion were found for respondents from Australia. [28].

Due to heightened security threats, there appears to be a surge in demand for security in India [29][30]. A progression of mass-casualty assaults that have been carried out by extremist Pakistani nationals against hotels and government buildings in India has brought more awareness to the potential threats against less secure establishments [30]. The government is working to institute security measures at the individual level with a form of national ID cards that will house key biometric data of the individual. In the local and regional settings, technological infrastructure is developing rapidly in metro and non-metro areas because of the increase of MNCs (multi-national corporations) now locating in India. Although the neighborhood “chowkiddaaar” (human guard/watchman) was previously a more popular security measure for localized security, advances in, and reliability and availability of, security technology is believed to be affecting the adoption of electronic access security as a replacement to the more traditional security measures [29] [30].

L. Prediction of Adoption of Technology

Many models have been developed and utilized to understand factors that affect the acceptance of technology such as: The Moguls Model of Computing by Ndubisi, Gupta, and Ndubisi in 2005, Diffusion of Innovation Theory by Rogers in 1983; Theory of Planned Behavior by Ajzen in 1991; The Model of PC Utilization attributed to Thompson, Higgins, and Howell in 1991, Protection Motivation Theory (PMT) by Rogers in 1985, and the Theory of Reasoned Action attributed to Fischbein & Ajzen in 1975, and with additional revisions by the same in 1980 [31].

Researchers in Berlin, Germany investigated consumers' reactions to RFID in retail. After viewing an introductory stimulus film about RFID services in retail, participants evaluated the technology and potential privacy mechanisms. Participants were asked to rate on a five point Likert-type scale (ranging from “not at all sensitive” to “extremely sensitive”) their attitudes toward privacy with such statements as: “Generally, I want to disclose the least amount of data about myself.” Or “To me it is irrelevant if somebody knows what I buy for my daily needs.” In the study, participants reported moderate privacy awareness  and interestingly, participants reported a moderate expectation that legal regulations will result in sufficient privacy protection . Results showed that the extent to which people view the protection of their privacy strongly influences how willing people will be to accept RFID in retail. Participants were aware of privacy problems with RFID-based services, however, if retailers articulate that they value the customers' privacy, participants appeared more likely to adopt the technology. Thus, privacy protection (and the communication of it) was found to be an essential element of RFID rollouts [32].

SECTION III. Methodology

This quantitative, descriptive study investigated if there were relationships between countries of residence with respect to perceived barriers of RFID chip implants in humans for identification and access control purposes in organizations. The survey took place between April 4, 2011 and April 18, 2011. It took an average of 10 minutes to complete each online survey. Participants, who are small business owners  within four countries including Australia , India , UK , and the USA , were asked “As a senior executive, what do you believe are the greatest barriers in instituting chip implants for access control in organizations?” Relative to gender, 51.9% of participants are male; 48.1% are female. The age of participants ranged from 18 to 71 years of age; the mean age was 44 and the median age was 45. Eighty percent of organizations surveyed had less than 5 employees. Table I shows the survey participant's industry sector.

Table I Senior executive's industry sector

Table I Senior executive's industry sector

The study employed one instrument that collected key data relative to the business profile, the currently utilized technologies for identification and access control at the organization, and the senior executives' perceptions of RFID implants in humans for identification and access control in organizations. Twenty-five percent of the small business owners that participated in the survey said they had electronic ID access to their premises. Twenty percent of small business owner employee ID cards came equipped with a photograph, and less than five percent stated they had a security breach in the 12 months preceding the study.

Descriptive statistics, including frequency counts and measures of central tendency, were run and chi-square analysis was conducted to examine if there were relationships between the respondents' countries and each of the perceived barriers in instituting microchips in humans.

SECTION IV. Findings

There was a significant relationship reported relative to respondents' countries for each of three of the six choices provided in the multi-chotomous question: “As a senior executive, what do you believe are the greatest barriers in instituting chip implants for access control in organizations?”

A. Barrier: Technological Issues

The significant chi-square analysis  indicated that there was a relationship between the respondents' countries and the perceived barrier of technological issues. Using the rule of identifying adjusted residuals greater than 2.0, examination of the adjusted residuals indicated that the relationship was created when more than expected participants from India selected “technological issues (RFID is inherently an insecure technology)” as a barrier in instituting chip implants (45 vs. 31.1; adjusted residual 3.4).

B. Barrier: Philosophical Issues

The second significant chi-square analysis , df = 3,  indicated that there was a relationship between the respondents' countries and the perceived barrier of philosophical issues (right of control over one's body). An examination of the adjusted residuals indicated that the relationship was mostly created when fewer than expected participants from India selected philosophical issues as a barrier in instituting chip implants (37 vs. 61.3; adjusted residual 5.3). In addition, more residents from Australia than expected (78 vs. 62.9; adjusted residual 3.3) selected philosophical issues as a barrier. In rank order, the countries contributing to this significant relationship were India, followed by Australia; no such differences in opinion were found for respondents from UK and the USA.

C. Barrier: Health Issues

The third significant chi-square analysis  indicated there was a relationship between the respondents' countries and the perceived barrier of health issues (unknown risks related to implants). An examination of the adjusted residuals indicated that the relationship was mostly created when more than expected residents of India selected health issues as a barrier in instituting chip implants (57 vs. 43.3; adjusted residual 3.1). In addition, fewer residents from America than expected (36 vs. 45.7; adjusted residual 2.1) selected health issues as a barrier. In rank order, the countries contributing to this significant relationship were India, followed by the USA; no such differences in opinion were found for respondents from Australia and the UK.

D. Barrier: Social Issues, Religious Issues, and Cultural Issues

There were no significant chi-square analyses reported with respect to respondents' countries and social issues (digital divide), religious issues (mark of the beast), and cultural issues (incisions into the skin are taboo). Thus, in this study the researchers concluded no such differences in opinion were found for respondents' countries of residence and the barriers of social issues, religious issues, and cultural issues.

E. Statistical Summary

When asked whether or not, radiofrequency identification (RFID) transponders surgically implanted beneath the skin of an employee would be a more secure technology for instituting employee identification in the organization, only eighteen percent believed so. When asked subsequently about their opinion on how many staff in their organization would opt for an employee ID chip implant instead of the current technology if it were available, it was stated that eighty percent would not opt in. These figures are consistent with an in depth interview conducted with consultant Gary Retherford who was responsible for the first small business adoption of RFID implants for access control at in 2006 [33]–[34][35] In terms of the perceived barriers to instituting an RFID implant for access control in organizations, senior executives stated the following (in order of greatest to least barriers): 61% said health issues, 55% said philosophical issues, 43% said social issues; 36% said cultural issues; 31% said religious issues, and 28% said technological issues.

F. Open-Ended Question

When senior executives were asked if they themselves would adopt an RFID transponder surgically implanted beneath the skin the responses were summarized into three categories-no, unsure, and yes [36]. We present a representative list of these responses below with a future study focused on providing in depth qualitative content analysis.

1) No, I Would Not Get an RFID Implant

“No way would I. Animals are microchipped, not humans.”

“Absurd and unnecessary.”

“I absolutely would not have any such device implanted.”

“Hate it and object strongly.”

“No way.”h

“No thanks.”


“Absolutely creepy and unnecessary.”

“Would not consider it.”

“I would leave the job.”

“I don't like the idea one bit. The idea is abhorrent. It is invasive both physically and psychologically. I would never endorse it.”

“Would never have it done.”

“Disagree invading my body's privacy.”

“Absolutely vehemently opposed.”

“This proposal is a total violation of human rights.”

“Yeah right!! and get sent straight to hell! not this little black duck!”

“I do not believe you should put things in your body that God did not supply you with …”

“I wouldn't permit it. This is a disgraceful suggestion. The company does not OWN the employees. Slavery was abolished in developed countries more than 100 years ago. How dare you even suggest such a thing. You should be ashamed.”

“I would sooner stick pins in my eyeballs.”

“It's just !@;#%^-Nazi's???”

2) I am Unsure about Getting an RFID Implant

“A bit overkill for identification purposes.”


“Maybe there is an issue with OH&S and personal privacy concern.”


“Only if I was paid enough to do this, $100000 minimum.”

“Unsure, seems very robotic.”

“I'm not against this type of device but I would not use it simply for business security.”

“A little skeptical.”

“A little apprehensive about it.”

3) Yes, I would Get an RFID Implant

“Ok, but I would be afraid that it could be used by”

“outside world, say police.”


“It is a smart idea.”

“It would not be a problem for me, but I own the business so no philosophical issues for me.”

“I'd think it was pretty damn cool.”

SECTION V. Discussion: Perceived Barriers

A. Barrier: Technological Issues

The literature revealed many technological barriers for non-implantable chips; this study suggests this same barrier is also perceived for implantable chips and is likely to be related [37]. More than expected, Indian participants in this study selected technological issues (RFID is inherently an insecure technology) as a barrier in instituting chip implants for access control; no such differences of opinion were found for the other countries in the study. However, the literature revealed in other analyses, that more than expected Indian participants, answered “yes” when asked if implants are a more secure technology for instituting identification/access control in an organization. The findings appear to suggest that although Indian participants perceive RFID implants as a more secure technology when compared with other such methods as manual methods, paper-based, smartcards, or biometric/RFID cards, participants are likely to view this technology as undeveloped and still too emergent. Further research is needed to substantiate this conclusion, although a review of the literature revealed that RFID solution providers are already in abundance in India, with many new companies launching and at a rapid pace. Without standards and regulations, providers are unskilled and uneducated in the technology, providing solutions that often do not prove successful in implementation. Customers then deem the technology as inconsistent and ineffective in its current state. In addition, RFID players undercut each other, providing cheap pricing for cheap, underperforming hardware. Therefore, the preliminary conclusion of the researchers is that adoption of implants in India is likely to be inhibited not only now, but well into the future if the implementations of non-implantable RFID solutions continue to misrepresent the capabilities of the technology. It is likely that far afield to accepting implantable chips, individuals in India would need to be assured of consistency and effectiveness for RFID chip use in non-human applications.

B. Barrier: Philosophical Issues

Fewer than expected Indian participants selected philosophical issues (right of control over one's body) as a barrier; and more than expected, Australian participants selected this as a barrier. The researchers concluded that this is fertile ground for future research [38]. The deep cultural assumptions of each country are likely to influence participants' responses. In example, although Indian philosophies vary, many emphasize the continuity of the soul or spirit, rather than the temporary state of the flesh (the body). Further research would inform these findings through an exploration as to how and why participants in India versus participants in Australia perceive their own right of control over one's body.

C. Barrier: Health Issues

More than expected Indian participants selected health issues (unknown risks related to implants) as a barrier in instituting implants; and, fewer than expected American participants selected this as a barrier. The researchers conclude that these results may be a result of the perceived successes with the current usage of the technology. The literature revealed participants from India are experiencing poor implementations of the technology. Conversely, Americans are increasingly exposed to the use of surgically implanted chips in pets (often with no choice if the pet is adopted from a shelter) and with little or no health issues faced [39]. In addition, segments of the healthcare industry are advocating for RFID for use in the supply chain (e.g. blood supply) with much success. To inform these findings, further research is needed to explore how participants from each country describe the unknown risks related to implants.

SECTION VI. Conclusion

In conclusion, the authors recognize there are significant social implications relative to implanting chips in humans. Although voluntary chipping has been embraced by certain individuals, the chipping of humans is rare and remains mostly a topic of discussion and debate into the future. Privacy and security issues abound and are not to be minimized. However, in the future, we may see an increased demand for, and acceptance of, chipping, especially as the global environment intensifies. When considering the increase in natural disasters over the past two years, the rising tensions between nations such as those faced by India with terrorism by extremists from neighboring countries, and the recent contingency plans to enact border controls to mitigate refugees fleeing failing countries in the Eurozone, the tracking of humans may once again come to the forefront as it did post 9–11 when rescuers raced against the clock to locate survivors in the rubble.

India is of particular interest in this study; participants from this country contributed most in many of the analyses. India is categorized as a developing country (or newly industrialized country) and the second most populous country in the world. The government of India is already utilizing national identification cards housing biometrics, although the rollout has been delayed as officials work to solve issues around cards that can be stolen or misplaced, as well as how to prevent use fraudulently after the cardholder's death. Technological infrastructure is improving in even the more remote regions in India as MNCs (multi-national corporations) are locating business divisions in the country. The findings, set against the backdrop of the literature review, bring to light what seems to be an environment of people more than expected (statistically) open to (and possibly ready for) the technology of implants when compared with developed countries. However ill-informed RFID players in India are selling a low quality product. There appears to be lack of standards and insufficient knowledge of the technology with those who should know the most about the technology. Further research is necessary to not only understand the Indian perspective, but also to better understand the environment now and into the future.


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27. A. Donoghue. (2010, March 2, 2010). CeBIT: Quarter Of Germans Happy To Have Chip Implants. Available:

28. R. Achille, et al., "Ethical Issues to consider for Microchip Implants in Humans, " Ethics in Biology, Engineering and Medicine vol. 3, pp. 77-91, 2012.

29. S. Das. (2009, May 1, 2012). Surveillance: Big Brothers Watching. Available: http://dqindia.ciol.commakesections.asp/09042401.asp

30. M. Krepon and N. Cohn. (2011, May 1, 2012). Crises in South Asia: Trends and Potential Consequences. Available:

31. C. Jung, Psychological types. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1923 (1971).

32. M. Rothensee and S. Spiekermann, "Between Extreme Rejection and Cautious Acceptance Consumers' Reactions to RFID-Based IS in Retail, " Science Computer Review, vol. 26, pp. 75-86, 2008.

33. K. Michael and M. G. Michael, "The Future Prospects of Embedded Microchips in Humans as Unique Identifiers: The Risks versus the Rewards, " Media, Culture &Society, vol. 35, pp. 78-86, 2013.

34. WND. (October 2, 2006, May 13, 2014). Employees Get Microchip Implants. Available:

35. K. Michael, ", " in Uberveillance and the Social Implications of Microchip Implants, M. G. Michael and K. Michael, Eds., ed Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2014, pp. 133-143.

36. K. Michael, et al., "Microchip Implants for Employees in the Workplace: Findings from a Multi-Country Survey of Small Business Owners, " presented at the Surveillance and/in Everyday Life: Monitoring Pasts, Presents and Futures, University of Sydney, NSW, 2012.

37. M. N. Gasson, et al., "Human ICT Implants: Technical, Legal and Ethical Considerations, " in Information Technology and Law Series vol. 23, ed: Springer, 2012, p. 184.

38. S. O. Hansson, "Implant ethics, " Journal of Med Ethics, vol. 31, pp. 519-525, 2005.

39. K. Albrecht, "Microchip-induced tumours in laboratory rodents and dogs: A review of literature, " in Uberveillance and the Social Implications of Microchip Implants, M. G. Michael and K. Michael, Eds., ed Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2014, pp. 281-318.

Keywords: Radiofrequency identification, Implants, Educational institutions, Organizations, Access control, Australia, transponders, authorisation, microprocessor chips, organisational aspects, radiofrequency identification, institutional microchips, perceived barriers, microchips implant, transnational study, small business owners, RFID transponders, radio frequency identification transponders, employee ID, chip implants,access control, organizations, chi-square analysis, technological issues, philosophical issues, health issues, religious issues, social issues, digital divide, cultural issues, USA, RFID, radio frequency identification, implants, microchips, uberveillance, barriers, access control, employee identification, security, small business, Australia, India, UK

Citation: Christine Perakslis, Katina Michael, M. G. Michael, Robert Gable, "Perceived barriers for implanting microchips in humans", 2014 IEEE Conference on Norbert Wiener in the 21st Century (21CW), Date of Conference: 24-26 June 2014, Date Added to IEEE Xplore: 08 September 2014. DOI: 10.1109/NORBERT.2014.6893929

Social Implications of Technology: The Past, the Present, and the Future


The social implications of a wide variety of technologies are the subject matter of the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology (SSIT). This paper reviews the SSIT's contributions since the Society's founding in 1982, and surveys the outlook for certain key technologies that may have significant social impacts in the future. Military and security technologies, always of significant interest to SSIT, may become more autonomous with less human intervention, and this may have both good and bad consequences. We examine some current trends such as mobile, wearable, and pervasive computing, and find both dangers and opportunities in these trends. We foresee major social implications in the increasing variety and sophistication of implant technologies, leading to cyborgs and human-machine hybrids. The possibility that the human mind may be simulated in and transferred to hardware may lead to a transhumanist future in which humanity redesigns itself: technology would become society.

SECTION I. Introduction

“Scientists think; engineers make.” Engineering is fundamentally an activity, as opposed to an intellectual discipline. The goal of science and philosophy is to know; the goal of engineering is to do something good or useful. But even in that bare-bones description of engineering, the words “good” and “useful” have philosophical implications.

Because modern science itself has existed for only 400 years or so, the discipline of engineering in the sense of applying scientific knowledge and principles to the satisfaction of human needs and desires is only about two centuries old. But for such a historically young activity, engineering has probably done more than any other single human development to change the face of the material world.

It took until the mid-20th century for engineers to develop the kind of self-awareness that leads to thinking about engineering and technology as they relate to society. Until about 1900, most engineers felt comfortable in a “chain-of-command” structure in which the boss—whether it be a military commander, a corporation, or a wealthy individual—issued orders that were to be carried out to the best of the engineer's technical ability. Fulfillment of duty was all that was expected. But as the range and depth of technological achievements grew, engineers, philosophers, and the public began to realize that we had all better take some time and effort to think about the social implications of technology. That is the purpose of the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology (SSIT): to provide a forum for discussion of the deeper questions about the history, connections, and future trends of engineering, technology, and society.

This paper is not focused on the history or future of any particular technology as such, though we will address several technological issues in depth. Instead, we will review the significant contributions of SSIT to the ongoing worldwide discussion of technology and society, and how technological developments have given rise to ethical, political, and social issues of critical importance to the future. SSIT is the one society in IEEE where engineers and allied professionals are encouraged to be introspective—to think about what they are doing, why they are doing it, and what effects their actions will have. We believe the unique perspective of SSIT enables us to make a valuable contribution to the panoply of ideas presented in this Centennial Special Issue of the Proceedings of the IEEE.



A. Brief History of SSIT

SSIT as a technical society in IEEE was founded in 1982, after a decade as the Committee on Social Responsibility in Engineering (CSRE). In 1991, SSIT held its first International Symposium on Technology and Society (ISTAS), in Toronto, ON, Canada. Beginning in 1996, the Symposium has been held annually, with venues intentionally located outside the continental United States every few years in order to increase international participation.

SSIT total membership was 1705 as of December 2011. Possibly because SSIT does not focus exclusively on a particular technical discipline, it is rare that SSIT membership is a member's primary connection to IEEE. As SSIT's parent organization seeks ways to increase its usefulness and relevance to the rapidly changing engineering world of the 21st century, SSIT will both chronicle and participate in the changes taking place both in engineering and in society as a whole. for a more detailed history of the first 25 years of SSIT, see [1].

B. Approaches to the Social Implications of Technology

In the historical article referred to above [1], former SSIT president Clint Andrews remarked that there are two distinct intellectual approaches which one can take with regard to questions involving technology and society. The CSIT and the early SSIT followed what he calls the “critical science” approach which “tends to focus on the adverse effects of science and technical change.” Most IEEE societies are organized around a particular set of technologies. The underlying assumption of many in these societies is that these particular technologies are beneficial, and that the central issues to be addressed are technical, e.g., having to do with making the technologies better, faster, and cheaper. Andrews viewed this second “technological optimism” trend as somewhat neglected by SSIT in the past, and expressed the hope that a more balanced approach might attract a larger audience to the organization's publications and activities. It is important to note, however, that from the very beginning, SSIT has called for a greater emphasis on the development of beneficial technology such as environmentally benign energy sources and more efficient electrical devices.

In considering technology in its wider context, issues that are unquestionable in a purely technical forum may become open to question. Technique A may be more efficient and a fraction of the cost of technique B in storing data with similar security provisions, but what if a managed offshore shared storage solution is not the best thing to do under a given set of circumstances? The question of whether A or B is better technologically (and economically) is thus subsumed in the larger question of whether and why the entire technological project is going to benefit anyone, and who it may benefit, and who it may harm. The fact that opening up a discussion to wider questions sometimes leads to answers that cast doubt on the previously unquestioned goodness of a given enterprise is probably behind Andrews' perception that on balance, the issues joined by SSIT have predominantly fallen into the critical-science camp. Just as no one expects the dictates of conscience to be in complete agreement with one's instinctive desires, a person seeking unalloyed technological optimism in the pages or discussions hosted by SSIT will probably be disappointed. But the larger aim is to reach conclusions about technology and society that most of us will be thankful for some day, if not today. Another aim is to ensure that we bring issues to light and propose ways forward to safeguard against negative effects of technologies on society.

C. Major Topic Areas of SSIT

In this section, we will review some (but by no means all) topics that have become recurring themes over the years in SSIT's quarterly peer-reviewed publication, the IEEE Technology & Society Magazine. The articles cited are representative only in the sense that they fall into categories that have been dealt with in depth, and are not intended to be a “best of” list. These themes fall into four broad categories: 1) war, military technology (including nuclear weapons), and security issues, broadly defined; 2) energy technologies, policies and related issues: the environment, sustainable development, green technology, climate change, etc.; 3) computers and society, information and communications technologies (ICT), cybersystems, cyborgs, and information-driven technologies; and 4) groups of people who have historically been underprivileged, unempowered, or otherwise disadvantaged: Blacks, women, residents of developing nations, the handicapped, and so on. Education and healthcare also fit in the last category because the young and the ill are in a position of dependence on those in power.

1. Military and Security Issues

Concern about the Vietnam War was a strong motivation for most of the early members of the Committee for Social Responsibility in Engineering, the predecessor organization of SSIT. The problem of how and even whether engineers should be involved in the development or deployment of military technology has continued to appear in some form throughout the years, although the end of the Cold War changed the context of the discussion. This category goes beyond formal armed combat if one includes technologies that tend to exert state control or monitoring on the public, such as surveillance technologies and the violation of privacy by various technical means. In the first volume of the IEEE Technology & Society Magazine published in 1982, luminaries such as Adm. Bobby R. Inman (ret.) voiced their opinions about Cold War technology [2], and the future trend toward terrorism as a major player in international relations was foreshadowed by articles such as “Technology and terrorism: privatizing public violence,” published in 1991 [3]. Opinions voiced in the Magazine on nuclear technology ranged from Shanebrook's 1999 endorsement of a total global ban on nuclear weapons [4] to Andrews' thorough review of national responses to energy vulnerability, in which he pointed out that France has developed an apparently safe, productive, and economical nuclear-powered energy sector [5]. In 2009, a special section of five articles appeared on the topic of lethal robots and their implications for ethical use in war and peacekeeping operations [6]. And in 2010, the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) in espionage and surveillance was addressed in a special issue on “Überveillance,” defined by authors M.G. Michael and K. Michael as the use of electronic means to track and gather information on an individual, together with the “deliberate integration of an individual's personal data for the continuous tracking and monitoring of identity and location in real time” [7].

2. Energy and Related Technologies and Issues

from the earliest years of the Society, articles on energy topics such as alternative fuels appeared in the pages of the IEEE Technology & Society Magazine. A 1983 article on Brazil's then-novel effort to supplement imported oil with alcohol from sugarcane [8] presaged today's controversial U.S. federal mandate for the ethanol content in motor fuels. The Spring 1984 issue hosted a debate on nuclear power generation between H. M. Gueron, director of New York's Con Edison Nuclear Coal and Fuel Supply division at the time [9], and J. J. MacKenzie, a senior staff scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists [10]. Long before greenhouse gases became a household phrase and bandied about in debates between Presidential candidates, the Magazine published an article examining the need to increase the U.S.'s peak electrical generating capacity because the increase in average temperature due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide would increase the demand for air conditioning [11]. The larger implications of global warming apparently escaped the attention of the authors, focused as they were on the power-generating needs of the state of Minnesota. By 1990, the greenhouse effect was of sufficient concern to show up on the legislative agendas of a number of nations, and although Cruver attributed this to the “explosion of doomsday publicity,” he assessed the implications of such legislation for future energy and policy planning [12]. Several authors in a special issue on the social implications of systems concepts viewed the Earth's total environment in terms of a complex system in 2000 [13]. The theme of ISTAS 2009 was the social implications of sustainable development, and this theme was addressed in six articles in the resulting special issue of the IEEE Technology & Society Magazine for Fall 2010. The record of speculation, debate, forecasting, and analysis sampled here shows that not only has SSIT carried out its charter by examining the social implications of energy technology and related issues, but also it has shown itself a leader and forerunner in trends that later became large-scale public debates.

3. Computing, Telecommunications, and Cyberspace

Fig. 1. BRLESC-II computer built by U.S. Army personnel for use at the Ballistics Research Lab, Aberdeen Proving Grounds between about 1967 and 1978, A. V. Kurian at console. Courtesy of U.S. Army Photos.

In the early years of SSIT, computers were primarily huge mainframes operated by large institutions (Fig. 1). But with the personal computer revolution and especially the explosion of the Internet, SSIT has done its part to chronicle and examine the history, present state, and future trends of the hardware, software, human habits and interactions, and the complex of computer and communications technologies that are typically subsumed under the acronym of ICT.

As we now know, the question of intellectual property has been vastly complicated by the ready availability of peer-to-peer software, high-speed network connections, and legislation passed to protect such rights. In a paper published in 1998, Davis addressed the question of protection of intellectual property in cyberspace [14]. As the Internet grew, so did the volume of papers on all sorts of issues it raised, from the implications of electronic profiling [15] to the threats and promises of facial recognition technology [16]. One of the more forward-looking themes addressed in the pages of the Magazine came in 2005 with a special issue on sustainable pervasive computing [17]. This issue provides an example of how both the critical science and the technological optimism themes cited by Andrews above can be brought together in a single topic. And to show that futuristic themes are not shirked by the IEEE Technology and Society Magazine authors, in 2011 Clarke speculated in an article entitled “Cyborg rights” on the limits and problems that may come as people physically merge with increasingly advanced hardware (implanted chips, sensory enhancements, and so on) [18].

4. Underprivileged Groups

Last but certainly not least, the pages of the IEEE Technology & Society Magazine have hosted articles inspired by the plight of underprivileged peoples, broadly defined. This includes demographic groups such as women and ethnic minorities and those disadvantaged by economic issues, such as residents of developing countries. While the young and the ill are not often formally recognized as underprivileged in the conventional sense, in common with other underprivileged groups they need society's help in order to survive and thrive, in the form of education and healthcare, respectively. An important subset of education is the theme of engineering ethics, a subject of vital interest to many SSIT members and officials since the organization's founding.

In its first year, the Magazine carried an article on ethical issues in decision making [19]. A special 1998 issue on computers and the Internet as used in the K-12 classroom explored these matters in eight focused articles [20]. The roles of ethics and professionalism in the personal enjoyment of engineering was explored by Florman (author of the book The Introspective Engineer) in an interview with the Magazine's managing editor Terri Bookman in 2000 [21]. An entire special issue was devoted to engineering ethics in education the following year, after changes in the U.S. Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology's policies made it appear that ethics might receive more attention in college engineering curricula [22].

The IEEE Technology & Society Magazine has hosted many articles on the status of women, both as a demographic group and as a minority in the engineering profession. Articles and special issues on themes involving women have on occasion been the source of considerable controversy, even threatening the organization's autonomy at one point [1, p. 9]. In 1999, ISTAS was held for the first time in conjunction with two other IEEE entities: the IEEE Women in Engineering Committee and the IEEE History Center. The resulting special issue that came out in 2000 carried articles as diverse as the history of women in the telegraph industry [23], the challenges of being both a woman and an engineering student [24], and two articles on technology and the sex industry [25], [26].

Engineering education in a global context was the theme of a Fall 2005 special issue of the IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, and education has been the focus of several special issues and ISTAS meetings over the years [27]–[28][29]. The recent development termed “humanitarian engineering” was explored in a special issue only two years ago, in 2010 [30]. Exemplified by the U.S.-based Engineers without Borders organization, these engineers pursue projects, and sometimes careers, based not only on profit and market share, but also on the degree to which they can help people who might not otherwise benefit from their engineering talents.

SECTION III. The Present

Fig. 2.  Cow bearing an Australian National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) RFID tag on its ear. The cow's identity is automatically detected as it goes through the drafting gates and the appropriate feed is provided for the cow based on historical data on its milk yields. Courtesy of Adam Trevarthen.

Fig. 2. Cow bearing an Australian National Livestock Identification System (NLIS) RFID tag on its ear. The cow's identity is automatically detected as it goes through the drafting gates and the appropriate feed is provided for the cow based on historical data on its milk yields. Courtesy of Adam Trevarthen.

Emerging technologies that will act to shape the next few years are complex in their makeup with highly meshed value chains that resemble more a process or service than an individual product [31]. At the heart of this development is convergence: convergence in devices, convergence in applications, convergence in content, and convergence in infrastructure. The current environment is typified by the move toward cloud computing solutions and Web 2.0 social media platforms with ubiquitous access via a myriad of mobile or fixed devices, some of which will be wearable on people and animals (Fig. 2) or embedded in systems (e.g., vehicles and household appliances).

Simultaneous with these changes are the emergence of web services that may or may not require a human operator for decision making in a given business process, reliance upon data streams from automatic identification devices [e.g., radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags], the accuracy and reliability of location-based services [e.g., using Global Positioning Systems (GPS)] and condition monitoring techniques (e.g., using sensors to measure temperature or other physiological data). Most of this new technology will be invisibly located in miniaturized semiconductors which are set to reach such economies of scale, that it is commonly noted by technology evangelists that every single living and nonliving thing will come equipped with a chip “on board.”

Fig. 3. Business woman checking in for an interstate trip using an electronic ticket sent to her mobile phone. Her phone also acts as a mobile payment mechanism and has built-in location services features. Courtesy of NXP Semiconductors 2009.

The ultimate vision of a Web of Things and People (WoTaP)—smart homes using smart meters, smart cars using smart roads, smart cities using smart grids—is one where pervasive and embedded systems will play an active role toward sustainability and renewable energy efficiency. The internetworked environment will need to be facilitated by a fourth-generation mobility capability which will enable even higher amounts of bandwidth to the end user as well as seamless communication and coordination by intelligence built into the cloud. Every smart mobile transaction will be validated by a precise location and linked back to a subject (Fig. 3).

In the short term, some of the prominent technologies that will impact society will be autonomous computing systems with built-in ambient intelligence which will amalgamate the power of web services and artificial intelligence (AI) through multiagent systems, robotics, and video surveillance technologies (e.g., even the use of drones) (Fig. 4). These technologies will provide advanced business and security intelligence. While these systems will lead to impressive uses in green initiatives and in making direct connections between people and dwellings, people and artifacts, and even people and animals, they will require end users to give up personal information related to identity, place, and condition to be drawn transparently from smart devices.

Fig. 4.  A facial recognition system developed by Argus Solutions in Australia. Increasingly facial recognition systems are being used in surveillance and usually based on video technology. Digital images captured from video or still photographs are compared with other precaptured images. Courtesy of Argus Solutions 2009.

Fig. 4. A facial recognition system developed by Argus Solutions in Australia. Increasingly facial recognition systems are being used in surveillance and usually based on video technology. Digital images captured from video or still photographs are compared with other precaptured images. Courtesy of Argus Solutions 2009.

The price of all of this will be that very little remains private any longer. While the opportunities that present themselves with emerging technologies are enormous with a great number of positive implications for society—for instance, a decrease in the number of traffic accidents and fatalities, a reduction in the carbon emission footprint by each household, greater social interconnectedness, etc.—ultimately these gains too will be susceptible to limitations. Who the designated controller is and what they will do with the acquired data is something we can only speculate about. We return then, to the perennial question of “who will guard the guards themselves”: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? [32]

A. Mobile and Pervasive Computing

In our modern world, data collection from many of our most common activities begins from the moment we step out our front door in the morning until we go to sleep at night. In addition to near-continual data collection, we have become a society of people that voluntarily broadcasts to the world a great deal of personal information. Vacation photos, major life events, and trivialities such as where we are having dinner to our most mundane thoughts, all form part of the stream of data through which we electronically share our inner lives. This combination of the data that is collected about us and the data that is freely shared by us could form a breathtakingly detailed picture of an individual's life, if it could ever all be collected in one place. Most of us would consider ourselves fortunate that most of this data was historically never correlated and is usually highly anonymized. However, in general, it is becoming easier to correlate and deanonymize data sets.

1. Following Jane Doe's Digital Data Trail

Let us consider a hypothetical “highly tracked” individual [33]. Our Jane Doe leaves for work in the morning, and gets in her Chevrolet Impala, which has OnStar service to monitor her car. OnStar will contact emergency services if Jane has an accident, but will also report to the manufacturer any accident or mechanical failure the car's computer is aware of [34]. Jane commutes along a toll road equipped with electronic toll collection (ETC). The electronic toll system tracks where and at what time Jane enters and leaves the toll road (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5. Singapore's Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) system. The ERP uses a dedicated short-range radio communication system to deduct ERP charges from CashCards. These are inserted in the in-vehicle units of vehicles before each journey. Each time vehicles pass through a gantry when the system is in operation, the ERP charges are automatically deducted. Courtesy of Katina Michael 2003.

When she gets to work, she uses a transponder ID card to enter the building she works in (Fig. 6), which logs the time she enters and by what door. She also uses her card to log into the company's network for the morning. Her company's Internet firewall software monitors any websites she visits. At lunch, she eats with colleagues at a local restaurant. When she gets there, she “checks in” using a geolocation application on her phone—for doing so, the restaurant rewards her with a free appetizer [35].


Fig. 6. Employee using a contactless smart card to gain entry to her office premises. The card is additionally used to access elevators in the building, rest rooms, and secure store areas, and is the only means of logging into the company intranet. Courtesy of NXP Semiconductors 2009.

She then returns to work for the afternoon, again using her transponder ID badge to enter. After logging back into the network, she posts a review of the restaurant on a restaurant review site, or maybe a social networking site. At the end of the work day, Jane logs out and returns home along the same toll road, stopping to buy groceries at her local supermarket on the way. When she checks out at the supermarket, she uses her customer loyalty card to automatically use the store's coupons on her purchases. The supermarket tracks Jane's purchases so it can alert her when things she buys regularly are on sale.

During Jane's day, her movements were tracked by several different systems. During almost all of the time she spent out of the house, her movements were being followed. But Jane “opted in” to almost all of that tracking; it was her choice as the benefits she received outweighed her perceived costs. The toll collection transponder in her car allows her to spend less time in traffic [36]. She is happy to share her buying habits with various merchants because those merchants reward her for doing so [37]. In this world it is all about building up bonus points and getting rewarded. Sharing her opinions on review and social networking sites lets Jane keep in touch with her friends and lets them know what she is doing.

While many of us might choose to allow ourselves to be monitored for the individual benefits that accrue to us personally, the data being gathered about collective behaviors are much more valuable to business and government agencies. Clarke developed the notion of dataveillance to give a name to the “systematic use of personal data systems in the investigation or monitoring of the actions or communications of one or more persons” in the 1980s [38]. ETC is used by millions of people in many countries. The more people who use it, as opposed to paying tolls at tollbooths, the faster traffic can flow for everyone. Everyone also benefits when ETC allows engineers to better monitor traffic flows and plan highway construction to avoid the busiest times of traffic. Geolocation applications let businesses reward first-time and frequent customers, and they can follow traffic to their business and see what customers do and do not like. Businesses such as grocery stores or drug stores that use customer loyalty cards are able to monitor buying trends to see what is popular and when. Increasingly shoppers are being introduced to the near-field communication (NFC) capability on their third-generation (3G) smartphone (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7. Purchasing grocery items effortlessly by using the near-field communication (NFC) capability on your 3G smartphone. Courtesy of NXP Semiconductors 2009.

Some of these constant monitoring tools are truly personal and are controlled by and report back only to the user [39]. for example, there are now several adaptive home thermostat systems that learn a user's temperature preferences over time and allow users to track their energy usage and change settings online. for the health conscious, “sleep monitoring” systems allow users to track not only the hours of sleep they get per night, but also the percentage of time spent in light sleep versus rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and their overall “sleep quality” [40].

Fig. 8. Barcodes printed on individual packaged items on pallets. Order information is shown on the forklift's on-board laptop and the driver scans items that are being prepared for shipping using a handheld gun to update inventory records wirelessly. Courtesy AirData Pty Ltd, Motorola Premier Business Partner, 2009.

Businesses offer and customers use various mobile and customer tracking services because the offer is valued by both parties (Fig. 8). However, serious privacy and legal issues continue to arise [41]. ETC records have been subpoenaed in both criminal and civil cases [42]. Businesses in liquidation have sold their customer databases, violating the privacy agreements they gave to their customers when they were still in business. Geolocation services and social media that show a user's location or allow them to share where they have been or where they are going can be used in court cases to confirm or refute alibis [43].


Near-constant monitoring and reporting of our lives will only grow as our society becomes increasingly comfortable sharing more and more personal details (Fig. 9). In addition to the basic human desire to tell others about ourselves, information about our behavior as a group is hugely valuable to both governments and businesses. The benefits to individuals and to society as a whole are great, but the risks to privacy are also significant [44]. More information about group behaviors can let us allocate resources more efficiently, plan better for future growth, and generate less waste. More information about our individual patterns can allow us to do the same thing on a smaller scale—to waste less fuel heating our homes when there is no one present, or to better understand our patterns of human activity.


Fig. 9. A five step overview of how the Wherify location-based service works. The information retrieved by this service included a breadcrumb of each location (in table and map form), a list of time and date stamps, latitude and longitude coordinates, nearest street address, and location type. Courtesy of Wherify Wireless Location Services, 2009.


B. Social Computing

When we think of human evolution, we often think of biological adaptions to better survive disease or digest foods. But our social behaviors are also a product of evolution. Being able to read facial expressions and other nonverbal cues is an evolved trait and an essential part of human communication. In essence, we have evolved as a species to communicate face to face. Our ability to understand verbal and nonverbal cues has been essential to our ability to function in groups and therefore our survival [45].

The emoticon came very early in the life of electronic communication. This is not surprising, given just how necessary using facial expressions to give context to written words was to the casual and humor-filled atmosphere of the Internet precursors. Many other attempts to add context to the quick, casual writing style of the Internet have been made, mostly with less success. Indeed, the problem of communication devolving from normal conversations to meaningless shouting matches has been around almost as long as electronic communication itself. More recently, the “anonymous problem”—the problem of people anonymously harassing others without fear of response or retribution—has come under discussion in online forums and communities. And of course, we have seen the recent tragic consequences of cyberbullying [46]. In general, people will be much crueler to other people online than they would ever be in person; many of our evolved social mechanisms depend on seeing and hearing who we are communicating with.

The question we are faced with is this: Given that we now exist and interact in a world that our social instincts were not evolved to handle, how will we adapt to the technology, or more likely, how will the technology we use to communicate with adapt to us? We are already seeing the beginning of that adaptation: more and more social media sites require a “real” identity tied to a valid e-mail address. And everywhere on the Internet, “reputation” is becoming more and more important [177].

Reference sites, such as Wikipedia, control access based on reputation: users gain more privileges on the site to do things such as editing controversial topics or banning other users based on their contributions to the community—writing and editing articles or contributing to community discussions. On social media and review sites, users that are not anonymous have more credibility, and again reputation is gained with time and contribution to the community.

It is now becoming standard practice for social media of all forms to allow users to control who can contact them and make it very easy to block unwanted contact. In the future, these trends will be extended. Any social media site with a significant amount of traffic will have a way for users to build and maintain a reputation and to control access accordingly. The shift away from anonymity is set to continue and this is also evident in the way search engine giants, like Google, are updating their privacy statements—from numerous policies down to one. Google states: “When you sign up for a Google Account, we ask you for personal information. We may combine the information you submit under your account with information from other Google services or third parties in order to provide you with a better experience and to improve the quality of our services” [47].

Fig. 10. Wearable high-definition video calling and recording attire. Courtesy of Xybernaut 2002.

When people use technology to socialize, they are often doing it on mobile platforms. Therefore, the futures of social and mobile computing are inevitably intertwined. The biggest change that is coming to the shared mobile/social computing space is the final spread of WiFi and high-density mobile phone networks. There are still huge geographical areas where there is no way of wirelessly connecting to the Internet or where the connection is so slow as to be unusable. As high-speed mobile Internet spreads, extra bandwidth could help the problems inherent in communicating without being able to see the other person. High-definition (HD) video calling on mobile phones will make person-to-person communications easier and more context rich (Fig. 10). HD video calling and conferencing will make everything from business meetings to long-distance relationships easier by allowing the participants to pick up on unspoken cues.


As more and more of our social interactions go online, the online world will be forced to adapt to our evolved human social behaviors. It will become much more like offline communication, with reputation and community standing being deeply important. True anonymity will become harder and harder to come by, as the vast majority of social media will require some proof of identity. for example, this practice is already occurring in countries like South Korea [48].

While we cannot predict all the ways in which our online interactions will become more immersive, we can say for certain that they will. The beauty of all of these changes will be that it will become as easy to maintain or grow a personal relationship on the other side of the world as it would be across town. As countries and regions currently without high-speed data networks come online, they can integrate into a new global community allowing us all to know each other with a diverse array of unknown consequences.

C. Wearable Computing

Fig. 11. The prototype GPS Locator for Children with a built-in pager, a request for 911, GPS technology, and a key fob to manually lock and unlock the locator. This specific device is no longer being marketed, despite the apparent need in some contexts. Courtesy of Wherify Wireless Location Services, 2003.

According to Siewiorek [49, p. 82], the first wearable device was prototyped in 1961 but it was not until 1991 that the term “wearable computer” was first used by a research group at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA). This coincided with the rise of the laptop computer, early models of which were known as “luggables.” Wearable computing can be defined as “anything that can be put on and adds to the user's awareness of his or her environment …mostly this means wearing electronics which have some computational power” [50, p. 2012]. While the term “wearables” is generally used to describe wearable displays and custom computers in the form of necklaces, tiepins, and eyeglasses, the definition has been broadened to incorporate iPads, iPods, personal digital assistants (PDAs), e-wallets, GPS watches (Fig. 11), and other mobile accessories such as smartphones, smart cards, and electronic passports that require the use of belt buckles or clip-on satchels attached to conventional clothing [51, p. 330]. The iPlant (Internet implant) is probably not far off either [52].


Wearable computing has reinvented the way we work and go about our day-to-day business and is set to make even greater changes in the foreseeable future [53]. In 2001, it was predicted that highly mobile professionals would be taking advantage of smart devices to “check messages, finish a presentation, or browse the Web while sitting on the subway or waiting in line at a bank” [54, p. 44]. This vision has indeed been realized but devices like netbooks are still being lugged around instead of worn in the true sense.

The next phase of wearables will be integrated into our very clothing and accessories, some even pointing to the body itself being used as an input mechanism. Harrison of Carnegie Mellon's Human–Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) produced Skinput with Microsoft researchers that makes the body that travels everywhere with us, one giant touchpad [55]. These are all exciting innovations and few would deny the positives that will come from the application of this cutting-edge research. The challenge will be how to avoid rushing this technology into the marketplace without the commensurate testing of prototypes and the due consideration of function creep. Function or scope creep occurs when a device or application is used for something other than it was originally intended.

Early prototypes of wearable computers throughout the 1980s and 1990s could have been described as outlandish, bizarre, or even weird. for the greater part, wearable computing efforts have focused on head-mounted displays (a visual approach) that unnaturally interfered with human vision and made proximity to others cumbersome [56, p. 171]. But the long-term aim of researchers is to make wearable computing inconspicuous as soon as technical improvements allow for it (Fig. 12). The end user should look as “normal” as possible [57, p. 177].


Fig. 12. Self-portraits of Mann with wearable computing kit from the 1980s to the 1990s. Prof. Mann started working on his WearComp invention as far back as his high school days in the 1970s. Courtesy of Steve Mann.

New technologies like the “Looxcie” [58] wearable recorders have come a long way since the clunky point-of-view head-mounted recording devices of the 1980s, allowing people to effortlessly record and share their life as they experience it in different contexts. Mann has aptly coined the term sousveillance. This is a type of inverse panopticon, sous (below) and veiller (to watch) stemming from the French words. A whole body of literature has emerged around the notion of sousveillance which refers to the recording of an activity by a participant in the activity, typically by way of small wearable or portable personal technologies. The online platform demonstrates the great power of sousveillance. But there are still serious challenges, such as privacy concerns, that need to be overcome if wearable computing is to become commonplace [59]. Just like Google has created StreetView, can the individual participate in PersonView without his neighbor's or stranger's consent [7] despite the public versus private space debate? Connected to privacy is also the critical issue of autonomy (and if we were to agree with Kant, human dignity), that is, our right to make informed and uncoerced decisions.

While mass-scale commercial production of wearable clothing is still some time away, some even calling it the unfulfilled pledge [60], shirts with simple memory functions have been developed and tested. Sensors will play a big part in the functionality of the smartware helping to determine the environmental context, and undergarments closest to the body will be used for body functions such as the measurement of temperature, blood pressure, heart and pulse rates. for now, however, the aim is to develop ergonomically astute wearable computing that is actually useful to the end user. Head-mounted displays attached to the head with a headband may be practical for miners carrying out occupational health and safety (OH&S) but are unattractive for everyday consumer users. Displays of the next generation will be mounted or concealed within eyeglasses themselves [61, p. 48].

Mann [57, p. 31] predicts that wearable computing will become so common one day, interwoven into every day clothing-based computing, that “we will no doubt feel naked, confused, and lost without a computer screen hovering in front of our eyes to guide us,” just like we would feel our nakedness without the conventional clothing of today.

1. Wearables in the Medical Domain

Unsurprisingly, wearables have also found a niche market in the medical domain. In the mid-1990s, researchers began to describe a small wearable device that continuously monitored glucose levels so that the right amount of insulin was calculated for the individual reducing the incidence of hypoglycemic episodes [62]. The Glucoday [63] and GlucoChip [64] are just two products demonstrating the potential to go beyond wearables toward in vivo techniques in medical monitoring.

Medical wearables even have the capability to check and monitor products in one's blood [65, p. 88]. Today medical wearable device applications include: “monitoring of myocardial ischemia, epileptic seizure detection, drowsiness detection …physical therapy feedback, such as for stroke victim rehabilitation, sleep apnea monitoring, long-term monitoring for circadian rhythm analysis of heart rate variability (HRV)” [66, p. 44].

Some of the current shortcomings of medical wearables are similar to those of conventional wearables, namely the size and the weight of the device which can be too large and too heavy. In addition, wearing the devices for long periods of time can be irritating due to the number of sensors that may be required to be worn for monitoring. The gel applied for contact resistance between the electrode and the skin can also dry up, which is a nuisance. Other obstacles to the widespread diffusion of medical wearables include government regulations and the manufacturers' requirement for limited liability in the event that an incorrect diagnosis is made by the equipment.

But much has been improved in the products of wearables over the past ten years. Due to commensurate breakthroughs in the miniaturization of computing components, wearable devices are now usually quite small. Consider Toumaz Technology's Digital Plaster invention known as the Sensium Life Pebble TZ203002 (Fig. 13). The Digital Plaster contains a Sensium silicon chip, powered by a tiny battery, which sends data via a cell phone or a PDA to a central computer database. The Life Pebble has the ability to enable continuous, auditable acquisition of physiological data without interfering with the patient's activities. The device can continuously monitor electrocardiogram (ECG), heart rate, physical activity, and skin temperature. In an interview with M. G. Michael in 2006, Toumazou noted how the Digital Plaster had been applied in epilepsy control and depression. He said that by monitoring the electrical and chemical responses they could predict the onset of either a depressive episode or an epileptic fit; and then once predicted the nerve could be stimulated to counter the seizure [67]. He added that this truly signified “personal healthcare.”

Fig. 13. Prof. Christofer Toumazou with a patient wearing the “digital plaster”; a tiny electronic device meant to be embedded in ordinary medical plaster that includes sensors for monitoring health-related metadata such as blood pressure, temperature, and glucose levels. Courtesy of Toumaz Technology 2008.


D. Robots and Unmanned Aerial Systems and Vehicles

Fig. 14. Predator Drone aircraft: this plane comes in the armed and reconnaissance versions and the models are known as RQ-1 and MQ-1.

Autonomous systems are those which are self-governed. In practice, there are many degrees of autonomy ranging from the highly constrained and supervised to unconstrained and intelligent. Some systems are referred to as “semiautonomous” in order to suggest that the machines are tasked or supervised by a human operator. An unmanned vehicle may be a remotely piloted “dumb” vehicle or an autonomous vehicle (Fig. 14). Robots may be designed to perform repetitive tasks in a highly constrained environment or with intelligence and a high level of autonomy to make judgments in a dynamic and unpredictable environment. As technology advancements allow for a high level of autonomy and expansion from industrial applications to caregiving and warfighting, society is coming to grips with the present and the future of increasingly autonomous systems in our homes, workplaces, and battlefields.


Robot ethics, particularly with respect to autonomous weapons systems, has received increasing attention in the last few years [68]. While some call for an outright stop to the development of such technology [69], others seek to shape the technology with ethical and moral implications in mind [6], [70]–[71][72][73]. Driving robotics weapons development underground or refusing to engage in dialog over the ethical issues will not give ethicists an opportunity to participate in shaping the design and use of such weapons. Arkin [6] and Operto [74], among others, argue that engineers must not shy away from these ethical challenges. Furthermore, the technological cat is out of the bag: “Autonomy is subtle in its development—it is occurring in a step-by-step process, rather than through the creation of a disruptive invention. It is far less likely that we will have a sudden development of a ‘positronic brain’ or its equivalent, but rather a continual and gradual relinquishment of authority to machines through the constant progress of science, as we have already seen in automated trains, elevators, and numerous other examples, that have vanished into the background noise of civilization. Autonomy is already here by some definitions” [70].

The evolution of the development and deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles and other autonomous or semiautonomous systems has outpaced the analysis of social implications and ethics of their design and use [70], [75]. Sullivan argues that the evolution of unmanned vehicles for military deployment should not be confused with the more general trend of increasing autonomy in military applications [75]. Use of robots often provides a tactical advantage due to sensors, data processing, and physical characteristics that outperform humans. Robots can act without emotion, bias, or self-preservation influencing judgment, which may be a liability or advantage. Risks to robot deployment in the military, healthcare industry, and elsewhere include trust of autonomous systems (a lack of, or too much) and diffusion of blame or moral buffering [6], [72].

for such critical applications in the healthcare domain, and lethal applications in weapons, the emotional and physical distance of operating a remote system (e.g., drone strikes via video-game style interface) may negatively influence the moral decision making of the human operator or supervisor, while also providing some benefit of emotional protection against post-traumatic stress disorder [71], [72]. Human–computer interfaces can promote ethical choices in the human operator through thoughtful or model-based design as suggested by Cummings [71] and Asaro [72].

for ethical behavior of the autonomous system itself, Arkin proposes that robot soldiers could be more humane than humans, if technologically constrained to the laws of war and rules of engagement, which they could follow without the distortions of emotion, bias, or a sense of self-preservation [6], [70]. Asaro argues that such laws are not, in fact, objective and static but rather meant for human interpretation for each case, and therefore could not be implemented in an automated system [72]. More broadly, Operto [74] agrees that a robot (in any application) can only act within the ethics incorporated into its laws, but that a learning robot, in particular, may not behave as its designers anticipate.

Fig. 15. Kotaro, a humanoid roboter created at the University of Tokyo (Tokyo, Japan), presented at the University of Arts and Industrial Design Linz (Linz, Austra) during the Ars Electronica Festival 2008. Courtesy of Manfred Werner-Tsui.

Robot ethics is just one part of the landscape of social implications for autonomous systems. The field of human–robot interaction explores how robot interfaces and socially adaptive robots influence the social acceptance, usability, and safety of robots [76] (Fig. 15). for example, robots used for social assistance and care, such as for the elderly and small children, introduce a host of new social implications questions. Risks of developing an unhealthy attachment or loss of human social contact are among the concerns raised by Sharkey and Sharkey [77]. Interface design can influence these and other risks of socially assistive robots, such as a dangerous misperception of the robot's capabilities or a compromise of privacy [78].


Autonomous and unmanned systems have related social implication challenges. Clear accountability and enforcing morality are two common themes in the ethical design and deployment of such systems. These themes are not unique to autonomous and unmanned systems, but perhaps the science fiction view of robots run amok raises the question “how can we engineer a future where we can benefit from these technologies while maintaining our humanity?”


SECTION IV. The Future

Great strides are being taken in the field of biomedical engineering: the application of engineering principles and techniques to the medical field [79]. New technologies such as prospective applications of nanotechnology, microcircuitry (e.g., implantables), and bionics will heal and give hope to many who are suffering from life-debilitating and life-threatening diseases [80]. The lame will walk again. The blind will see just as the deaf have heard. The dumb will sing. Even bionic tongues are on the drawing board. Hearts and kidneys and other organs will be built anew. The fundamental point is that society at large should be able to distinguish between positive and negative applications of technological advancements before we diffuse and integrate such innovations into our day-to-day existence.

The Bionics Institute [81], for instance, is future-focused on the possibilities of bionic hearing, bionic vision, and neurobionics, stating: “Medical bionics is not just a new frontier of medical science, it is revolutionizing what is and isn't possible. Where once there was deafness, there is now the bionic ear. And where there was blindness, there may be a bionic eye.” The Institute reaffirms its commitment to continuing innovative research and leading the way on the proposed “world-changing revolution.”

A. Cochlear Implants—Helping the Deaf to Hear

Fig. 16. Cochlear's Nucleus Freedom implant with Contour Advance electrode which is impervious to magnetic fields up to 1.5 Tesla. Courtesy of Cochlear Australia.

In 2000, more than 32 000 people worldwide already had cochlear implants [82], thanks to the global efforts of people such as Australian Professor Graeme Clark, the founder of Cochlear, Inc. [83]. Clark performed his first transplant in Rod Saunder's left ear at the Royal Eye and Ear Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, on August 1, 1978, when “he placed a box of electronics under Saunders's skin and a bundle of electrodes in his inner ear” [84]. In 2006, that number had grown to about 77 500 for the nucleus implant (Fig. 16) alone which had about 70% of the market share [85]. Today, there are over 110 000 cochlear implant recipients, about 30 000 annually, and their personal stories are testament enough to the ways in which new technologies can change lives dramatically for the better [86]. Cochlear implants can restore hearing to people who have severe hearing loss, a form of diagnosed deafness. Unlike a standard hearing aid that works like an amplifier, the cochlear implant acts like a microphone to change sound into electronic signals. Signals are sent to the microchip implant via radio frequency (RF), stimulating nerve fibers in the inner ear. The brain then interprets the signals that are transmitted via the nerves to be sound.


Today, cochlear implants (which are also commonly known as bionic ears) are being used to overcome deafness; tomorrow, they may be open to the wider public as a performance-enhancing technique [87, pp. 10–11]. Audiologist Steve Otto of the Auditory Brainstem Implant Project at the House Ear Institute (Los Angeles, CA) predicts that one day “implantable devices [will] interface microscopically with parts of the normal system that are still physiologically functional” [88]. He is quoted as saying that this may equate to “ESP for everyone.” Otto's prediction that implants will one day be used by persons who do not require them for remedial purposes has been supported by numerous other high profile scientists. A major question is whether this is the ultimate trajectory of these technologies.

for Christofer Toumazou, however, Executive Director of the Institute of Biomedical Engineering, Imperial College London (London, U.K.), there is a clear distinction between repairing human functions and creating a “Superman.” He said, “trying to give someone that can hear super hearing is not fine.” for Toumazou, the basic ethical paradigm should be that we hope to repair the human and not recreate the human [67].

B. Retina Implants—On a Mission to Help the Blind to See

Fig. 17. Visual cortical implant designed by Prof. Mohamad Sawan, a researcher at Polystim Neurotechnologies Laboratory at the Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal (Montreal, QC, Canada). The basic principle of Prof. Sawan's technology consists of stimulating the visual cortex by implanting a silicon microchip on a network of electrodes, made of biocompatible materials, wherein each electrode injects a stimulating electrical current in order to provoke a series of luminous points to appear (an array of pixels) in the field of vision of the blind person. This system is composed of two distinct parts: the implant and an external controller. Courtesy of Mohamad Sawan 2009, made available under Creative Commons License.

The hope is that retina implants will be as successful as cochlear implants in the future [89]. Just as cochlear implants cannot be used for persons suffering from complete deafness, retina implants are not a solution for totally blind persons but rather those suffering from aged macular degeneration (AMD) and retinitis pigmentosa (RP). Retina implants have brought together medical researchers, electronic specialists, and software designers to develop a system that can be implanted inside the eye [90]. A typical retina implant procedure is as follows: “[s]urgeons make a pinpoint opening in the retina to inject fluid in order to lift a portion of the retina from the back of the eye, creating a pocket to accommodate the chip. The retina is resealed over the chip, and doctors inject air into the middle of the eye to force the retina back over the device and close the incisions” [91] (Fig. 17).


Brothers Alan and Vincent Chow, one an engineer, the other an ophthalmologist, developed the artificial silicon retina (ASR) and began the company Optobionics Corporation in 1990. This was a marriage between biology and engineering: “In landmark surgeries at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center …the first artificial retinas made from silicon chips were implanted in the eyes of two blind patients who have lost almost all of their vision because of retinal disease.” In 1993, Branwyn [92, p. 3] reported that a team at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) led by Dr. Hambrecht, implanted a 38-electrode array into a blind female's brain. It was reported that she saw simple light patterns and was able to make out crude letters. The following year the same procedure was conducted by another group on a blind male resulting in the man seeing a black dot with a yellow ring around it. Rizzo of Harvard Medical School's Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (Boston, MA) has cautioned that it is better to talk down the possibilities of the retina implant so as not to give false hopes. The professor himself had expressed that they are dealing with “science fiction stuff” and that there are no long-term guarantees that the technology will ever fully restore sight, although significant progress is being made by a number of research institutes [93, p. 5].

Among these pioneers are researchers at The Johns Hopkins University Medical Center (Baltimore, MD). Brooks [94, p. 4] describes how the retina chip developed by the medical center will work: “a kind of miniature digital camera…is placed on the surface of the retina. The camera relays information about the light that hits it to a microchip implanted nearby. This chip then delivers a signal that is fed back to the retina, giving it a big kick that stimulates it into action. Then, as normal, a signal goes down the optic nerve and sight is at least partially restored.” In 2009, at the age of 56, Barbara Campbell had an array of electrodes implanted in each eye [95] and while her sight is nowhere near fully restored, she is able to make out shapes and see shades of light and dark. Experts believe that this approach is still more realistic in restoring sight to those suffering from particular types of blindness, even more than stem cell therapy, gene therapy, or eye transplants [96] where the risks still outweigh the advantages.

C. Tapping Into the Heart and Brain

Fig. 18. An artificial pacemaker from St. Jude Medical (St. Paul, MN), with electrode 2007. Courtesy of Steven Fruitsmaak.

If it was possible as far back as 1958 to successfully implant two transistors the size of an ice hockey puck in the heart of a 43 year old man [97], the things that will become possible by 2020 are constrained by the imagination as much as by technological limitations. Heart pacemakers (Fig. 18) are still being further developed today, but for the greater part, researchers are turning their attention to the possibilities of brain pacemakers. In the foreseeable future brain implants may help sufferers of Parkinson's, paralysis, nervous system problems, speech-impaired persons, and even cancer patients. The research is still in its formative years and the obstacles are great because of the complexity of the brain; but scientists are hopeful of major breakthroughs in the next 20 years.


The brain pacemaker endeavors are bringing together people from a variety of disciplines, headed mainly by neurosurgeons. By using brain implants electrical pulses can be sent directly to nerves via electrodes. The signals can be used to interrupt incoherent messages to nerves that cause uncontrollable movements or tremors. By tapping into the right nerves in the brain, particular reactions can be achieved. Using a technique that was discovered almost accidentally in France in 1987, the following extract describes the procedure of “tapping into” the brain: “Rezai and a team of functional neurosurgeons, neurologists and nurses at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio had spent the next few hours electronically eavesdropping on single cells in Joan's brain attempting to pinpoint the precise trouble spot that caused a persistent, uncontrollable tremor in her right hand. Once confident they had found the spot, the doctors had guided the electrode itself deep into her brain, into a small duchy of nerve cells within the thalamus. The hope was that when sent an electrical current to the electrode, in a technique known as deep-brain stimulation, her tremor would diminish, and perhaps disappear altogether” [98]. Companies such as Medtronic Incorporated of Minnesota (Minneapolis, MN) now specialize in brain pacemakers [98]. Medtronic's Activa implant has been designed specifically for sufferers of Parkinson's disease [93].

More recently, there has been some success with ameliorating epileptic attacks through closed-loop technology, also known as smart stimulation. The implant devices can detect an onset of epileptiform activity through a demand-driven process. This means that the battery power in the active implant lasts longer because of increased efficiency, i.e., it is not always stimulating in anticipation of an attack, and adverse effects of having to remove and install new implants more frequently are forgone [99]. Similarly, it has been said that technology such as deep brain stimulation, which has physicians implant electrodes in the brain and electrical pacemakers in the patient's clavicle for Parkinson's Disease, may well be used to overcome problems with severely depressed persons [100].

Currently, the technology is being used to treat thousands of people who are severely depressed or suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) who have been unable to respond to other forms of treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) [101]. It is estimated that 10% of people suffering from depression do not respond to conventional methods. Although hard figures are difficult to obtain, several thousands of depressed persons worldwide have had brain pacemakers installed that have software which can be updated wirelessly and remotely. The trials have been based on decades of research by Prof. Helen Mayberg, from Emory University School of Medicine (Atlanta, GA), who first began studying the use of subcallosal cingulate gyrus deep brain stimulation (SCG DBS) for depression in 1990.

In her research, Mayberg has used a device that is no larger than a matchbox with a battery-powered generator that sits in the chest and produces electric currents. The currents are sent to an area deep in the brain via tiny wires which are channeled under the skin on either side of the neck. Surprisingly the procedure to have this type of implant installed only requires local anesthetic and is an outpatient procedure. In 2005, Mayberg told a meeting at the Science Media Centre in London: “This is a very new way to think about the nature of depression …We are not just exciting the brain, we are using electricity to retune and remodulate…We can interrupt or switch off an abnormally functioning circuit” [102].

Ongoing trials today continue to show promising results. The outcome of a 20-patient clinical trial of persons with depression treated with SCG DBS published in 2011, showed that: “At 1 year, 11 (55%) responded to surgery with a greater than 50% reduction in 17-item Hamilton Depression Scale scores. Seven patients (35%) achieved or were within 1 point of achieving remission (scores < 8). Of note, patients who responded to surgery had a significant improvement in mood, anxiety, sleep, and somatic complains related to the disease. Also important was the safety of the procedure, with no serious permanent adverse effects or changes in neuropsychological profile recorded” [103].

Despite the early signs that these procedures may offer long-term solutions for hundreds of thousands of people, some research scientists believe that tapping into the human brain is a long shot. The brain is commonly understood to be “wetware” and plugging in hardware into this “wetware” would seem to be a type mismatch, at least according to Steve Potter, a senior research fellow in biology working at the California Institute of Technology's Biological Imaging Center (Pasadena, CA). Instead Potter is pursuing the cranial route as a “digital gateway to the brain” [88]. Others believe that it is impossible to figure out exactly what all the millions of neurons in the brain actually do. Whether we eventually succeed in “reverse-engineering” the human brain, the topic of implants for both therapeutic and enhancement purposes has aroused significant controversy in the past, and promises to do so even more in the future.

D. Attempting to Overcome Paralysis

In more speculative research, surgeons believe that brain implants may be a solution for persons who are suffering from paralysis, such as spinal cord damage. In these instances, the nerves in the legs are still theoretically “working”; it is just that they cannot make contact with the brain which controls their movement. If somehow signals could be sent to the brain, bypassing the lesion point, it could conceivably mean that paralyzed persons regain at least part of their capability to move [104]. In 2000, Reuters [105] reported that a paralyzed Frenchman (Marc Merger) “took his first steps in 10 years after a revolutionary operation to restore nerve functions using a microchip implant…Merger walks by pressing buttons on a walking frame which acts as a remote control for the chip, sending impulses through fine wires to stimulate legs muscles…” It should be noted, however, that the system only works for paraplegics whose muscles remain alive despite damage to the nerves. Yet there are promising devices like the Bion that may one day be able to control muscle movement using RF commands [106]. Brooks [94] reports that researchers at the University of Illinois in Chicago (Chicago, IL) have “invented a microcomputer system that sends pulses to a patient's legs, causing the muscles to contract. Using a walker for balance, people paralyzed from the waist down can stand up from a sitting position and walk short distances…Another team, based in Europe…enabled a paraplegic to walk using a chip connected to fine wires in his legs.” These techniques are known as functional neuromuscular stimulation systems [107]. In the case of Australian Rob Summers, who became a paraplegic after an accident, doctors implanted an epidural stimulator and electrodes into his spinal cord. “The currents mimic those normally sent by the brain to initiate movement” [108].

Others working to help paraplegics to walk again have invested time in military technology like exoskeletons [109] meant to aid soldiers in lifting greater weights, and also to protect them during battle. Ekso Bionics (Berkeley, CA), formerly Berkeley Bionics, has been conducting trials of an electronic suit in the United States since 2010. The current Ekso model will be fully independent and powered by artificial intelligence in 2012. The Ekso “provides nearly four hours of battery power to its electronic legs, which replicate walking by bending the user's knees and lifting their legs with what the company claims is the most natural gait available today” [110]. This is yet another example of how military technology has been commercialized toward a health solution [111].

E. Granting a Voice to the Speech Impaired

Speech-impairment microchip implants work differently than cochlear and retina implants. Whereas in the latter two, hearing and sight is restored, in implants for speech impairment the voice is not restored, but an outlet for communication is created, possibly with the aid of a voice synthesizer. At Emory University, neurosurgeon Roy E. Bakay and neuroscientist Phillip R. Kennedy were responsible for critical breakthroughs early in the research. In 1998, Versweyveld [112] reported two successful implants of a neurotrophic electrode into the brain of a woman and man who were suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and brainstem stroke, respectively. In an incredible process, Bakay and Kennedy's device uses the patient's brain processes—thoughts, if you will—to move a cursor on a computer screen. “The computer chip is directly connected with the cortical nerve cells…The neural signals are transmitted to a receiver and connected to the computer in order to drive the cursor” [112]. This procedure has major implications for brain–computer interfaces (BCIs), especially bionics. Bakay predicted that by 2010 prosthetic devices will grant patients that are immobile the ability to turn on the TV just by thinking about it and by 2030 to grant severely disabled persons the ability to walk independently [112], [113].

F. Biochips for Diagnosis and Smart Pills for Drug Delivery

It is not unlikely that biochips will be implanted in people at birth in the not too distant future. “They will make individual patients aware of any pre-disposition to susceptibility” [114]. That is, biochips will be used for point-of-care diagnostics and also for the identification of needed drugs, even to detect pandemic viruses and biothreats for national security purposes [115]. The way that biosensors work is that they “represent the technological counterpart of our sense organs, coupling the recognition by a biological recognition element with a chemical or physical transducer, transferring the signal to the electrical domain” [116]. Types of biosensors include enzymes antibodies, receptors, nucleic acids, cells (using a biochip configuration), biomimetic sequences of RNA (ribonucleic) or DNA (deoxyribonucleic), and molecularly imprinted polymers (MIPs). Biochips, on the other hand, “automate highly repetitive laboratory tasks by replacing cumbersome equipment with miniaturized, microfluidic assay chemistries combined with ultrasensitive detection methodologies. They achieve this at significantly lower costs per assay than traditional methods—and in a significantly smaller amount of space. At present, applications are primarily focused on the analysis of genetic material for defects or sequence variations” [117].

with response to treatment for illness, drug delivery will not require patients to swallow pills or take routine injections; instead chemicals will be stored on a microprocessor and released as prescribed. The idea is known as “pharmacy-on-a-chip” and was originated by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, Cambridge, MA) in 1999 [118]. The following extract is from The Lab[119]: “Doctors prescribing complicated courses of drugs may soon be able to implant microchips into patients to deliver timed drug doses directly into their bodies.”

Microchips being developed at Ohio State University (OSU, Columbus, OH) can be swathed with chemical substances such as pain medication, insulin, different treatments for heart disease, or gene therapies, allowing physicians to work at a more detailed level [119]. The breakthroughs have major implications for diabetics, especially those who require insulin at regular intervals throughout the day. Researchers at the University of Delaware (Newark, DE) are working on “smart” implantable insulin pumps that may relieve people with Type I diabetes [120]. The delivery would be based on a mathematical model stored on a microchip and working in connection with glucose sensors that would instruct the chip when to release the insulin. The goal is for the model to be able to simulate the activity of the pancreas so that the right dosage is delivered at the right time.

Fig. 19. The VeriChip microchip, the first microchip implant to be cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for humans, is a passive microchip that contains a 16-digit number, which can be used to retrieve critical medical information on a patient from a secure online database. The company that owns the VeriChip technology is developing a microscopic glucose sensor to put on the end of the chip to eliminate a diabetic's need to draw blood to get a blood glucose reading. Courtesy of PositiveID Corporation.

Beyond insulin pumps, we are now nearing a time where automated closed-loop insulin detection (Fig. 19) and delivery will become a tangible treatment option and may serve as a temporary cure for Type I diabetes until stem cell therapy becomes available. “Closed-loop insulin delivery may revolutionize not only the way diabetes is managed but also patients' perceptions of living with diabetes, by reducing the burden on patients and caregivers, and their fears of complications related to diabetes, including those associated with low and high glucose levels” [121]. It is only a matter of time before these lab-centric results are replicated in real-life conditions in sufferers of Type 1 diabetes.



G. To Implant or Not to Implant, That Is the Question

There are potentially 500 000 hearing impaired persons that could benefit from cochlear implants [122] but not every deaf person wants one [123]. “Some deaf activists…are critical of parents who subject children to such surgery [cochlear implants] because, as one charged, the prosthesis imparts ‘the non-healthy self-concept of having had something wrong with one's body’ rather than the ‘healthy self-concept of [being] a proud Deaf’” [124]. Assistant Professor Scott Bally of Audiology at Gallaudet University (Washington, DC) has said, “Many deaf people feel as though deafness is not a handicap. They are culturally deaf individuals who have successfully adapted themselves to being deaf and feel as though things like cochlear implants would take them out of their deaf culture, a culture which provides a significant degree of support” [92]. Putting this delicate debate aside, it is here that some delineation can be made between implants that are used to treat an ailment or disability (i.e., giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf), and implants that may be used for enhancing human function (i.e., memory). There are some citizens, like Amal Graafstra of the United States [125], who are getting chip implants for convenience-oriented social living solutions that would instantly herald in a world that had keyless entry everywhere (Fig. 20). And there are other citizens who are concerned about the direction of the human species, as credible scientists predict fully functional neural implants. “[Q]uestions are raised as to how society as a whole will relate to people walking around with plugs and wires sprouting out of their heads. And who will decide which segments of the society become the wire-heads” [92]?


Fig. 20. Amal Graafstra demonstrating an RFID-operated door latch application he developed. Over the RFID tag site on his left hand is a single steristrip that remained after implantation for a few days. His right hand is holding the door latch.


SECTION V. Überveillance and Function Creep

Section IV focused on implants that were attempts at “orthopedic replacements”: corrective in nature, required to repair a function that is either lying dormant or has failed altogether. Implants of the future, however, will attempt to add new “functionality” to native human capabilities, either through extensions or additions. Globally acclaimed scientists have pondered on the ultimate trajectory of microchip implants [126]. The literature is admittedly mixed in its viewpoints of what will and will not be possible in the future [127].

for those of us working in the domain of implantables for medical and nonmedical applications, the message is loud and clear: implantables will be the next big thing. At first, it will be “hip to get a chip.” The extreme novelty of the microchip implant will mean that early adopters will race to see how far they can push the limits of the new technology. Convenience solutions will abound [128]. Implantees will not be able to get enough of the new product and the benefits of the technology will be touted to consumers in a myriad of ways, although these perceived benefits will not always be realized. The technology will probably be first tested where there will be the least effective resistance from the community at large, that is, on prison inmates [129], then those suffering from dementia. These incremental steps in pilot trials and deployment are fraught with moral consequences. Prisoners cannot opt out from jails adopting tracking technology, and those suffering from cognitive disorders have not provided and could not provide their consent. from there it will conceivably not take long for it to be used on the elderly and in children and on those suffering from clinical depression.

The functionality of the implants will range from passive ID-only to active multiapplication, and most invasive will be the medical devices that can upon request or algorithmic reasoning release drugs or electrically stimulate the body for mental and physical stability. There will also be a segment of the consumer and business markets who will adopt the technology for no clear reason and without too much thought, save for the fact that the technology is new and seems to be the way advanced societies are heading. This segment will probably not be overly concerned with any discernible abridgement of their human rights or the fine-print “terms and conditions” agreement they have signed, but will take an implant on the promise that they will have greater connectivity to the Internet, for example. These consumers will thrive on ambient intelligence, context-aware pervasive applications, and an augmented reality—ubiquity in every sense.

But it is certain that the new technology will also have consequences far greater than what we can presently envision. Questions about the neutrality of technology are immaterial in this new “plugged-in” order of existence. for Brin [130, p. 334], the question ultimately has to do with the choice between privacy and freedom. In his words, “[t]his is one of the most vile dichotomies of all. And yet, in struggling to maintain some beloved fantasies about the former, we might willingly, even eagerly, cast the latter away.” And thus there are two possibilities, just as Brin [130] writes in his amazingly insightful book, The Transparent Society, of “the tale of two cities.” Either implants embedded in humans which require associated infrastructure will create a utopia where there is built-in intelligence for everything and everyone in every place, or implants embedded in humans will create a dystopia which will be destructive and will diminish one's freedom of choice, individuality, and finally that indefinable essence which is at the core of making one feel “human.” A third possibility—the middle-way between these two alternatives—would seem unlikely, excepting for the “off the grid” dissenter.

In Section V-A, we portray some of the attractions people may feel that will draw them into the future world of implanted technologies. In Section V-B, we portray some of the problems associated with implanting technology under the skin that would drive people away from opting in to such a future.

A. The Positive Possibilities

Bearing a unique implant will make the individual feel special because they bear a unique ID. Each person will have one implant which will coordinate hundreds of smaller nanodevices, but each nanodevice will have the capacity to act on its own accord. The philosophy espoused behind taking an implant will be one of protection: “I bear an implant and I have nothing to hide.” It will feel safe to have an implant because emergency services, for example, will be able to rapidly respond to your calls for help or any unforeseen events that automatically log problems to do with your health.

Fewer errors are also likely to happen if you have an implant, especially with financial systems. Businesses will experience a rise in productivity as they will understand how precisely their business operates to the nearest minute, and companies will be able to introduce significant efficiencies. Losses in back-end operations, such as the effects of product shrinkage, will diminish as goods will be followed down the supply chain from their source to their destination customer, through the distribution center and retailer.

It will take some years for the infrastructure supporting implants to grow and thrive with a substantial consumer base. The function creep will not become apparent until well after the early majority have adopted implants and downloaded and used a number of core applications to do with health, banking, and transport which will all be interlinked. New innovations will allow for a hybrid device and supplementary infrastructure to grow so powerful that living without automated tracking, location finding, and condition monitoring will be almost impossible.

B. The Existential Risks

It will take some years for the negative fallout from microchip implants to be exposed. At first only the victims of the fallout will speak out through formal exception reports on government agency websites. The technical problems associated with implants will pertain to maintenance, updates, viruses, cloning, hacking, radiation shielding, and onboard battery problems. But the greater problems will be the impact on the physiology and mental health of the individual: new manifestations of paranoia and severe depression will lead to people continually wanting reassurance about their implant's functionality. Issues about implant security, virus detection, and a personal database which is error free will be among the biggest issues facing implantees. Despite this, those who believe in the implant singularity (the piece of embedded technology that will give each person ubiquitous access to the Internet) will continue to stack up points and rewards and add to their social network, choosing rather to ignore the warnings of the ultimate technological trajectory of mind control and geoslavery [131]. It will have little to do with survival of the fittest at this point, although most people will buy into the notion of an evolutionary path toward the Homo Electricus [132]: a transhumanist vision [133] that we can do away with the body and become one with the Machine, one with the Cosmos—a “nuts and bolts” Nirvana where one's manufactured individual consciousness connects with the advanced consciousness evolving from the system as a whole. In this instance, it will be the ecstatic experience of being drawn ever deeper into the electric field of the “Network.”

Some of the more advanced implants will be able to capture and validate location-based data, alongside recordings (visual and audio capture). The ability to conduct überveillance via the implant will be linked to a type of blackbox recorder as in an airplane's cockpit. Only in this case the cockpit will be the body, and the recorder will be embedded just beneath the translucent layer of the skin that will be used for memory recollection and dispute resolution. Outwardly ensuring that people are telling the full story at all times, there will be no lies or claims to poor memory. Überveillance is an above and beyond, an exaggerated, an omnipresent 24/7 electronic surveillance (Fig. 21). It is a surveillance that is not only “always on” but “always with you.” It is ubiquitous because the technology that facilitates it, in its ultimate implementation, is embedded within the human body. The problem with this kind of bodily invasive surveillance is that omnipresence in the “material” world will not always equate with omniscience, hence the real concern for misinformation, misinterpretation, and information manipulation [7]. While it might seem like the perfect technology to aid in real-time forensic profiling and criminalization, it will be open to abuse, just like any other technique, and more so because of the preconception that it is infallible.


Fig. 21.The überveillance triquetra as the intersection of surveillance, dataveillance, and sousveillance. Courtesy of Alexander Hayes.


SECTION VI. Technology Roadmapping

According to Andrews cited in [1], a second intellectual current within the IEEE SSIT has begun to emerge which is more closely aligned with most of the IEEE technical societies, as well as economics and business. The proponents of this mode participate in “technology foresight” and “roadmapping” activities, and view technology more optimistically, looking to foster innovation without being too concerned about its possible negative effects [1, p. 14]. Braun [134, p. 133] writes that “[f]orecasts do not state what the future will be…they attempt to glean what it might be.” Thus, one with technology foresight can be trusted insofar as their knowledge and judgment go—they may possess foresight through their grasp of current knowledge, through past experiences which inform their forecasts, and through raw intuition.

Various MIT Labs, such as the Media Lab, have been engaged in visionary research since before 1990, giving society a good glimpse of where technology might be headed some 20–30 years ahead of time. It is from such elite groups that visionaries typically emerge whose main purpose is to envision the technologies that will better our wellbeing and generally make life more productive and convenient in the future. Consider the current activities of the MIT Media Lab's Affective Computing Research Group directed by Prof. Rosalind W. Picard that is working hard on technology aids encapsulating “affect sensing” in response to the growing problem of autism [135]. The Media Lab was founded in 1985 by Nicholas Negroponte and Jerome Wiesner to promote research into novel uses of computer technology. The work of Picard's group was made possible by the foundations laid by the Media Lab's predecessor researchers.

On the global technological roadmap we can now point to the following systems which are already under development but have not yet been widely diffused into the market:

  • alternative fuels heralding in innovations like electric cars which are self-driving, and ocean-powered energy, as well as rise of biofuels;

  • the potential for 3-D printing which will revolutionize prototyping and manufacturing practices and possibly reconstruct human tissue;

  • hologram projections for videoconferencing and televisions that respond to gestures as well as pen-sized computing which will do away with keyboards and screens;

  • quantum computing and cryptography;

  • next-generation prosthetics (Fig. 22);

  • cognitive machines such as robot humanoids;

  • carbon nanotubes and nanotech computing which will make our current silicon chips look gargantuan;

  • genetic engineering breakthroughs and regenerative health treatment such as stem cell treatment;

  • electronic banking that will not use physical cash for transactions but the singularity chip (e.g., implant);

  • ubiquitous high-speed wireless networks;

  • crowdsourced surveillance toward real-time forensic profiling and criminalization;

  • autogeneration visual life logs and location chronicles;

  • enhanced batteries that last longer;

  • body power to charge digital equipment [136];

  • brainwave-based technologies in health/gaming;

  • brain-reading technology for interrogation [137].


Fig. 22. Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Alfredo De Los Santos displays what the X2 microprocessor knee prosthetic can do by walking up a flight of stairs at the Military Advanced Training Center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (Washington, DC), December 8, 2009. Patients at Walter Reed are testing next-generation prosthetics. Courtesy of the U.S. Army.

It is important to note that while these new inventions have the ability to make things faster and better for most living in more developed countries, they can act to increase the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. New technologies will not necessarily aid in eradicating the poverty cycle in parts of Africa and South America. In fact, new technologies can have the opposite effect—they can create an ever greater chasm in equity and access to knowledge.

Technology foresight is commonly held by one who is engaged in the act of prediction. Predictive studies more often than not are based on past and present trends and use this knowledge for providing a roadmap of future possibilities. There is some degree of imagination in prediction, and certainly the creative element is prevalent. Predictions are not meant to be wild, but calculated wisely with evidence that shows a given course or path is likely in the future. However, this does not mean that all predictions come true. Predictive studies can be about new inventions and new form factors, or the recombination of existing innovations in new ways (hybrid architectures, for example), or the mutation of an existing innovation. Some elements of predictive studies have heavy quantitative forecasting components that use complex models to predict the introduction of new innovations, some even based on historical data inputs.

Before an invention has been diffused into the market, scenario planning is conducted to understand how the technology might be used, who might take it up, and what percentage of society will be willing to adopt the product over time (i.e., consumption analysis). “Here the emphasis is on predicting the development of the technology and assessing its potential for adoption, including an analysis of the technology's market” [138, p. 328].

Even the founder of Microsoft Bill Gates [139, p. 274] accepted that his predictions may not come true. But his insights in the Road Ahead are to be commended, even though they were understandably broad. Gates wrote, “[t]he information highway will lead to many destinations. I've enjoyed speculating about some of these. Doubtless I've made some foolish predictions, but I hope not too many.” Allaby [140, p. 206] writes, “[f]orecasts deal in possibilities, not inevitabilities, and this allows forecasters to explore opportunities.”

for the greater part, forecasters raise challenging issues that are thought provoking, about how existing inventions or innovations will impact society. They give scenarios for the technology's projected pervasiveness, how they may affect other technologies, what potential benefits or drawbacks they may introduce, how they will affect the economy, and much more.

Kaku [141, p. 5] has argued, “that predictions about the future made by professional scientists tend to be based much more substantially on the realities of scientific knowledge than those made by social critics, or even those by scientists of the past whose predictions were made before the fundamental scientific laws were completely known.” He believes that among the scientific body today there is a growing concern regarding predictions that for the greater part come from consumers of technology rather than those who shape and create it. Kaku is, of course, correct, insofar that scientists should be consulted since they are the ones actually making things possible after discoveries have occurred. But a balanced view is necessary and extremely important, encompassing various perspectives of different disciplines.

In the 1950s, for instance, when technical experts forecasted improvements in computer technology, they envisaged even larger machines—but science fiction writers predicted microminiaturization. They “[p]redicted marvels such as wrist radios and pocket-sized computers, not because they foresaw the invention of the transistor, but because they instinctively felt that some kind of improvement would come along to shrink the bulky computers and radios of that day” (Bova, 1988, quoted in [142, p. 18]). The methodologies used as vehicles to predict in each discipline should be respected. The question of who is more correct in terms of predicting the future is perhaps the wrong question. for example, some of Kaku's own predictions in Visions can be found in science fiction movies dating back to the 1960s.

In speculating about the next 500 years, Berry [142, p. 1] writes, “[p]rovided the events being predicted are not physically impossible, then the longer the time scale being considered, the more likely they are to come true…if one waits long enough everything that can happen will happen.”



When Ellul [143, p. 432] in 1964 predicted the use of “electronic banks” in his book The Technological Society, he was not referring to the computerization of financial institutions or the use of automatic teller machines (ATMs). Rather it was in the context of the possibility of the dawn of a new entity: the conjoining of man with machine. Ellul was predicting that one day knowledge would be accumulated in electronic banks and “transmitted directly to the human nervous system by means of coded electronic messages…[w]hat is needed will pass directly from the machine to the brain without going through consciousness…” As unbelievable as this man–machine complex may have sounded at the time, 45 years later visionaries are still predicting that such scenarios will be possible by the turn of the 22nd century. A large proportion of these visionaries are cyberneticists. Cybernetics is the study of nervous system controls in the brain as a basis for developing communications and controls in sociotechnical systems. Parenthetically, in some places writers continue to confuse cybernetics with robotics; they might overlap in some instances, but they are not the same thing.

Kaku [141, pp. 112–116] observes that scientists are working steadily toward a brain–computer interface (Fig. 23). The first step is to show that individual neurons can grow on silicon and then to connect the chip directly to a neuron in an animal. The next step is to mimic this connectivity in a human, and the last is to decode millions of neurons which constitute the spinal cord in order to interface directly with the brain. Cyberpunk science fiction writers like William Gibson [144] refer to this notion as “jacking-in” with the wetware: plugging in a computer cable directly with the central nervous system (i.e., with neurons in the brain analogous to software and hardware) [139, p. 133].


Fig.&nbsp;23.&nbsp; Brain–computer interface schema. (1) Pedestal. (2) Sensor. (3) Electrode. Courtesy of Balougador under creative commons license.

Fig. 23. Brain–computer interface schema. (1) Pedestal. (2) Sensor. (3) Electrode. Courtesy of Balougador under creative commons license.

In terms of the current state of development we can point to the innovation of miniature wearable media, orthopedic replacements (including pacemakers), bionic prosthetic limbs, humanoid robots (i.e., a robot that looks like a human in appearance and is autonomous), and RFID implants. Traditionally, the term cyborg has been used to describe humans who have some mechanical parts or extensions. Today, however, we are on the brink of building a new sentient being, a bearer of electricity, a modern man belonging to a new race, beyond that which can be considered merely part man part machine. We refer here to the absolute fusion of man and machine, where the subject itself becomes the object; where the toolmaker becomes one with his tools [145]. The question at this point of coalescence is how human will the new species be [146], and what are the related ethical, metaphysical, and ontological concerns? Does the evolution of the human race as recorded in history come to an end when technology can be connected to the body in a wired or wireless form?

A. From Prosthetics to Amplification

Fig.&nbsp;24.&nbsp; Cyborg 2.0 Project. Kevin Warwick with wife Irena during the Cyborg 2.0 project. Courtesy of Kevin Warwick.

Fig. 24. Cyborg 2.0 Project. Kevin Warwick with wife Irena during the Cyborg 2.0 project. Courtesy of Kevin Warwick.

While orthopedic replacements corrective in nature have been around since the 1950s [147] and are required to repair a function that is either lying dormant or has failed altogether, implants of the future will attempt to add new functionality to native human capabilities, either through extensions or additions. Warwick's Cyborg 2.0 project [148], for instance, intended to prove that two persons with respective implants could communicate sensation and movement by thoughts alone. In 2002, the BBC reported that a tiny silicon square with 100 electrodes was connected to the professor's median nerve and linked to a transmitter/receiver in his forearm. Although, “Warwick believe[d] that when he move[d] his own fingers, his brain [would] also be able to move Irena's” [104, p. 1], the outcome of the experiment was described at best as sending “Morse-code” messages (Fig. 24). Warwick [148] is still of the belief that a person's brain could be directly linked to a computer network [149]. Commercial players are also intent on keeping ahead, continually funding projects in this area of research.


If Warwick is right, then terminals like telephones would eventually become obsolete if thought-to-thought communication became possible. Warwick describes this as “putting a plug into the nervous system” [104] to be able to allow thoughts to be transferred not only to another person but to the Internet and other media. While Warwick's Cyborg 2.0 may not have achieved its desired outcomes, it did show that a form of primitive Morse-code-style nervous-system-to-nervous-system communication is realizable [150]. Warwick is bound to keep trying to achieve his project goals given his philosophical perspective. And if Warwick does not succeed, he will have at least left behind a legacy and enough stimuli for someone else to succeed in his place.


B. The Soul Catcher Chip

The Soul Catcher chip was conceived by former Head of British Telecom Research, Peter Cochrane. Cochrane [151, p. 2] believes that the human body is merely a carcass that serves as a transport mechanism just like a vehicle, and that the most important part of our body is our brain (i.e., mind). Similarly, Miriam English has said: “I like my body, but it's going to die, and it's not a choice really I have. If I want to continue, and I want desperately to see what happens in another 100 years, and another 1000 years…I need to duplicate my brain in order to do that” [152]. Soul Catcher is all about the preservation of a human, way beyond the point of physical debilitation. The Soul Catcher chip would be implanted in the brain, and act as an access point to the external world [153]. Consider being able to download the mind onto computer hardware and then creating a global nervous system via wireless Internet [154] (Fig. 25). Cochrane has predicted that by 2050 downloading thoughts and emotions will be commonplace. Billinghurst and Starner [155, p. 64]predict that this kind of arrangement will free up the human intellect to focus on creative rather than computational functions.


Fig. 25. Ray Kurzweil predicts that by 2013 supercomputer power will be sufficient for human brain functional simulation and by 2025 for human brain neural simulation for uploading. Courtesy of Ray Kurzweil and Kurzweil Technologies 2005.

Cochrane's beliefs are shared by many others engaged in the transhumanist movement (especially Extropians like Alexander Chislenko). Transhumanism (sometimes known by the abbreviations “> H” or “H+”) is an international cultural movement that consists of intellectuals who look at ways to extend life through the application of emerging sciences and technologies. Minsky [156] believes that this will be the next stage in human evolution—a way to achieve true immortality “replacing flesh with steel and silicon” [141, p. 94]. Chris Winter of British Telecom has claimed that Soul Catcher will mean “the end of death.” Winter predicts that by 2030, “[i]t would be possible to imbue a newborn baby with a lifetime's experiences by giving him or her the Soul Catcher chip of a dead person” [157]. The philosophical implications behind such movements are gigantic; they reach deep into every branch of traditional philosophy, especially metaphysics with its special concerns over cosmology and ontology.


SECTION VIII. The Next 100 Years: Homo Electricus

A. The Rise of the Electrophorus

Fig.&nbsp;26.&nbsp; Drawing showing the operation of an Electrophorus, a simple manual electrostatic generator invented in 1762 by Swedish Professor Johan Carl Wilcke. Image by Amédée Guillemin (died 1893).

Fig. 26. Drawing showing the operation of an Electrophorus, a simple manual electrostatic generator invented in 1762 by Swedish Professor Johan Carl Wilcke. Image by Amédée Guillemin (died 1893).

Microchip implants are integrated circuit devices encased in RFID transponders that can be active or passive and are implantable into animals or humans usually in the subcutaneous layer of the skin. The human who has been implanted with a microchip that can send or receive data is an Electrophorus, a bearer of “electric” technology [158]. The Macquarie Dictionary definition of “electrophorus” is “an instrument for generating static electricity by means of induction,” and refers to an instrument used in the early years of electrostatics (Fig. 26).


We have repurposed the term electrophorus to apply to humans implanted with microchips. One who “bears” is in some way intrinsically or spiritually connected to that which they are bearing, in the same way an expecting mother is to the child in her womb. The root electro comes from the Greek word meaning “amber,” and phorus means to “wear, to put on, to get into” [159, p. 635]. When an Electrophorus passes through an electromagnetic zone, he/she is detected and data can be passed from an implanted microchip (or in the future directly from the brain) to a computer device.

To electronize something is “to furnish it with electronic equipment” and electrotechnology is “the science that deals with practical applications of electricity.” The term “electrophoresis” has been borrowed here, to describe the “electronic” operations that an electrophorus is involved in. McLuhan and Zingrone [160, p. 94] believed that “electricity is in effect an extension of the nervous system as a kind of global membrane.” They argued that “physiologically, man in the normal use of technology (or his variously extended body) is perpetually modified by it and in turn finds ever new ways of modifying his technology” [161, p. 117].

The term “electrophorus” seems to be much more suitable today for expressing the human-electronic combination than the term “cyborg.” “Electrophorus” distinguishes strictly electrical implants from mechanical devices such as artificial hips. It is not surprising then that these crucial matters of definition raise philosophical and sociological questions of consciousness and identity, which science fiction writers have been addressing creatively. The Electrophorus belongs to the emerging species of Homo Electricus. In its current state, the Electrophorus relies on a device being triggered wirelessly when it enters an electromagnetic field. In the future, the Electrophorus will act like a network element or node, allowing information to pass through him or her, to be stored locally or remotely, and to send out messages and receive them simultaneously and allow some to be processed actively, and others as background tasks.

At the point of becoming an Electrophorus (i.e., a bearer of electricity), Brown [162] makes the observation that “[y]ou are not just a human linked with technology; you are something different and your values and judgment will change.” Some suspect that it will even become possible to alter behavior of people carrying brain implants, whether the individual wills it or not. Maybury [163]believes that “[t]he advent of machine intelligence raises social and ethical issues that may ultimately challenge human existence on earth.”

B. The Prospects of Transhumanism

Fig.&nbsp;27.&nbsp; The transhumanism symbol. Courtesy of Antonu under Creative Commons license.

Fig. 27. The transhumanism symbol. Courtesy of Antonu under Creative Commons license.

Thought-to-thought communications may seem outlandish today, but it is only one of many futuristic hopes of the movement termed transhumanism. Probably the most representative organization for this movement is the World Transhumanist Association (WTA), which recently adopted the doing-business-as name of “Humanity+” (Fig. 27). The WTA's website [164] carries the following succinct statement of what transhumanism is, penned originally by Max More in 1990: “Transhumanism is a class of philosophies of life that seek the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human form and human limitations by means of science and technology, guided by life-promoting principles and values.” Whether transhumanism yet qualifies as a philosophy, it cannot be denied that it has produced its share of both proponents and critics.


Proponents of transhumanism claim that the things they want are the things everyone wants: freedom from pain, freedom from suffering, freedom from all the limitations of the human body (including mental as well as physical limitations), and ultimately, freedom from death. One of the leading authors in the transhumanist movement is Ray Kurzweil, whose 652-page book The Singularity Is Near [165] prophesies a time in the not-too-distant future when evolution will accelerate exponentially and bring to pass all of the above freedoms as “the matter and energy in our vicinity will become infused with the intelligence, knowledge, creativity, beauty, and emotional intelligence (the ability to love, for example) of our human-machine civilization. Our civilization will then expand outward, turning all the dumb matter and energy we encounter into sublimely intelligent—transcendent—matter and energy” [165, p. 389].

Despite the almost theological tone of the preceding quote, Kurzweil has established a sound track record as a technological forecaster, at least when it comes to Moore's-Law-type predictions of the progress of computing power. But the ambitions of Kurzweil [178] and his allies go far beyond next year's semiconductor roadmap to encompass the future of all humanity. If the fullness of the transhumanist vision is realized, the following achievements will come to pass:

  • human bodies will cease to be the physical instantiation of human minds, replaced by as-yet-unknown hardware with far greater computational powers than the present human brain;

  • human minds will experience, at their option, an essentially eternal existence in a world free from the present restrictions of material embodiment in biological form;

  • limitations on will, intelligence, and communication will all be overcome, so that to desire a thing or experience will be to possess it.

The Transhumanist Declaration, last modified in 2009 [166], recognizes that these plans have potential downsides, and calls for reasoned debate to avoid the risks while realizing the opportunities. The sixth item in the Declaration, for example, declares that “[p]olicy making ought to be guided by responsible and inclusive moral vision, taking seriously both opportunities and risks, respecting autonomy and individual rights, and showing solidarity with and concern for the interests and dignity of all people around the globe.” The key phrase in this item is “moral vision.” While many self-declared transhumanists may agree on the moral vision which should guide their endeavors, the movement has also inspired some of the most vigorous and categorically critical invective to be found in the technical and public-policy literature.

Possibly the most well known of the vocal critics of transhumanism is Francis Fukuyama, a political scientist who nominated transhumanism as his choice for the world's most dangerous idea [167]. As with most utopian notions, the main problem Fukuyama sees with transhumanism is the transition between our present state and the transhumanists' future vision of completely realized eternal technological bliss (Fig. 28). Will some people be uploaded to become immortal, almost omniscient transhumans while others are left behind in their feeble, mortal, disease-ridden human bodies? Are the human goods that transhumanists say are basically the same for everyone really so? Or are they more complex and subtle than typical transhumanist pronouncements acknowledge? As Fukuyama points out in his foreign Policy essay [167], “Our good characteristics are intimately connected to our bad ones… if we never felt jealousy, we would also never feel love. Even our mortality plays a critical function in allowing our species as a whole to survive and adapt (and transhumanists are about the last group I would like to see live forever).”


Fig.&nbsp;28.&nbsp; Brain in a vat with the thought: “I'm walking outside in the sun” being transmitted to the computer. Image reproduced under the Creative Commons license.

Fig. 28. Brain in a vat with the thought: “I'm walking outside in the sun” being transmitted to the computer. Image reproduced under the Creative Commons license.

Transhumanists themselves admit that their movement performs some of the functions of a religion when it “offers a sense of direction and purpose.” But in contrast to most religions, transhumanists explicitly hope to “make their dreams come true in this world” [168]. Nearly all transhumanist programs and proposals arise from a materialist–reductionist view of the world which assumes that the human mind is at most an epiphenomenon of the brain, all of the human brain's functions will eventually be simulated by hardware (on computers of the future), and that the experience known as consciousness can be realized in artificial hardware in essentially the same form as it is presently realized in the human body. Some of the assumptions of transhumanism are based less on facts and more on faith. Just as Christians take on faith that God revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, transhumanists take on faith that machines will inevitably become conscious.

Fig.&nbsp;29.&nbsp; The shadow dextrous hand shakes the human hand. How technology might become society—a future agreement. Courtesy of Shadow Robot Company 2008.

Fig. 29. The shadow dextrous hand shakes the human hand. How technology might become society—a future agreement. Courtesy of Shadow Robot Company 2008.

In keeping with the transhumanists' call for responsible moral vision, the IEEE SSIT has been, and will continue to be, a forum where the implications for society of all sorts of technological developments can be debated and evaluated. In a sense, the transhumanist program is the ultimate technological project: to redesign humanity itself to a set of specifications, determined by us. If the transhumanists succeed, technology will become society, and the question of the social implications of technology will be moot (Fig. 29). Perhaps the best attitude to take toward transhumanism is to pay attention to their prophecies, but, as the Old Testament God advised the Hebrews, “if the thing follow not, nor come to pass…the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously…” [169].



SECTION IX. Ways forward

In sum, identifying and predicting what the social implications of past, present and future technologies might be can lead us to act in one of four ways, which are not mutually exclusive.

First, we can take the “do nothing” approach and meekly accept the risks associated with new techniques. We stop being obsessed by both confirmed and speculative consequences, and instead, try to see how far the new technologies might take us and what we might become or transform into as a result. While humans might not always like change, we are by nature, if we might hijack Heraclitus, in a continual state of flux. We might reach new potentials as a populace, become extremely efficient at doing business with each other, and make a positive impact on our natural environment by doing so. The downside to this approach is that it appears to be an all or nothingapproach with no built-in decision points. for as Jacques Ellul [170] forewarned: “what is at issue here is evaluating the danger of what might happen to our humanity in the present half-century, and distinguishing between what we want to keep and what we are ready to lose, between what we can welcome as legitimate human development and what we should reject with our last ounce of strength as dehumanization.”

The second option is that we let case law determine for us what is legal or illegal based on existing laws, or new or amended laws we might introduce as a result of the new technologies. We can take the stance that the courts are in the best position to decide on what we should and should not do with new technologies. If we break the law in a civil or criminal capacity, then there is a penalty and we have civil and criminal codes concerning workplace surveillance, telecommunications interception and access, surveillance devices, data protection and privacy, cybercrime, and so on. There is also the continual review of existing legislation by law-reform commissions and the like. New legislation can also be introduced to curb against other dangers or harms that might eventuate as a result of the new techniques.

The third option is that we can introduce industry regulations that stipulate how advanced applications should be developed (e.g., ensuring privacy impact assessments are done before commercial applications are launched), and that technical expectations on accuracy, reliability, and storage of data are met. It is also important that the right balance be found between regulations and freedom so as not to stifle the high-tech industry at large.

Finally, the fourth option would be to adopt the “Amish method”: complete abandonment of technology that has progressed beyond a certain point of development. This is in some respect “living off the grid” [171].

Although obvious, it is important to underline that none of these options are mutually exclusive or foolproof. The final solution may well be at times to introduce industry regulations or codes, at other times to do nothing, and in other cases to rely on legislative amendments despite the length of time it takes to develop these. In other cases, the safeguards may need to be built into the technology itself.


SECTION X. Conclusion

If we put our trust in Kurzweil's [172] Law of Accelerating Returns, we are likely headed into a great period of discovery unprecedented in any era of history. This being the case, the time for inclusive dialog is now, not after widespread diffusion of such innovations as “always on” cameras, microchip implants, unmanned drones and the like. We stand at a critical moment of decision, as the mythological Pandora did as she was about to open her box. There are many lessons to be learned from history, especially from such radical developments as the atomic bomb and the resulting arms race. Joy [173] has raised serious fears about continuing unfettered research into “spiritual machines.” Will humans have the foresight to say “no” or “stop” to new innovations that could potentially be a means to a socially destructive scenario? Implants that may prolong life expectancy by hundreds if not thousands of years may appeal at first glance, but they could well create unforeseen devastation in the form of technological viruses, plagues, or a grim escalation in the levels of crime and violence.

To many scientists of the positivist tradition anchored solely to an empirical world view, the notion of whether something is right or wrong is in a way irrelevant. for these researchers, a moral stance has little or nothing to do with technological advancement but is really an ideological position. The extreme of this view is exemplified by an attitude of “let's see how far we can go”, not “is what we are doing the best thing for humanity?” and certainly not by the thought of “what are the long-term implications of what we are doing here?” As an example, one need only consider the mad race to clone the first animal, and many have long suspected an “underground” scientific race continues to clone the first human.

In the current climate of innovation, precisely since the proliferation of the desktop computer and birth of new digital knowledge systems, some observers believe that engineers, and professionals more broadly, lack accountability for the tangible and intangible costs of their actions [174, p. 288]. Because science-enabled engineering has proved so profitable for multinational corporations, they have gone to great lengths to persuade the world that science should not be stopped, for the simple reason that it will always make things better. This ignores the possibility that even seemingly small advancements into the realm of the Electrophorus for any purpose other than medical prostheses will have dire consequences for humanity [175]. According to Kuhns, “Once man has given technique its entry into society, there can be no curbing of its gathering influence, no possible way of forcing it to relinquish its power. Man can only witness and serve as the ironic beneficiary-victim of its power” [176, p. 94].

Clearly, none of the authors of this paper desire to stop technological advance in its tracks. But we believe that considering the social implications of past, present, and future technologies is more than an academic exercise. As custodians of the technical means by which modern society exists and develops, engineers have a unique responsibility to act with forethought and insight. The time when following orders of a superior was all that an engineer had to do is long past. with great power comes great responsibility. Our hope is that the IEEE SSIT will help and encourage engineers worldwide to consider the consequences of their actions throughout the next century.


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Technology forecasting, Social implications of technology, History, Social factors, Human factors, social aspects of automation, human-robot interaction, mobile computing, pervasive computing, IEEE society, social implications of technology, SSIT, society founding, social impacts, military technologies, security technologies, cyborgs, human-machine hybrids, human mind, transhumanist future, humanity redesigns, mobile computing, wearable computing, Überveillance, Corporate activities, engineering education, ethics, future of technology, history,social implications of technology, sociotechnical systems

Citation: Karl D. Stephan, Katina Michael, M. G. Michael, Laura Jacob, Emily P. Anesta, 2012, "Social Implications of Technology: The Past, the Present, and the Future", Proceedings of the IEEE, Volume: 100, Issue: Special Centennial Issue, May 13 2012, 1752-1781. 10.1109/JPROC.2012.2189919

Social-technical issues facing humancentric RFID implantees

Social-technical issues facing the humancentric RFID implantee sub-culture through the eyes of Amal Graafstra


Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and transponders have traditionally been used to identify domesticated animals so that they can be reunited with their owners in the event that they stray. In the late 1990s, industry started to investigate the benefits of using RFID to identifying non-living things throughout the supply chain toward new efficiencies in business operations. Not long after, people began to consider the possibilities of getting RFID tag or transponder implants for themselves. Mr Amal Graafstra of the United States is one of the first, and probably most well-known ‘do it yourselfer’ (DIY) implantees, who enjoys building customized projects which enable him to interact with his private social living space. Since 2005, hundreds of people have embarked on a mission to interact with their mobile phones, their cars, and their house via a chip implant, providing personalized settings for their own ultimate convenience. This paper presents some of the socio-technical issues facing the RFID implantee sub-culture, namely health and safety, privacy, security, regulation, and societal perceptions. The paper concludes with a list of recommendations related to implantables for hobbyists.

Section 1. Introduction

While some cultures embrace the practice of decorating the human body with tattoos and brands, others still perform the age-old art of scarification [1]. Of greater currency today however is the act of body piercing using a plethora of metallic materials, including titanium. Some have even opted to modify the body in outward appearance by using large subdermal or transdermal implants on their heads and forearms [2]. But beyond the purely cosmetic body modifications that some subcultures engage in [3], there are now techno-hobbyists who are transforming the manner in which they interact with their personal social living space through the use of functional high-tech devices known as radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and transponders.

On the 22nd of March 2005, Mr Amal Graafstra was implanted with his first radio-frequency identification tag [4]. Anecdotal evidence from other do-it-yourselfer implantees agree that Graafstra has been a pioneer in this field, doing things “first” and also “better” than most other implantees meddling in the high-tech art. In the Beginning of 2006 Graafstra even published a book about the applications he had built [5]. Other high profile implantees [6], some of whom preceded Graafstra, include: Kevin Warwick (University of Reading academic) [7], Scott Silverman (CEO of VeriChip Corporation) [8], Rafael Macedo de la Concha (Mexico's Attorney General) [9], Dr. John Halamka (Harvard Medical School's CIO) [10], Gary Retherford (employee at [11], Mikey Sklar (a UNIX engineer) [12], Jonathan Oxer (a LINUX guru) [13], and Meghan Trainor (doctoral student and artist) [14]. This paper however is not concerned with professional “research-oriented” RFID implantees, such as Kevin Warwick, nor with consumers/customers who have been implanted with commercially available Veri Chip technology, nor with individuals who have used RFID for their artistic performances, such as Eduardo Kac [15]. Rather, this paper is concerned with understanding do it yourselfer (DIY) implantees who are usually technically-savvy citizens and are predominantly interested in novel convenience-oriented solutions. This paper focuses on the challenging socio-technical issues and questions that DIY implantees are faced with, related to health and safety, privacy, security, regulation and societal perceptions.

Section 2. Literature Review

A number of academic articles and book chapters have been published on the life and works of Amal Graafstra, including his own full-length book titled RFID Toys [5]. Graafstra featured in his own IEEE Spectrum article in 2007 [16] and several other academic works about him have been written between 2008 and 2009 [17], [18]. He has also figured in hundreds of popular stories in all forms of media-print, radio and television that have received worldwide coverage, e.g. [19], [20], [21], [22]. Most recently Fox News wrote about him [23] and the Discovery Channel interviewed him. While anyone in Graafstra's position would have probably commercialized their ideas by now, Graafstra remains content in pursuing things that are ‘fun’ rather than things which ‘make money,’ although he admittedly does have an entrepreneurial streak about him. Despite the attention, Graafstra remains level-headed, and it is clear upon speaking with him, that he is more about innovation than he is about becoming famous.

Section 3. Methodology

This paper takes on a non-traditional ICT methodological form in that it is written in two voices; Part A is written in the first person voice of Amal Graafstra where he describes events as a participant and Part B is written in the third person voice where Michael and Michael are relating events about Graafstra, and Graafstra is relating events about others. In 2007, Michael and Michael embarked on a full-length interview with Graafstra [24]. Some two years after the interview was conducted, the interviewers requested that Graafstra reflect on his own ideas and commentary as stated in the original interview transcript [25], and make amendments as he saw fit. Time is a very important element when one considers new radical technologies and applications, especially those that seem to evoke a great deal of interdisciplinary debate. Take the launch of the ENIAC in 1948 for instance, and the misconceptions that ensued [26], although few could have possibly predicted that such awesome machinery would find its way into humans.

In Part A, Graafstra’ s story is depicted “uncut”, and Michael and Michael do not interrupt the flow or stream of ideas but can be credited with evoking responses to questions that Graafstra is seldom asked. The usual media hype disappointingly focuses on whether Graafstra is the ‘devil’ and falls short of those all important philosophical questions about the future trajectory of technology. K. Michael has a background in information and communication technology (ICT) and law, while M.G. Michael has qualifications in philosophy, history and theology and has written on topics related to bioethics and the misuse of new technologies by society. The rich combination of backgrounds and experiences has brought about an interdisciplinary discussion between the three authors in Part B. It does not mean that the authors agree on all points, but new research should not necessarily bring about agreement, but debate toward further discussion. In some sense, this is what the IEEE ISTASIO Conference is about, respecting diverse opinions and looking at new technologies in an interdisciplinary manner that may help to shed light on future developments and how society is to absorb them.

3.1. Case Study: Amal Graafstra

According to Yin (1984, p. 23) a case study “investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context”. The case study in this paper is of a human subject, Mr Amal Graafstra. Graafstra can be considered a participant-researcher in this study while Michael and Michael act as independent observers of the subject within his real-life context.

3.1.1. Background

Amal Graafstra is the Director of Information Technology for OutBack Power Systems. He is the owner of several technology and mobile communications companies. Amal loves thinking up interesting ways to combine and apply various technologies in his daily life. A self-starter, Amal dropped out of community college and started his first company at the age of seventeen. The company was called The Guild, and it provided dial-up Internet access to customers, while small set-ups were still feasible.

Some years later, Amal started his second company Morpheus, which specialized in web hosting and web development. For some time the company did well, but as cheaper hosting services became available, it became more and more difficult to compete in the market. Amal then decided to rebuild Morpheus by supplying managed computing services to the medical industry. In parallel, Amal did some work for WireCutter, a wireless mobile messaging company that were involved in creating mobile marketing campaigns for various radio stations, sending SMS text messages to mobile phones. Graafstra decided to pour his heart and soul into the company he called txtGroups but this too was unable to make ends meet, and soon Twitter rapidly overtook txtGroups as a social text platform. His most recent employment is as the head of an information technology (IT) department where he enjoys creating novel and innovative solutions that enable the business to grow.

3.2. Interview

The interview conducted in 2007 between Graafstra (the subject) and K. Michael (the interviewer) was semistructured and contained 25 questions. The main themes addressed included:

  • Background (upbringing, schooling, qualifications, employment, age and place of residence)

  • Adoption of technology habits, value proposition for RFID implants, and prospects of commercialising intellectual property around humancentric chip implants

  • Motivations for going with an implantable technology as opposed to wearable or luggable device

  • Self-perceptions, whether he is a hobbyist or entrepreneur and what words, terms or phrases he uses to refer to himself (i.e. cyborg versus electrophorus)

  • Thoughts on implantation, who was to conduct the procedure, any barriers or challenges to overcome, and whether or not he had to ask permission to get the implant

  • Feelings on the actual implant process, how it made him feel, whether it was painful or painless and how he dealt with the aftermath of the implantation

  • Attitudes and perceptions towards the application of microchip implants in humans and ethical issues, discussed in terms of specific scenarios and stakeholders

  • Values on mandatory, voluntary, commercial and noncommercial and government-mandated humancentric applications pertaining to issues of consent, opting in/out

  • Views on the location of implantation, the type of tag that should be used, the durability of the tag, and its potential functionality

  • Experiences with Christians or civil libertarians who oppose his use of RFID and his counter-arguments to such notions as the fulfillment of prophecy/“mark of the beast”

  • Personal philosophical and spiritual perspectives

  • Knowledge on the prospect of RFID implant viruses spreading, relationship impacts, potential health risks and security breaches, and other general concerns.

3.3. Ethnography and Participant Observation

Graafstra was asked by Michael and Michael to write a reflection on the original transcript, in actual fact to take on the role of a participant observer. This reflection was integrated into the original transcript, forming Part A of this paper. The reflection remains ‘untouched’ save for changes in formatting and expression. These are the raw thoughts of Amal Graafstra, captured in an ethnographic style [27]: “[i]t is a distinctive feature of social research that the ‘objects’ studied are in fact ‘subjects’ … unlike physical objects or animals, they produce accounts of themselves and their worlds.” Michael and Michael have added relevant bibliographic sources to Part A, and in Part B the content from the original interview conducted with Graafstra is qualitatively analyzed to draw out anthropological and sociological orientations. It is here where the third person voice is used by the authors but where also, events related to Graafstra himself, are cited through direct quotation.

Part A-Participant Observation

In Part A, Amal Graafstra tells his DIY tagger story as a participant observer. He is both the object and subject of his narrative. Graafstra takes us on a tour of where and how it all began-his early interest in computing, in what he calls fun “projects”, and finally what led him to get an RFID tag implanted into his left hand in 2005. Graafstra then takes us on a journey of how he acquired his implant, and how it makes him feel to be a bearer of beneath-the-skin technology. He dedicates a great deal of space discussing health and safety issues relevant to RFID implants and concludes by emphasizing the importance for DIYers to take personal responsibility for their actions.

Section 4. In the Beginning…

Technology has always been an interest of mine. From a very early age I was doing what lots of other inquisitive toddlers were doing … tearing things apart out of curiosity and not being able to put them back together. I was intrigued with seemingly magical things. Wood blocks can only hold one's interest for so long. But a record player or a telephone, those things just held some kind of mystery that needed exploration.

It was not until third grade however, where two very unlikely set of circumstances occurred which introduced me to the boundless potential the world of computers had to offer. I had the privilege of going to a country school. It was literally nestled in a forest, the trees of which we would build forts in during recess. It was very small with only four rooms, one for each grade. Oddly enough, the third grade classroom had a PET computer in it - the only one in the entire school. It had no disk or cassette tape storage and no operating system, just a PET version of BASIC in read only memory (ROM). For the greater part, it sat unused in the corner, a simple and momentary curiosity for most… but not to me. I turned it on and got a simple flashing cursor. What could it mean? What does it want me to type? The mystery was just too great to resist, but without any book or instruction manual, or anyone who knew anything about it at the entire school, I did not get far at all and started to lose interest.

Luckily, that year the school started a new program called Reading Is Fundamental (R.I.F.), where each student was allowed to pick out and keep a free book twice a year. I loved choose-your-own-adventure (CYOA) books, and started picking through the piles to find all the CYOA books available. I noticed there were two books in my stack of potential keepers that said “Computer Programs” on the cover. As I thumbed through those two books I saw there was “programming code” for IBM and Apple II computers, and I wondered if the PET would understand any of it. I picked one out and brought it back to the classroom, and that is when the fun began. If either the IBM or Apple code had worked perfectly “as-is”, it may not have captured my imagination. The fact was, I had to ask for a PET programming book from the teacher, who did manage to track one down. With it, I could cross reference the code in the CYOA book with the PET BASIC book to make the code actually work. By the end of third grade, I was obsessed with the notion I could use a special language to tell the computer exactly what to do and it would do it. I felt like anything was possible! I immediately started begging my parents to buy a computer.

4.1. Technology and Having Fun

There is something special about the latest gadget that comes out or the next release of a fondly regarded software application. It is more than just being able to get a greater number of tasks done; it is also about exploring new possibilities. The creativity one can express through building solutions that work well and people use offers a sense of accomplishment and even pride. That building process might turn out to require creating an entirely new technology of some sort, but for most that process is about extending existing technologies in some way.

Typically, extending a technology is done through standardized channels such as software components, libraries, software development kits (SDKs), and application programming interfaces (APls). In the hardware realm one uses integrated circuits (ICs) with integrated functions, or entire original equipment manufacturer (OEM) hardware modules designed to be integrated into products. What I really love to do however is take an existing product and enhance it, sometimes using methods outside the typical channels. Some people might call that “hacking” but to me it is more about getting into the nuts and bolts of a product and making it do what you want it to do.

For example, I wanted to change out the deadbolt in the front door of my home to work without a key. I purchased an electronic deadbolt that worked with a key or by entering a PIN code by keypad. That was fine for a couple days, but the first time I had a handful of groceries and tried to enter the PIN code, I knew I wanted more. I wanted the deadbolt to unlock faster, without a key and without having to enter a PIN code. I just wanted it to know it was me and let me in, even if I had a handful of groceries. I ended up enhancing that electronic deadbolt to also accept RFID tags as a form of authentication. Later I expanded this idea further to allow a PC to log entries, allow me to set alerts, and even allow me to use other forms of authentication like email and text messages to unlock the door (great for letting neighbors in to check on your pets while you are away). There is no way I would be able to find a residential deadbolt that could do all that, let alone pay less than I did to build it myself.

4.2. Hobbyist or Entrepreneur?

I definitely have an entrepreneurial streak in me. I have started several service-based technology businesses and essentially worked for myself for 15 of the last 17 years or so. When it comes to RFID however, it's mostly just a hobby. I've done some consulting here and there, but when everyday people hear about my implants and the little projects I have built, they tend to ask me if I have any patents and/or plan to market some of these ideas.

The truth is most people have no idea what constitutes a good idea versus a patentable idea versus a marketable idea, or the amount of hard work and risk it takes to bring that little idea all the way to a market successfully. I have not had a good enough idea or met the right people yet with the business experience who could really take these things as far as they would need to go to be successful. Currently my now out-of-print niche market book RFID Toys has been the only commercial venture I have undertaken with regard to RFID, and for the time I have put into it I have basically made around $0.75 USD per hour. Not to mention the whole process was more stressful than it was fun. It seems to be a universal law that states “when you turn a fun hobby into a job, it usually stops being fun”.

So at this point I am much more content with running my little RFID forum, answering people's questions as best I can, helping to solve problems, and putting out some good quality examples others can use to get a basic understanding of hobbyist RFID.

Section 5. Getting the RFID Tag Implant

5.1. The Idea

When I think back to when I first heard about RFID implants, I was very young, perhaps seven or eight years old. I remember my mother telling me how pets were getting these new computer chips and that she did not think it was right. She, and basically everyone I grew up around, thought these things were evil and they would end up controlling humanity via satellite. I remember trodding around in the back yard contemplating the end of civilization as I knew it because of these “horrible devices”. I did not doubt that point of view or those technological misconceptions for quite some time.

The thought of RFID implantation did not resurface until years later when I was faced with the decision of whether or not to implant my own pets with a “tracking chip” (a term still used by vets which does not help dislodge ever-prevalent misconceptions about RFID implantation). By then though I was much more sensible about my approach to technology, and I thoroughly annoyed the veterinarian by asking a ton of technical questions he could not answer. After doing more research (without the aid of a content rich Internet in the early 90s) and really looking into how it worked, I had my pets implanted and I came away with a much better understanding of what the technology could and could not do.

Over a decade later, in March 2005, I found myself moving heavy equipment in and out of my office almost every day. My office door had one of those latches that locked every time it closed, and I really hated having to fish around for my keys all the time. That got me thinking about how archaic the idea of a standard metal key really was. A key is nothing more than a hunk of metal, cut with a certain pattern that identifies me as “authorized”. The typical key and lock system is also lock-centric, meaning the lock is the unique bit and each key that accesses it has to be duplicated from that unique key pattern. Once a unique key pattern is duplicated and distributed, tight control over that lock is essentially lost. I wanted a key-centric solution, meaning each key would be unique and that unique key could be used with various locks. Being unique myself, ideally I wanted that unique key to be me.

I started looking into biometrics, things like face recognition technologies and fingerprint readers. The problem I ran into was the fact that these solutions, when done the right way, were very expensive and resource intensi ve to implement. At the time, there were also serious and valid concerns over the security and reliability of biometric solutions. Also, because I would need to put the camera or fingerprint reader outside, I was also concerned about vandalism. At the time, there were not many reliable biometric options rated for outdoor use that could tell the difference between my real face and a picture of my face, or my fingerprint versus a latex glove fingertip filled with water pressed against the sensor where the remnants of my own fingerprint left on the sensor would betray me. However, I did find a variety of very inexpensive RFID readers, and writing my own software to work with them was a no-brainer. The only down side to RFID was the fact I had to carry around an access card. That got me thinking about pet implants again, and I realized I could get the benefits of RFID without having to carry around anything.

5.2. The RFID Tag Acquisition

The first thing I did was look into getting an actual pet tag implanted, but there were a few issues with pet tags. I discovered there were many different kinds of RFID, and they did not all play well with each other. As it turned out, I could not find any cheap readers that would read the pet tags, and nothing really existed in the OEM hardware space which would have allowed me to easily integrate the pet tag into a custom built access control solution. Another issue was that pet tags have a special porous “anti - migration” coating on them that is designed to allow flesh to grow into and lock the implant in place, making removal or replacement nearly impossible.

There was another option for RFID implantation; the Veri Chip. I had already heard about how the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had approved the VeriChip for implantation into humans, but the Veri Chip had the same issues pet tags had. Hardware options were very limited and expensive, and the tags also had anti-migration coating on them. I also found out that you must be registered in the Veri Chip database to receive one of their implants, which I had issues with considering my goals and intended uses were all private in nature.

Left hand with EM4102 implant and USB reader

So, I figured I would just start with a basic keycard system and find some cheap RFID readers that were easy to interface with or were designed as OEM hardware I could easily integrate into my project. I found several reader options that read EM4102 based tags, so I started looking around for RFID tags based on the EM4102 chip. What I found just about made me jump out of my seat. I found a website that sold EM4102 based RFID tags that came in a glass ampoule form factor just like the pet tags! In addition, these did not have any coating on them. I immediately ordered the reader hardware and a few glass tags (figure 1).


While I waited for the equipment to arrive, I started calling tag manufacturers to find out what differences there might be between the glass tags I ordered (which were not designed for implantation) and implantable pet and human glass tags. It turns out there were only a few insignificant differences, the first of which was that tags did not have the anti-migration coating on them. Second, the EM 4102 based tags did not use the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) animal implant data protocol, which I did not care about either. Finally, they were not manufactured or sold as sterile equipment. After several difficult conversations with various manufacturers, I found out the glass used in the tags I ordered and the animal (pet/livestock/human) implantable tags were the same stuff. That was good enough for me, so as soon as the tags arrived, I was arranging my first implant procedure. At the time I was running a managed computing service designed for medical clinics and had several doctors as clients. Once I confirmed the glass tags worked, I scheduled the implant procedure with one of my clients, a cosmetic surgeon, and started building projects. At the time, I did not tell anyone that I was scheduled for an implant procedure, partly because I was so busy creating my first access control project and partly because at the time I did not consider getting an RFID tag implanted in my left hand to be that novel of an idea. A couple days later after a five minute procedure my left hand was RFID enabled and I had a basic access control system built for my office door.

5.3. A Cyborg or an Electrophorus?

People often ask if I feel any different now, or if I can feel the tags under my skin. Over 5 years later, the answer to both questions is no, not really. I do not feel any different, nor can I feel either implant unless I physically poke one with my finger. In fact, I often forget they are there until I have to use them.

At first it was kind of weird though, and during times of boredom I found myself mindlessly poking at them and feeling the implants under my skin. There was this kind of this cool factor to using them. I would put my hand to the front door and it would unlock, and people would be like “What!? Hold on … what just happened?” and at the time I kind of did feel like a cyborg of sorts.

But over time, the novelty wore off, and now they are just the useful tools I always wanted them to be. Even the interesting conversations I used get into with people regarding safety, security, privacy, religious concerns, and the future of the technology itself now tend to be redundant and repeat themselves constantly. Even my definition of what a cyborg is has changed.

The well-known Professor Kevin Warwick underwent the first human implantation of an RFID tag long before I even thought about doing it. He called that project Cyborg 1.0, which captured both headlines and imaginations. My definition of cyborg is a bit different however. A person with a cochlear implant or even a pace maker, those people are truly mixing technology with biology to become a cybernetic-organism (cyborg). What I have done is simply move an RFID tag from my pants pocket to a skin pocket. There is no biological interaction, and to me that interaction is what defines a cyborg. Michael and Michael [28] distinguish between what is traditionally considered a cybernetic-organism and DIY implantees who are merely “bearers” of technology (i.e. an electrophorus). I think that it is a good idea to have a term that separates us from cyborgs.

So why even bother with implanting a tag in the first place? A lot of people also ask me why “take the risk” putting it under my skin? Why not wear a watch or ring or something with a tag in it? The simple answer is-I won't wear a watch or a ring for very long without losing it. It would be like wearing a backpack everywhere you went; you would just want to take it off all the time due to it being uncomfortable. When I looked at what was possible with glass encased tags and the history these types of RFID implants had with pets, I really did not think twice about getting one implanted. Not to say that I did not do my research first [29], but the actual decision to get a tag implanted was made in a matter of seconds, and I have never regretted it.

Section 6. Is Implanting an Rfid Tag in the Body a “Safe” Practice?

Safety is a big issue, and is still a concern for every do-it-yourselfer (DIY) tagger that is considering or has already undergone an implantation procedure. Given DIY tagging is done through the sheer will of one's own accord, every tagger must take full responsibility for their decisions and actions, their health, safety, and the ultimate outcome of their RFID implantation endeavors.

Table 1. Primary safety concerns for DIY taggers

As the DIY community grows, and more people get non-FDA approved glass tags implanted in non-FDA approved locations, so too the concerns over the safety of RFID implants will grow (Table 1).

6.1. Sterilization

A common method for sterilizing medical equipment is to place it into an autoclave, where heat and pressure destroy any pathogens. The temperature reached inside an autoclave however, is well above acceptable operational and storage specifications for most RFID tags. Due to this, I did not autoclave my glass tags. Both my implants were sterilized by soaking them in a liquid antiseptic for a few minutes before the implantation procedure. As others learnt of what I had done and expressed interest in getting a RFID implant, I suggested they avoid using the autoclave to sterilize their tags as the heat may damage them.

I later performed a test, placing five 2×12mm EM4102 based glass tags in an autoclave for a full one hour cycle. All five tags came out sterile and in working order. On the RFID Toys forum, other users reported similar success with the autoclave and EM4102 tags, leading me to now suggest purchasing at least two tags and putting them through the autoclave prior to implantation. Of course, testing the tags after the sterilization process and before implantation is strongly suggested.

I believe read-only EM4102 tags are able to withstand the high temperatures of the autoclave because the IC chips typically have their unique IDs laser etched into ROM at the factory. Other tag families such as the Philips HITAG with writable memory blocks may not fare as well with such high temperatures, and significant damage to the writable blocks may occur.

6.2. Location

For his Cyborg 1.0 project, Professor Kevin Warwick decided to implant a glass encased tag into the upper inside of his left arm, beneath the inner layer of skin and on top of the muscle [31]. The location seemed to offer a safe haven for the fragile glass casing. Nine days later the tag was removed without complication.

Unlike the typical VeriChip or pet identification applications where a handheld reader is brought in close proximity to the implant, I use my implants in applications where the tag must typically be brought to a fixed reader. Because the normal operational range of small cylindrical glass tags is anywhere from one to four inches, I chose to implant both my tags (one in each hand) into the webbed area between my thumb and index finger, just under the dermis layer. This location allows me to easily position my RFID tags very close to a reader, while still providing an amount of soft tissue to cushion and protect the tags from blunt force impact. Being just under the skin and not in muscle tissue also allows for easy removal or replacement. Most, but not all, DIY taggers have chosen the same location for their implants.

6.3. Migration

Glass encased RFID tags which are designed for implantation in animals or humans typically have an anti-migration coating of some sort affixed to the glass casing. This porous material allows the implantee's flesh to grow into the material which stops the tag from moving around in the body.

The primary purpose of keeping the glass RFID tag located at the selected implantation site has more to do with consistency and ease of use than potential health risks. Veterinarians need to be able to reliably scan the same area on every pet to determine if the animal has a microchip. If tags were able to migrate from their implantation site, vets may fail to successfully scan and identify a tagged pet. In the case of tagging livestock, you do not want to accidentally have a tag migrate into a piece of meat that ends up on the consumer dining table or in scrap pieces of carcass which may be rendered for a variety of food chain-related uses.

Like myself, the DIY tagger community has taken to using glass tags which are not designed for implantation, and as such do not utilize this coating. The lack of coating allows tags to be removed or replaced much more easily than if they had this coating, and after five years neither of my tags have migrated from their implant sites. This may be due to the fact that my tags rest in congruous elastic skin tissue rather than fibrous muscle tissue which is bundled into separate strands that an implant could move between.

6.4. Structural Compromise

The thought of a glass capsule being crushed into small sharp shards while it is still inside one's body does not produce feelings of excitement or enthusiasm. Concern over the structural resilience are warranted, since the cylindrical glass capsules encasing the RFID tag's electrical components (IC, antenna coil, etc.) have very thin walls and are easily crushed using common medical instruments like forceps.

The FDA initially considered the Veri Chip as a class II device which requires special control testing [32]. However this testing did not include any sort of structural integrity test. No crush/penetration tests were performed, and key factors such as lateral stress or compression limits. are unknown. Later, the FDA reclassified the Veri Chip [33], placing it in the type III group of devices which has even fewer controls. The health risks specifically identified in the K033440 reclassification include [34]; adverse tissue reaction, migration of implanted transponder, failure of inserter, failure of electronic scanner, electromagnetic interference, electrical hazards, magnetic resonance imaging incompatibility, and needle stick. No mention of glass casing fracture or structural compromise.

After five years using my own implants and talking to many DIY taggers who have followed suit, I have not heard of anyone having any issue with crushed or compromised tags. Still, the concern is valid, and the choice of implant size, location, orientation, proximity to bone and other inflexible tissues all play a role in avoiding structural compromise.

6.5. Removal and Replacement

At the time of this writing, I have not observed any accounts of DIY taggers getting their implants removed or replaced. However, the implantation of glass tags that do not make use of a polypropylene polymer based anti-migration coating should enable the tags to remain detached and separate from the body, making removal easier.

Rather than implanting tags deep into muscle tissue, which would require invasive surgery to locate and remove, DIY taggers tend to prefer shallow implantation just under the skin. This reduces both the complexity of locating and the size and nature of the incision required to remove the tag. It also means the body is less prone to inflammation and infection-related side effects.

6.6. Cancer Risk

What started off the recent cancer discussion surrounding animal identification RFID implants was a paper published about a French bulldog who received an RFID “pet microchip” implant in September of 2003 at age 9. In April of 2004 he was examined and found to have a “lump” at the implant site [30]:

“[o]n April 2004, Leon, a 9-year-old male French Bulldog, was examined by the referring veterinarian, based in Guelph, Ontario (Canada), for the sudden growth of a subcutaneous 3×3-cm mass located on the dorsal midline of the neck, just cranial to the shoulders. The dog was regularly vaccinated against the most common canine infectious diseases and rabies, and was micro chipped (Indexel, Merial, Lyon, France) in September 2003.”

This news spread quickly, and older studies were dug up revealing similar links in laboratory mice and soon the firestorm was in full swing. I started getting all kinds of concerned emails from DIY taggers, media interview requests, and more hate mail from concerned members of the public. After reading the studies however, it became clear to me that the risks were not as exaggerated as the media and RFID critics made them out to be.

For example, many articles citing the above-mentioned study claimed the French bulldog “had a giant tumor surrounding the implant” and that the dog had died “an untimely death” from that cancer. Upon simply reading the paper I found both those assertions were false [30];

“The microchip was found, not embedded within the tumor, but immediately adjacent to it, surrounded by a very thin fibrous wall (approximately 1 mm thick) and some fresh hemorrhage.”

Reading further I found [30];

“After surgery, the dog was not vaccinated or microchipped again. Up to now, the dog is well, and no recurrence has been observed.”

So basically the dog was doing fine two years later when the study was published in 2006, and the paper calls out various other possible causes such as postinjection fibrosarcoma (a well-known pathologic entity) characterized by inflammatory peritumoral infiltration, multinucleated giant cells, and myofibroblastic cells.

The plainly published facts did not seem to matter though. Both mainstream media and RFID critics alike jumped all over the academic paper and dug up other studies from which to pull completely out of context findings. However, other papers cited within that French bulldog study do point out implants which were embedded in the center of neoplasms. So what is going on here? I started looking into other studies after visiting sites like [35] publishing statements like the following:

“[i]n almost all cases, the malignant tumors, typically sarcomas, arose at the site of the implants and grew to surround and fully encase the devices. These fast-growing, malignant tumors often led to the death of the afflicted animals. In many cases, the tumors metastasized or spread to other parts of the animals. The implants were unequivocally identified as the cause of the cancers.”

The bottom line for myself and other DIY taggers was simple: should we be concerned about this? For the most part, what I found after digging into many of these studies was that these laboratory mice were either genetically prone to cancerous growths or subjected to radiation and/or chemical carcinogens in an effort to intentionally stimulate cancerous growth. So now the question becomes, what would cause cancer to grow around an implant? There could only be two things; the glass used to encase the RFID tag or the anti-migration coating used to lock the implant in place in the flesh. In both instances more research is needed, however it is my personal opinion that the porous coating will likely be revealed as the leading factor in stimulating cancerous growth in the area immediately surrounding implantation sites in predisposed specimens.

6.7. Taking Personal Responsibility

While I believe everyone today needs to take a bit more personal responsibility when it comes to the decisions they make, for a DIY tagger this is especially true. A draft DIY tagger code is depicted in Table 2.

Table 2. DIY tagger code

Part B-Socio-Technical Issues

In Part B, Michael and Michael relate events about Graafstra, and Graafstra relates events about others. The whole Part is written in the third person voice. Where direct quotes are used, Graafstra's sentiments and interview responses are captured verbatim. In this part the main socio-technical issues facing RFID implantees is discussed, including security, privacy, data ownership (personal versus commercial), social issues (e.g. religious responses and socio-political concerns), law and policy. Due to space limitations the authors do not go into great detail in each of the socio-technical issues addressed, rather, this remains the aim of a future work-in-progress. Part B concludes by acknowledging the role of all the stakeholders in the feedback mechanism towards social innovation.

Section 7. RFID, Implantees and Security

RFID is a very broad term that encompasses a plethora of technologies that are all designed differently but do one thing; identify something via radio frequency (RF) communication. That includes everything from the World War II identification friend or foe (IFF) systems to implantable tags to RFID enabled credit cards. As recent as 2006, the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was debating the use of RFID for humans. In reports [37] and [38], it is clear that while one DHS full committee found that deployment of RFID for human identification should be done with caution, the second report by a subcommittee ruled that the practice was inappropriate [39]. The recommendation by the DHS subcommittee read [38]:

“[t]here appear to be specific, narrowly defined situations in which RFID is appropriate for human identification. Miners or firefighters might be appropriately identified using RFID because speed of identification is at a premium in dangerous situations and the need to verify the connection between a card and bearer is low. But for other applications related to human beings, RFID appears to offer little benefit when compared to the consequences it brings for privacy and data integrity. Instead, it increases risks to personal privacy and security, with no commensurate benefit for performance or national security. Most difficult and troubling is the situation in which RFID is ostensibly used for tracking objects (medicine containers, for example), but can in fact be used for monitoring human behavior “For these reasons, we recommend that RFID be disfavored for identifying and tracking human beings. When DHS does choose to use RFID to identify and track individuals, we recommend the implementation of the specific security and privacy safeguards …”

Many RFID technologies are insecure by design, or employ weak or flawed encryption methods. However, that is not to say that an RFID system using an insecure RFID technology is itself insecure by default. Despite the early 2006 findings of the DHS reports, there are U.S. RFID-based schemes which are now in widespread use. Graafstra points to the “trusted traveler” RFID-enabled NEXUS card as an example [40]. The NEXUS card is a U.S. government issued travel card that has an ultra high frequency (UHF) RFID tag inside, which does not employ any encryption technology. Any Generation 2 (Gen 2) UHF reader can read the unique code stored in the tag. The RF technology used by the NEXUS system is insecure, but the NEXUS system that allows one to travel across various borders is not inherently insecure, so one's identity is theoretically not at risk. Graafstra elaborates: “[t]he Gen 2 ID stored in my card is a unique number, but that number in no way gives up any information about me to an attacker who may be able to read it-it is just a number. The systems that link that ID number to actual important information about me are secured in far superior ways than the systems that store your library card account, or in some states, even your dri ver license information.”

Like NEXUS travel cards, the VeriChip medical implant does not employ encryption in any way. Any passive 134 kHz reader capable of understanding the VeriChip data protocol can read the ID of any VeriChip implant. Even though these IDs are tied to medical records, the ID itself is useless to a random attacker because access to those records also requires both access to a medical network and a health professional's account password. Systems that employ encrypted RFID tags have, in the past, relied heavily on the crypto algorithms in the RFID tags themselves to secure the system in which RFID technology was integrated into.

Graafstra uses the example of ExxonMobil's pay-at-the-pump SpeedPass system and the many vehicle immobilizer systems that make use of the 134 kHz TI DST tag, which secures communication through a challenge/response mechanism. The problem with these systems Graafstra outlines is that because they do not possess any other security mechanisms outside of the RFID tag's encryption, the systems are vulnerable to fraud by cracking the encryption algorithm used by tags to generate proper responses to the challenges issued by commercial readers. Once the DST tag crypto had been cracked [41], ExxonMobil had to redesign their SpeedPass payment system to implement credit card style fraud detection to detect and prevent fraudulent transactions. Other tag chipsets that employ encryption mechanisms like MiFare and HIT AG S have also been compromised, leading systems designers to rethink security and start balancing RFID encryption with other security mechanisms.

Graafstra points to the fact that his left hand contains an EM4102 tag, which by design does not utilize any security measures. The tag ID is readable by any 125 kHz reader able to understand EM4102 tags and get close enough to read the tag. He comments, “[e]ven so, I use that tag to unlock my back door when I get home from work. Many would argue that my home is completely insecure because my implanted tag is not secure. I do not disagree, but I also do not believe that I am at any greater risk of home invasion as a result.”

7.1. Security Context

Quite often people think security is a pass/fail scenario. Either something is secure or it is not. In reality, a security policy is a collection of systems, methods, and procedures that protect an asset by removing enough value and/or applying enough deterrence that a potential attacker will not even bother or quit trying. To get to the heart of the matter, you have to start with the premise that nothing is truly secure. If there is enough desire, determination, and resources available to an attacker, they will eventually succeed.

The inherent lack of encryption in many RFID tags impacts DIY taggers building personal use applications differently than it does commercial enterprises like Veri Chip, ExxonMobil, and VISA/MasterCard with their public use applications. Graafstra argues that despite the fact that he uses an insecure RFID tag to unlock the back door of his house, if a random attacker were to get close enough to read the ID of the EM4102 tag implanted in his left hand, they would not have any way to derive his identity (e.g. name), his home location (e.g. where he lives), or his phone number. This is however discounting the simple fact that one can be covertly followed in a public space. Graafstra believes an attacker intent on entering his home would generally use more mundane approaches such as breaking a window, than going to the effort of a technical approach. Graafstra's observations are quite correct, for the time being, until more and more DIY taggers start to rig up their personal living spaces with readers.

7.2. Designing with Security in Mind

7.2.1 RFID Cards in the Corporation

Assuming the encryption algorithms used by “secure tags” today have been or will soon be cracked, system designers need to shift from exclusive reliance on tag encryption and incorporate other features to make their systems more secure. Starting with the RFID tag itself, several businesses integrate RFID access control tags with their employee name badges. These can be constructed with a simple push button membrane or switch that connects the RFID antenna to the tag IC. Graafstra recommends that given the user already has to handle their name badge in order to place it close enough to a reader to get a valid read, why not require a simultaneous press of a switch while doing so? For Graafstra, such a simple design change would eliminate almost every possibility for a non-consensual read by malicious users.

Access control systems can also be designed with more intelligence than they currently possess. Graafstra relates the following scenario with respect to physical access control to a corporation. Assume Dave of XYZ Corp has been the victim of a malicious card scan. The attacker intends to emulate Dave's card ID to gain access to the building by mixing in with the morning rush of people. Dave enters the building first, and then the attacker enters five minutes later. Dave goes to his desk by way of the elevator and a couple of other security doors where his badge is used. The attacker takes a different route to his target, using his emulated Dave badge. The system should be able to recognize the odd access pattern through validation and alert security, possibly offering up an employee photo along side a time stamped video of the various RFID access events. Security personnel could then quickly determine if there was an attempted security breach they needed to address. If so, they could lock down Dave's badge so it no longer functioned, and even set up real-time mobile alerts to tell roving security guards if and where the badge was trying to be used. In theory, Graafstra is correct, system designers for the greater part are not thinking foolproof security blueprints but the reality is that budgeting and security staff resourcing would possibly not allow for such sophisticated security interventions; detection is one thing, acting on an email or mobile alert is another.

7.2.2. RFID Implants and Diy Tagger Protection

Graafstra has spent a great deal of time thinking how DIY taggers could protect themselves from what he terms “casual” security attacks. He has documented his solution as follows. Using the read/write memory blocks that many types of tags have is a good way to increase both the risk and the amount of effort an attacker would have to exert in order to successfully execute an attack. For example, the HIT AG S 2048 tag in his right hand uses 40 bit encryption to protect the contents of its 255 byte read/write memory blocks. The 40 bit encryption will not stop a serious attacker but it will diminish the casual attacker's ability.

Graafstra elaborates in detail: to enhance the security of a system, the memory space can contain a pseudo-random rotating hash which is used in conjunction with the tag's read onl y unique serial number to confirm authorized entry. The hash is generated based on a secret key that only your system knows, coupled with an incrementing counter used to salt the hash. When the hash is read, the system uses much more powerful encryption algorithms to calculate and match the hash stored on the tag than the tag itself is capable of utilizing. The counter value is derived and checked against the system counter to ensure the encrypted hash is correct for the tag IDand to ensure the counter value is moving forward and not staying still or moving backward. Upon successful authentication, the counter is updated and a new hash is written to the memory blocks. If an attacker were able to break the 40 bit encryption to gain access to the memory contents, a successful attack is still orders of magnitude more difficult to pull off than plainly emulating an unencrypted tag. Also, a successful attack would provide a very small window of opportunity as any use of the original card would invalidate the cloned tag's counter/hash combination.

Section 8. RFID Implantees and Privacy

8.1. Misconceptions About RFID Technology

There are a lot of misconceptions in the general community about how various RFID technologies work, prompting unfounded fears of global positioning system (GPS) satellites tracking embedded tags and implants. This is not to say that in the future RFID tags will not be able to interface with a number of different mobile technologies but for now this kind of global tracking is unavailable. And this not because it is not technically feasible to do so, but rather because large-scale agreements have not yet been entered into between a variety of stakeholders.

Active RFID tags can transmit data very long distances, anywhere from a few feet to 10 miles or more, but they use battery power to do so and are bigger and bulkier than passive RFID tags. Inversely, passive tags like those used in retail inventory applications and glass encased implants are typically smaller. They do not have internal power sources, and can generally communicate with readers from only a few inches to a few feet away depending on chipset, size, and frequency used. Certain experiments have shown, under ideal conditions, that passive UHF tags can be read from several hundred feet, but those are special test cases not practical real-world scenarios. Even so, the prevalent fear amongst every day consumers is that, somehow, carrying an RFID tag of any kind will allow “them” (e.g. government agencies) to track your every move.

Today, people's activities are logged constantly. From every non-cash purchase you make to every RFID “fast pay” toll booth archway driven under to every phone call made, something somewhere is logging that activity. Graafstra points out the potential for data mining through a variety of sources, emphasizing that “[n]obody is upset about this type of information gathering as they are about RFID technology … [and that] the backlash from specific segments of the public seems to center on embedded tags, whether they are embedded in clothes, in driver license cards, or people's bodies.” For Graafstra, the stated concerns indicate people believe RFID is capable of more than it really is, and that those perceived capabilities culminate as fear of massive privacy invasion on an unprecedented scale.

8.2. Some Consumer Concerns Warranted

Although Graafstra does acknowledge that some consumer concerns with respect to RFID are valid, he believes the concern is misdirected at the technology itself rather than on human factor issues, e.g. consent. He emphasizes that unobtrusive reads amount to privacy problems, and that to some extent history has already proven that this is a valid concern. Clothing manufacturer Benetton, for example, was found to be embedding RFID tags into women's garments in an effort to quickly identify past customers as they walked into their storefronts [42]. Graafstra also singles out the idea of function creep, inferring that consent given for one use may be extended at a later date as the application grows. People who have to travel over toll roads and bridges may opt to use an RFID tag permanently affixed to their windscreen for automatic payment may find that the terms and conditions they originally signed up for have changed, and in some instances without warning. For example, some state governments collect data from RFID tollway tags to monitor traffic patterns on their roadways without notifying users. Furthermore, logs of which tags passed what checkpoint at what time are kept for undisclosed periods of time and log data could potentially be shared with an unknown number of requestors. Graafstra questions whether the next step will indeed be to issue speeding fines based on how fast people have traveled from checkpoint A to B.

8.3. RFID Tags: Personal Versus Commercial Use

Now let us take a hypothetical look at RFID privacy in a hostile environment, and the differences between personal use and commercial use contexts. When you sign up for a commercial service that utilizes RFID in some way, you surrender your personal information which is tied to that unique tag ID. Assuming the company does not share your tag ID or your information with any other person or company, your information is still associated with that tag ID and could be used to violate your privacy through nonconsensual reading of the tag. The problem gets worse if that company sells or shares that data with other companies or people.

In a personal use context, you never surrender your personal information to anyone, and your tag ID is in no way associated with you. The best any snoopy corporation or government could do would be to aggregate non-identifiable data together to determine patterns of anonymous tag IDs. Of course, there is always the concern that associations could be made through other means. For example, suppose a checkpoint was set up that could read a large cross-section of tags from RFID enabled credit cards, access cards, various tag types in UHF, high frequency (HF), and low frequency (LF) frequency ranges, etc. A properly read and decrypted RFID credit card will reveal the cardholder's name, and if other tag IDs always showed up in logs when “Dave's” unprotected RFID-enabled credit card did, then one could assume that all those RFID tags resided in Dave's wallet with his credit card. While this fact may be disconcerting, Dave can still take measures to protect himself, by choosing to shield his tags and cards [43], or even leave them at home. But what about implanted RFID tags? Leaving those at home is not possible and shielding them could be socially awkward (always explaining why you're wearing tin foil gloves), even though increasingly sentinel jackets are coming onto the market.

Implantable tags like VeriChip which are sold to the public for use within commercial systems do present different privacy challenges than the glass tags implanted by DIY taggers. A commercial system means uniformity when it comes to things like implant location, type of chip, data protocol, and frequency. Since the implant location is common to all users (e.g. in the case of the VeriChip it is the triceps muscle of the right arm), Graafstra believes that a simple reader can be set up at typical arm height in a doorway to casually capture tag IDs from passers-by. With enough people using a common system and enough readers placed in enough doorways, unique traffic profiles could be created for each tag ID much more easily.

Section 9. RFID Implantees and Society

9.1. PET and Animal Identification Systems

Whether people like to admit to it or not, society today is full of RFID tag and transponder technologies embedded in buildings, in vehicles, in packages, in clothing, in animals, and in people's wallets. This diffusion will continue to grow annually with predictions that 26.1 billion units will be sold in 2011 alone [44]. Passive RFID tags designed to be implanted into animals have been around since the early 1980s. After being widely tested by several companies in the early 1990s (such as Destron's LifeChip [45]), the number of pets with implanted RFID tags has skyrocketed as local councils and state governments move to make the chipping of domesticated animals compulsory [46]. To date this practice, above all else, has done more to raise public awareness of the positive applications of implantables than any other use of implantable RFID tags.

Today RFID tags, both passive and active, are used to keep tabs on everything from pets to livestock to wild animals on land, in the air, and in the sea. Graafstra notes, that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uses “microchipping” in its research of wild bison, black-footed ferrets, grizzly bears, elk, white-tailed deer, giant land tortoises and armadillos. New developments in sensors, RF, and power harvesting technologies are also leading the way to “implantable” RF enabled sensors embedded into trees (e.g. orchards). These “tree tags” relay information about the health of the tree, the surrounding forest environment, and raise an alarm in the event of a forest fire [47].

9.2. Is it Hip to Get the Chip?

Since Michael and Michael began their research into non-medical ICT implantables in the mid-1990s, they were preoccupied by the question of diffusion, and predominantly the notion of who influenced whom within the context of an actor network. For example, who was the first DIY tagger implantee? What inspired them to get an implant? How did they come to know of other implantees? When Graafstra received his first implant, he knew he was not the first. Professor Kevin Warwick had long since completed his Cyborg 1.0 project, and VeriChip had received FDA approval and was already implanting customers. Graafstra believes what he embarked on in early 2005 created such a media interest because he got the implant on his own accord, and he self-reported it all using photographs and video via the web. He also was comprehensive in his documentation of what he planned to do with his implant, and quickly demonstrated its functionality. Finally, he also believes implanting a RFID device in the hand, and not in the upper arm, sparked more intrigue and inquiry.

Since that time Veri Chip (now PositivelD [48]) have been marketing their products, and to date allegedly have between 1000 and 2000 people registered in their medical implant database, although some estimates are much lower and some much higher. The size of the DIY community is, by its very nature, unknown. Yet shortly after news of Graafstra's implant became public, he was contacted by lots of members from the general community who wanted to know how to obtain an implant themselves. Graafstra is frank, when he states: “today, anyone can buy glass encased RFID tags and watch self-implantation procedures online, and then go to their local piercing shop to get it done”. One is left pondering, however, whether DIYers are engaged in the act of blueprint copying or idea diffusion, and the repercussions that this might have on how RFID implants are utilized in the future. Jared Diamond describes blueprint copying as the act of copying or modifying an available detailed blueprint. At the opposite end of the spectrum lies idea diffusion, which is when one receives little more than the basic idea and has to reinvent the fine details [49].

Graafstra estimates there could be roughly 200 or 300 DIY taggers around the world who have opted to get a non-commercial RFID implant. Graafstra is reflective, that while he does not know the exact number of DIYers, he does know (or at least understands) the inner motivations of some DIYers to get an implant is less than technical. He said:

“I've been contacted by 16 year old kids who have had to wait until they are 18 to get this done due to - what I think are - valid parental concerns. On my RFID forum, I have repeatedly suggested that it is not worth taking even a minor health risk to get this done if you do not really know why you want it and what your goals are once you have it. Even so, when I asked a couple of these kids why they wanted to get an implant and what they were going to do with it, in both cases their responses were something along the lines of “because it's cool” and “I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it”. I have also been contacted by body-madders who, after getting their fifteenth cosmetic subcutaneous silicone implant, wanted something different … something that was actually functional in some way, even if they did not have any plans to actually use it.”

However most DIY taggers tend to view their implant as a utilitarian tool to be used in daily life with projects they have built themselves. In this loose-knit community [50] of practical DIY taggers, one could argue it is actually “hip to get the chip,” even though the best place for it is unanimously the hand!

9.3. RFID Implants for Families: Peace of Mind?

When considering the applications that Applied Digital Solutions were marketing in 2003, and those that were subsequently marketed by the VeriChip Corporation, Graafstra circumspectly calls the “brochureware” confusing from a marketing perspective at least. For Graafstra, any sort of communication that misleads the public about pinpoint location positioning via the RFID chip is widely fantastical and utterly disappointing. He does not understand, how on the basis of a commercial vision, the Mexican Attorney General allowed himself and some of his staff to be Veri Chipped with an “anti-kidnapping chip”. Parents, like that of Jeffrey and Leslie Jacobs were also lead to believe, probably through mainstream public misconceptions about the function of RFID, that getting a Veri Chip implant would provide their whole family with security and “piece of mind” [51].

The fact is, no RFID implant can provide that kind of security and “traceability” that certain members of society are looking for or are afraid of. The best an RFID implant can do today, is identify the person sitting two inches away from the scanner. That may help identify a corpse, but it will not help find missing persons. This is not to say that in the not-to-distant future, technological convergence might enable very sophisticated applications to be built. The idea of implanting prisoners, persons on parole or persons on extended supervision orders (ESOs), or military service-people with digital implantable dog tags has been considered but has yet to take place. Again, Graafstra points to public polls where consumers believe that implanting prisoners or parolees would make society “safer” because it would make implantees easier to track down and keep in confined zones if required, but he is adamant that these kinds of solutions are not yet possible using implanted RFID tags. The permanency of FDA approved implantables is especially disconcerting as they possibly do not give one-time offenders, or once military service personnel, an opportunity to rehabilitate or move onto other professions [52]. For Graafstra this is a violation of service terms, since imposed subcutaneous FDA approved commercial implants are long lasting physical remnant of requirements that have long since expired, and no longer valid.

9.4. RFID Implants for Employees and the Law

To date, no employer has required an employee or potential employee to obtain an RFID implant in order to become or remain employed. Critics jumped on inaccurate media reports that, a now defunct municipal surveillance company, had required employees to get implants to access sensitive datacenters. The fact is three employees did receive VeriChip implants and the company paid for their procedures [53]. However, five employees opted to simply carry around an access card to access those same areas. Implantation was optional, not compulsory. There was a similar optional implantation of employees at the Baja Beach Club in Barcelona, Spain but this was not really publicized.

As a preemptive measure several states in the U.S.A passed laws that banned enforced implantation by employers [54]. For Graafstra the problem has more to do with laws and regulations which target a technology than the very ‘act’ of surveillance. Graafstra notes the law passed in California (Senate Bill 362) that banned employers from mandating that employees or potential employees must get an identifying implant in order to perform their work [55]. The law is written with a heavy slant toward a “radio frequency device”, but an argument could be made that this law also covers biometric technologies and other location based mobile technologies. Intentional or not, the definitions section states;

“Identification device” means any item, application, or product that is passively or actively capable of transmitting personal information, including, but not limited to, devices using radio frequency technology.

“Subcutaneous” means existing, performed, or introduced under or on the skin.

For Graafstra such laws do not do anything for employee workplace rights as a plethora of other technologies exist to determine the whereabouts of workers within campus-based facilities like manufacturing plants. For Graafstra, it has less to do with implantables, and more to do with employee privacy.

9.5. Is Getting an RFID Implant Evil?

Many people believe that RFID implants will harm society and/or humanity in some way. The two most vocal groups are people expressing their religious views, and people expressing their socio-political fears [56]‥

9.5.1. Religious Concerns-“Mark of the Beast”

The interpretation of the Book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, by some Christians has caused Graafstra to be the target of backlash by some members of the believing community. Graafstra points to the following verses that RFID critics with a religious orientation invariably point to (Revelation 13: 16–18):

Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. This calls for wisdom: let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty-six.

From the correspondence that Graafstra has received, he has deduced that some Christians believe that “the devil” will require all of humanity to receive a mark of some kind in order to be able to participate in day-to-day societal transactions. And that furthermore, wise people will recognize that mark and attempt to refuse it. Those who are most vocal about such beliefs have gone so far as to insult and threaten Graafstra, and other DIY taggers about their involvement in ICT implants. Graafstra has spent some time reviewing the passages himself countering:

“[s]ince so many people seem to take the Bible so very literally, in my opinion there are a few things they are either ignoring or do not realize. In verse 16, it says “he causeth all” which means everyone will receive “the mark” regardless of whether they want it or not. In verse 17 it says “no man might buy or sell [without the mark]”, meaning absolutely nobody will be able to do this, even if you are living in an igloo on the North Pole trying to do it illegally. In verse 18 it says nothing about wise people refusing the mark or even being able to, it only discusses how to recognize it.”

There are, however, a number of places in Revelation (16:2, 19:20, 20:10) where it seems evident enough that people will indeed have to make a choice, viz., “the mark”. This was certainly the interpretation of all the early church exegetes who dealt with the prophecy [57]. For Graafstra, however, the mark and the beast are potent warnings about willing subscription to oppressive systems, and how using the tools of those systems will only strengthen such systems. It is very important to distinguish between oppressive systems that use technologies to subjugate a people, and technologies that liberate them, or those being used in a private, personal context.

9.5.2. Socio-Political Fears

Some people believe that RFID implants may one day be mandated on the general populace, instituted by totalitarian governments and other authoritarian regimes [58]. Such persons, firmly believe that RFID technology, particularly implant technology, will in some way enslave humanity and cause a major digital divide. These groups generally point to the involvement of large-scale corporations in the conception, development and implementation of RFID implant technology, and to some extent generate conspiracy theory-like scenarios about the future.

Graafstra also notes that he has been threatened both directly and indirectly by some people harboring sociopolitical fears. He elaborates:

“I have been accused of aiding the government and private corporations in their efforts to deploy RFID implants on a wide scale. I very strongly feel it is a priority to attempt to engage these accusers in civil discussion and attempt, however futile, to impart a bit of knowledge so they might understand how these implants function and ultimately the difference between and separation of DIY taggers from commercial solutions by corporations like VeriChip.”

Simply put, some advocacy groups are not helping the debate and whatever valuable insights they might have is lost in a host of “background noise”. The practice of

‘attracting’ hate mail is common among implantees (both in academia and DIYers), and as Graafstra emphasizes, it often does not encourage a healthy exchange of ideas, although it does alert developers to the social realities that may be stifling adoption and potential ethical liabilities development make need to address.

Section 10. RFID Versus Other Technologies

In Graafstra's opinion it is not so much that consumers should be wary of what RFID can do, but of the widespread diffusion of powerful biometrics and pinpoint positioning technologies. Despite that biometric identification is used extensively all over the world to identify and log all kinds of things, Graafstra notes that it does not receive the same amount of attention that RFID does from advocacy groups. Graafstra sums it up very well when he reflects:

“I think the reason for this is that RFID requires a tangible object carried by or implanted in the object to be identified. Biometric identification does not require this because the identifier is your own body. As biometric monitoring devices get more and more unobtrusive and fade further into the urban landscape, I fear lack of motivation will continue to get worse until a series of very serious civil rights violations occur, but by then we might have a social environment so riddled with circumstances where privacy and basic rights have been traded away for the illusion of security that the general public may actually be afraid to turn off and live without these systems.”

Today's biometric technology can identify you by your full body [59], face, voice, fingerprints, chemical scent, gait mechanics, emotional expressions, your DNA, and even your own shadow [60]. Video cameras are very cheap and easy to deploy, and developments in video processing enable face recognition systems to accurately identify entire crowds of people much faster and more accurately than ever before. If your face is not visible, gait analysis systems can still tell it is “you”, based on the way you walk or your body language. The U.S. military, among others, have been working with satellite imaging to successfully identify key targets based on the shadow they cast on the ground [61].

But beyond biometrics, there is now a plethora of positioning technologies entering the market at different levels of precision [62], [63]. Even the mobile phone (whether 3G-enabled or not) has become a potential privacy-invasive tool. In the U.S., President Barrack Obama recently suggested that U.S. citizens have “no expectation of privacy” with respect to their mobile phones, even when not making a call [64]. Graafstra is not alone in his belief that the idea that anyone from local police to government agencies should be allowed to request-without a warrant-your phone's location at any time (even if it is sitting idle in your home) “is a very scary step that moves the U.S. further toward a surveillance state”. The question as Graafstra has rightly put it is why are these issues not receiving the same attention as RFID tags and implantables? There is an obvious mismatch between perceived encroachments in privacy and actual encroachments in privacy. Advocacy groups might be lobbying for “no RFID implants” but what is here “now” is far worse.

10.1. Opting Out of Commercial ID Systems

If one wishes to opt out of an RFID-based system, users can issue requests to any third parties they enrolled with to have their account information destroyed. While this process and its full compliance is entirely in the hands of those third parties, destruction of the RFID tag is within the control of the users themselves. Tags can be returned to vendors, left at home, thrown out, physically destroyed, or in the case of implants physically removed from the body. However, removal of some RFID implants is more difficult than others. According to the company's product documentation, the FDA approved VeriChip is designed for permanent human implantation. Its Bio-Bond® anti-migration coating and the implantation procedure which seats the tag very deep into muscle tissue create a painful and expensive removal experience. The lack of anti-migration coating on the glass tags used by DIY taggers and their typically shallow implant locations allow easy removal that, in an emergency, could even be done with a sharp knife by the taggers themselves. With biometric systems however, the process of opting out is entirely handled by the third parties whose systems you have been enrolled in. Identifying all of these parties can be impossible if you have passively been enrolled in one or more systems without your knowledge. Furthermore, changing or destroying your biological identifiers can be extremely difficult, expensive, painful, or just plain impossible with today's technology.

Section 11. Conclusion

There is some truth in the belief that technology can be used for well intentioned purposes and not-so-well intentioned purposes alike; see for example the differences between two opposing schools of thought-technological determinism and the social shaping of technology. Graafstra believes that most, if not all technologies are neutral: “[i]t is the people who implement and use a particular technology that determine its effect on humanity.” In that regard, Graafstra is one of the first to acknowledge why some people might have a fear of the potential for wide-scale use of RFID implants, especially when claims are made by persons with limited knowledge of what the technology is capable of, or in other circumstances persons who are completely ignorant of technological capabilities.

In reality, people who rise up so fervently to speak out against RFID do provide valuable feedback to the social innovation process. Graafstra knows too well that there will always be people who can and will build and/or use technology in a way that may be or become oppressive to end-users. The role of the critic is to help in the provision of a balanced view and to ask the very questions that may have been ignored during the development process. Perhaps, in the end, it is even quite irrelevant that some of these opponents understand the technology's true capabilities or limitations. The challenge rather to technologists is to usefully harness the criticism, the feedback, in order to build into their products and solutions design safeguards that mean that identified “potential” threats or harms are minimized or eradicated. Religious advocates against RFID, or those that have socio-political fears about the potential uses of RFID, should attempt to enter into intelligent dialogue rather than burn energy in campaigning against global computer giants or writing disrespectful messages to individual persons who are said to be aiding in the fulfillment of prophecy. The same can be said for law and policymakers, who must be open to discussion and who must arrive at intelligent legislation and industry regulation that targets behavior and the misconduct a technology might enable, not the technology itself. For example, some anti-chipping laws in the U.S. only refer to “injectable” RFID implants but we already have swallowable sensor technologies being patented, and what of the future of nanotechnology for healthcare? Policy that singles out technology as the problem, only limits the scope and effectiveness of the policy per se, while not addressing the real issues lurking beneath the surface.


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Radiofrequency identification, Eyes, RFID tags, Transponders, Implants, Radio frequency, Animals,Supply chains, Mobile handsets, Health and safety, social sciences, radiofrequency identification, chip implant, sociotechnical issues, humancentric RFID implantee subculture, Amal Graafstra,radiofrequency identification tags

Citation: Amal Graafstra, Katina Michael, M.G. Michael, 2010, "Social-technical issues facing the humancentric RFID implantee sub-culture through the eyes of Amal Graafstra", International Symposium on Technology and Society, 7-10 June, 2010, pp. 498 - 516 , Wollongong, Australia.

Toward a State of Überveillance


Überveillance is an emerging concept, and neither its application nor its power have yet fully arrived [38]. For some time, Roger Clarke's [12, p. 498] 1988 dataveillance concept has been prevalent: the “systematic use of personal data systems in the investigation or monitoring of the actions of one or more persons.”

Almost twenty years on, technology has developed so much and the national security context has altered so greatly [52], that there is a pressing need to formulate a new term to convey both the present reality, and the Realpolitik (policy primarily based on power) of our times. However, if it had not been for dataveillance, überveillance could not be. It must be emphasized that dataveillance will always exist - it will provide the scorecard for the engine being used to fulfill überveillance.

Dataveillance to Überveillance

Überveillance takes that which was static or discrete in the dataveillance world, and makes it constant and embedded. Consider überveillance not only automatic and having to do with identification, but also about real-time location tracking and condition monitoring. That is, überveillance connotes the ability to automatically locate and identify - in essence the ability to perform automatic location identification (ALI). Überveillance has to do with the fundamental who (ID), where (location), and when (time) questions in an attempt to derive why (motivation), what (result), and even how (method/plan/thought). Überveillance can be a predictive mechanism for a person's expected behavior, traits, likes, or dislikes; or it can be based on historical fact; or it can be something in between. The inherent problem with überveillance is that facts do not always add up to truth (i.e., as in the case of an exclusive disjunction T + T = F), and predictions based on überveillance are not always correct.

Überveillance is more than closed circuit television feeds, or cross-agency databases linked to national identity cards, or biometrics and ePassports used for international travel. Überveillance is the sum total of all these types of surveillance and the deliberate integration of an individual's personal data for the continuous tracking and monitoring of identity and location in real time. In its ultimate form, überveillance has to do with more than automatic identification technologies that we carry with us. It has to do with under-the-skin technology that is embedded in the body, such as microchip implants; it is that which cuts into the flesh - a charagma (mark) [61]. Think of it as Big Brother on the inside looking out. This charagma is virtually meaningless without the hybrid network architecture that supports its functionality: making the person a walking online node i.e., beyond luggable netbooks, smart phones, and contactless cards. We are referring here to the lowest common denominator, the smallest unit of tracking - presently a tiny chip inside the body of a human being, which could one day work similarly to the black box.

Implants cannot be left behind, cannot be lost, and supposedly cannot be tampered with; they are always on, can link to objects, and make the person seemingly otherworldly. This act of “chipification” is best illustrated by the ever-increasing uses of implant devices for medical prosthesis and for diagnostics [54]. Humancentric implants are giving rise to the Electrophorus [36, p. 313], the bearer of electric technology; an individual entity very different from the sci-fi notion of Cyborg as portrayed in such popular television series as the Six Million Dollar Man (1974–1978). In its current state, the Electrophorus relies on a device being triggered wirelessly when it enters an electromagnetic field; these properties now mean that systems can interact with people within a spatial dimension, unobtrusively [62]. And it is surely not simple coincidence that alongside überveillance we are witnessing the philosophical reawakening (throughout most of the fundamental streams running through our culture) of Nietzsche's Übermensch - the overcoming of the “all-too-human” [25].

Legal and Ethical Issues

In 2005 the European Group on Ethics (EGE) in Science and New Technologies, established by the European Commission (EC), submitted an Opinion on ICT implants in the human body [45]. The thirty-four page document outlines legal and ethical issues having to do with ICT implants, and is based on the European Union Treaty (Article 6) which has to do with the “fundamental rights” of the individual. Fundamental rights have to do with human dignity, the right to the integrity of the person, and the protection of personal data. From the legal perspective the following was ascertained [45, pp. 20–21]:

  • the existence of a recognised serious but uncertain risk, currently applying to the simplest types of ICT implants in the human body, requires application of the precautionary principle. In particular, one should distinguish between active and passive implants, reversible and irreversible implants, and between offline and online implants;
  • the purpose specification principle mandates at least a distinction between medical and non-medical applications. However, medical applications should also be evaluated stringently, partly to prevent them from being invoked as a means to legitimize other types of application;
  • the data minimization principle rules out the lawfulness of ICT implants that are only aimed at identifying patients, if they can be replaced by less invasive and equally secure tools;
  • the proportionality principle rules out the lawfulness of implants such as those that are used, for instance, exclusively to facilitate entrance to public premises;
  • the principle of integrity and inviolability of the body rules out that the data subject's consent is sufficient to allow all kinds of implant to be deployed; and
  • the dignity principle prohibits transformation of the body into an object that can be manipulated and controlled remotely - into a mere source of information.

ICT implants for non-medical purposes violate fundamental legal principles. ICT implants also have numerous ethical issues, including the requirement for: non-instrumentalization, privacy, non-discrimination, informed consent, equity, and the precautionary principle (see also [8], [27], [29]). It should be stated, however, that the EGE, while not recommending ICT implants for non-medical applications because they are fundamentally fraught with legal and ethical issues, did state the following [45, p. 32]:

ICT implants for surveillance in particular threaten human dignity. They could be used by state authorities, individuals and groups to increase their power over others. The implants could be used to locate people (and also to retrieve other kinds of information about them). This might be justified for security reasons (early release for prisoners) or for safety reasons (location of vulnerable children).

However, the EGE insists that such surveillance applications of ICT implants may only be permitted if the legislator considers that there is an urgent and justified necessity in a democratic society (Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention) and there are no less intrusive methods. Nevertheless the EGE does not favor such uses and considers that surveillance applications, under all circumstances, must be specified in legislation. Surveillance procedures in individual cases should be approved and monitored by an independent court.

The same general principles should apply to the use of ICT implants for military purposes. Although this Opinion was certainly useful, we have growing concerns about the development of the information society, the lack of public debate and awareness regarding this emerging technology, and the pressing need for regulation that has not occurred commensurate to developments in this domain.

Herein rests the problem of human rights and striking a “balance” between freedom, security, and justice. First, we contend that it is a fallacy to speak of a balance. In the microchip implant scenario, there will never be a balance, so long as someone else has the potential to control the implant device or the stored data about us that is linked to the device. Second, we are living in a period where chip implants for the purposes of segregation are being discussed seriously by health officials and politicians. We are speaking here of the identification of groups of people in the name of “health management” or “national security.” We will almost certainly witness new, and more fixed forms, of “electronic apartheid.”

Consider the very real case where the “Papua Legislative Council was deliberating a regulation that would see microchips implanted in people living with HIV/AIDS so authorities could monitor their actions” [50]. Similar discussions on “registration” were held regarding asylum seekers and illegal immigrants in the European Union [18]. RFID implants or the “tagging” of populations in Asia (e.g., Singapore) were also considered “the next step” in the containment and eradication of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003 [43]. Apart from disease outbreaks, RFID has also been discussed as a response and recovery device for emergency services personnel dispatched to terrorist disasters [6], and for the identification of victims of natural disasters, such as in the case of the Boxing Day Tsunami [10]. The question remains whether there is a truly legitimate use function of chip implants for the purposes of emergency management as opposed to other applications. Definition plays a critical role in this instance. A similar debate has ensued in the use of the Schengen Information System II in the European Union where differing states have recorded alerts on individuals based on their understanding of a security risk [17].

In June of 2006, legislative analyst Anthony Gad, reported in brief 06-13 for the Legislative Reference Bureau [16], that the:

2005 Wisconsin Act 482, passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Jim Doyle on May 30, 2006, prohibits the required implanting of microchips in humans. It is the first law of its kind in the nation reflecting a proactive attempt to prevent potential abuses of this emergent technology.

A number of states in the United States have passed similar laws [63], despite the fact that at the national level, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration [15] has allowed radio frequency identification implants for medical use in humans. The Wisconsin Act [59] states:

The people of the state of Wisconsin, represented in senate and assembly, do enact as follows: SECTION 1. 146.25 of the statutes is created to read: 146.25 Required implanting of microchip prohibited. (1) No person may require an individual to undergo the implanting of a microchip. (2) Any person who violates sub. (1) may be required to forfeit not more than $10,000. Each day of continued violation constitutes a separate offense.

North Dakota followed Wisconsin's example. Wisconsin Governor Hoeven signed a two sentence bill into state law on April 4, 2007. The bill was criticized by some who said that while it protected citizens from being “injected” with an implant, it did not prevent someone from making them swallow it [51]. And indeed, there are now a number of swallowable capsule technologies for a variety of purposes that have been patented in the U.S. and worldwide. As with a number of other states, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed bill SB 362 proposed by state Senator Joe Simitian barring “employers and others from forcing people to have a radio frequency identification (RFID) device implanted under their skin” [28], [60]. According to the Californian Office of Privacy Protection [9] this bill

… would prohibit a person from requiring any other individual to undergo the subcutaneous implanting of an identification device. It would allow an aggrieved party to bring an action against a violator for injunctive relief or for the assessment of civil penalties to be determined by the court.

The bill, which went into effect January 1, 2008, did not receive support from the technology industry on the contention that it was “unnecessary.”

Interestingly, however, it is in the United States that most chip implant applications have occurred, despite the calls for caution. The first human-implantable passive RFID microchip (the VeriChipTM) was approved for medical use in October of 2004 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Nine hundred hospitals across the United States have registered the VeriChip's VeriMed system, and now the corporation's focus has moved to “patient enrollment” including people with diabetes, Alzheimer's, and dementia [14]. The VeriMedTM Patient Identification System is used for “rapidly and accurately identifying people who arrive in an emergency room and are unable to communicate” [56].

In February of 2006 [55], reported two of its employees had “glass encapsulated microchips with miniature antennas embedded in their forearms … merely a way of restricting access to vaults that held sensitive data and images for police departments, a layer of security beyond key cards and clearance codes.” Implants may soon be applied to the corrective services sector [44]. In 2002, 27 of 50 American states were using some form of satellite surveillance to monitor parolees. Similar schemes have been used in Sweden since 1994. In the majority of cases, parolees wear wireless wrist or ankle bracelets and carry small boxes containing the vital tracking and positioning technology. The positioning transmitter emits a constant signal that is monitored at a central location [33]. Despite continued claims by researchers that RFID is only used for identification purposes, Health Data Management disclosed that VeriChip (the primary commercial RFID implant patient ID provider) had enhanced its patient wander application by adding the ability to follow the “real-time location of patients, the ability to define containment areas for different classes of patients, and one-touch alerting. The system now also features the ability to track equipment in addition to patients” [19]. A number of these issues have moved the American Medical Association to produce an ethics code for RFID chip implants [4], [41], [47].

Outside the U.S., we find several applications for human-centric RFID. VeriChip's Scott Silverman stated in 2004 that 7000 chip implants had been given to distributors [57]. Today the number of VeriChip implantees worldwide is estimated to be at about 2000. So where did all these chips go? As far back as 2004, a nightclub in Barcelona, Spain [11] and Rotterdam, The Netherlands, known as the Baja Beach Club was offering “its VIP clients the opportunity to have a syringeinjected microchip implanted in their upper arms that not only [gave] them special access to VIP lounges, but also [acted] as a debit account from which they [could] pay for drinks” [39]. Microchips have also been implanted in a number of Mexican officials in the law enforcement sector [57]. “Mexico's top federal prosecutors and investigators began receiving chip implants in their arms … in order to get access to restricted areas inside the attorney general's headquarters.” In this instance, the implant acted as an access control security device despite the documented evidence that RFID is not a secure technology (see Gartner Research report [42]).

Despite the obvious issues related to security, there are a few unsolicited studies that forecast that VeriChip (now under the new corporate name Positive ID) will sell between 1 million and 1.4 million chips by 2020 [64, p. 21]. While these forecasts may seem over inflated to some researchers, one need only consider the very real possibility that some Americans may opt-in to adopting a Class II device that is implantable, life-supporting, or life-sustaining for more affordable and better quality health care (see section C of the Health Care bill titled: National Medical Device Registry [65, pp. 1001–1012]. There is also the real possibility that future pandemic outbreaks even more threatening than the H1N1 influenza, may require all citizens to become implanted for early detection depending on their travel patterns [66].

In the United Kingdom, The Guardian [58], reported that 11-year old Danielle Duval had an active chip (i.e., containing a rechargeable battery) implanted in her. Her mother believes that it is no different from tracking a stolen car, albeit for more important application. Mrs. Duvall is considering implanting her younger daughter age 7 as well but will wait until the child is a bit older, “so that she fully understands what's happening.” In Tokyo the Kyowa Corporation in 2004 manufactured a schoolbag with a GPS device fitted into it, to meet parental concerns about crime, and in 2005 Yokohama City children were involved in a four month RFID bracelet trial using the I-Safety system [53]. In 2007, Trutex, a company in Lancashire England, was seriously considering fitting the school uniforms they manufacture with RFID [31]. What might be next? Will concerned parents force microchip implants on minors?

Recently, decade-old experimental studies on microchip implants in rats have come to light tying the device to tumors [29]. The American Veterinary Medical Association [3] was so concerned that they released the following statement:

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is very concerned about recent reports and studies that have linked microchip identification implants, commonly used in dogs and cats, to cancer in dogs and laboratory animals…. In addition, removal of the chip is a more invasive procedure and not without potential complications. It's clear that there is a need for more scientific research into this technology. [emphasis added]

We see here evidence pointing to the notion of “no return” - an admittance that removal of the chip is not easy, and not without complications.

The Norplant System was a levonorgestrel contraceptive insert that over 1 million women in the United States, and over 3.6 million women worldwide had been implanted with through 1996 [2]. The implants were inserted just under the skin of the upper arm in a surgical procedure under local anesthesia and could be removed in a similar fashion. As of 1997, there were 2700 Norplant suits pending in the state and federal courts across the United States alone. Most of the claims had to do with “pain or damage associated with insertion or removal of the implants … [p]laintiffs have contended that they were not adequately warned, however, concerning the degree or severity of these events” [2]. Thus, concerns for the potential for widespread health implications caused by humancentric implants have also been around for some time. In 2003, Covacio provided evidence why implants may impact humans adversely, categorizing these into thermal (i.e., whole/partial rise in body heating), stimulation (i.e., excitation of nerves and muscles), and other effects, most of which are currently unknown [13].

Role of Emerging Technologies

Wireless networks are now commonplace. What is not yet common are formal service level agreements to hand-off transactions between different types of networks. These architectures and protocols are being developed, and it is only a matter of time before existing technologies have the capability to track individuals between indoor and outdoor locations seamlessly, or a new technology is created to do what present-day networks cannot [26]. For instance, a wristwatch device with GPS capabilities to be worn under the skin translucently is one idea that was proposed in 1998. Hengartner and Steenkiste [23] forewarn that “[l]ocation is a sensitive piece of information” and that “releasing it to random entities might pose security and privacy risks.”

There is nowhere to hide in this digital society, and nothing remains private (in due course, perhaps, not even our thoughts). Nanotechnology, the engineering of functional systems at the molecular level, is also set to change the way we perceive surveillance - microscopic bugs (some 50 000 times smaller than the width of the human hair) will be more parasitic than even the most advanced silicon-based auto-ID technologies. In the future we may be wearing hundreds of microscopic implants, each relating to an exomuscle or an exoskeleton, and which have the power to interact with literally millions of objects in the “outside world.” The question is not whether state governments will invest in this technology: they are already making these investments [40]. There is a question whether the next generation will view this technology as super “cool” and convenient and opt-in without comprehending the consequences of their compliance.

The social implications of these über-intrusive technologies will obey few limits and no political borders. They will affect our day-to-day existence and our family and community relations. They will give rise to mental health problems, even more complex forms of paranoia and obsessive compulsive disorder. Many scholars now agree that with the support of modern neuroscience, “the intimate relation between bodily and psychic functions is basic to our personal identity” [45, p. 3]. Religious observances will be affected; for example, in the practice of confession and a particular understanding of absolution from “sin” - people might confess as much as they might want, but the records on the database, the slate, will not be wiped clean. The list of social implications is limited only by our imaginations. The peeping Tom that we carry on the inside will have manifest consequences for that which philosophers and theologians normally term self-consciousness.

Paradoxical Levels of Überveillance

In all of these factors rests the multiple paradoxical levels of überveillance. In the first instance, it will be one of the great blunders of the new political order to think that chip implants (or indeed nanodevices) will provide the last inch of detail required to know where a person is, what they are doing, and what they are thinking. Authentic ambient context will always be lacking, and this could further aggravate potential “puppeteers” of any comprehensive surveillance system. Marcus Wigan captures this critical facet of context when he speaks of “asymmetric information held by third parties.” Second, chip implants will not necessarily make a person smarter or more aware (unless someone can afford chip implants that have that effect), but on the contrary and under the “right” circumstances may make us increasingly unaware and mute. Third, chip implants are not the panacea they are made out to be - they can fail, they can be stolen, they are not tamper-proof, and they may cause harmful effects to the body. They are a foreign object and their primary function is to relate to the outside world not to the body itself (as in the case of pacemakers and cochlear implants). Fourth, chip implants at present do not give a person greater control over her space, but allow for others to control and to decrease the individual's autonomy and as a result decrease interpersonal trust at both societal and state levels. Trust is inexorably linked to both metaphysical and moral freedom. Therefore the naive position routinely heard in the public domain that if you have “nothing to hide, why worry?” misses the point entirely. Fifth, chip implants will create a presently unimaginable digital divide - we are not referring to computer access here, or Internet access, but access to another mode of existence. The “haves” (implantees) and the “have-nots” (non-implantees) will not be on speaking terms; perhaps this suggests a fresh interpretation to the biblical tower of Babel (Gen. 11:9).

In the scenario, where a universal ID is instituted, unless the implant is removed within its prescribed time, the body will adopt the foreign object and tie it to tissue. At this moment, there will be no exit strategy and no contingency plan; it will be a life sentence to upgrades, virus protection mechanisms, and inescapable intrusion. Imagine a working situation where your computer - the one that stores all your personal data - has been hit by a worm, and becomes increasingly inoperable and subject to overflow errors and connectivity problems. Now imagine the same thing happening with an embedded implant. There would be little choice other than to upgrade or to opt out of the networked world altogether.

A decisive step towards überveillance will be a unique and “non-refundable” identification number (ID). The universal drive to provide us all with cradle-to-grave unique lifetime identifiers (ULIs), which will replace our names, is gaining increasing momentum, especially after September 11. Philosophers have have argued that names are the signification of identity and origin; our names possess both sense and reference [24, p. 602f]. Two of the twentieth century's greatest political consciences (one who survived the Stalinist purges and the other the holocaust), Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Primo Levi, have warned us of the connection between murderous regimes and the numbering of individuals. It is far easier to extinguish an individual if you are rubbing out a number rather than a life history.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn recounts in The Gulag Archipelago (1918–56), (2007, p. 346f):

[Corrective Labor Camps] quite blatantly borrowed from the Nazis a practice which had proved valuable to them - the substitution of a number for the prisoner's name, his “I”, his human individuality, so that the difference between one man and another was a digit more or less in an otherwise identical row of figures … [i]f you remember all this, it may not surprise you to hear that making him wear numbers was the most hurtful and effective way of damaging a prisoner's self-respect.

Primo Levi writes similarly in his own well-known account of the human condition in The Drowned and the Saved (1989, p. 94f):

Altogether different is what must be said about the tattoo [the number], an altogether autochthonous Auschwitzian invention … [t]he operation was not very painful and lasted no more than a minute, but it was traumatic. Its symbolic meaning was clear to everyone: this is an indelible mark, you will never leave here; this is the mark with which slaves are branded and cattle sent to the slaughter, and this is what you have become. You no longer have a name; this is your new name.

And many centuries before both Solzhenitsyn and Levi were to become acknowledged as two of the greatest political consciences of our times, an exile on the isle of Patmos - during the reign of the Emperor Domitian - referred to the abuses of the emperor cult which was practiced in Asia Minor away from the more sophisticated population of Rome [37, pp. 176–196]. He was Saint John the Evangelist, commonly recognized as the author of the Book of Revelation (c. A.D. 95):

16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom: let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty-six (Rev 13:16–18) [RSV, 1973].

The technological infrastructures—the software, the middleware, and the hardware for ULIs—are readily available to support a diverse range of humancentric applications, and increasingly those embedded technologies which will eventually support überveillance. Multi-national corporations, particularly those involved in telecommunications, banking, and health are investing millions (expecting literally billions in return) in identifiable technologies that have a tracking capability. At the same time the media, which in some cases may yield more sway with people than government institutions themselves, squanders its influence and is not intelligently challenging the automatic identification (auto-ID) trajectory. As if in chorus, blockbuster productions from Hollywood are playing up all forms of biometrics as not only hip and smart, but also as unavoidable mini-device fashion accessories for the upwardly mobile and attractive. Advertising plays a dominant role in this cultural tech-rap. Advertisers are well aware that the market is literally limitless and demographically accessible at all levels (and more tantalizingly from cradle-to-grave consumers). Our culture, which in previous generations was for the better part the vanguard against most things detrimental to our collective well-being, is dangerously close to bankrupt (it already is idol worshipping) and has progressively become fecund territory for whatever idiocy might take our fancy. Carl Bernstein [7] captured the atmosphere of recent times very well:

We are in the process of creating what deserves to be called the idiot culture. Not an idiot sub-culture, which every society has bubbling beneath the surface and which can provide harmless fun; but the culture itself. For the first time the weird and the stupid and the coarse are becoming our cultural norm, even our cultural ideal.

Despite the technological fixation with which most of the world is engaged, there is a perceptible mood of a collective disquiet that something is not as it should be. In the face of that, this self-deception of “wellness” is not only taking a stronger hold on us, but it is also being rationalized and deconstructed on many levels. We must break free of this dangerous daydream to make out the cracks that have already started to appear on the gold tinted rim of this seeming 21st century utopia. The machine, the new technicized “gulag archipelago” is ever pitiless and without conscience. It can crush bones, break spirits, and rip out hearts without pausing.

The authors of this article are not anti-government; nor are they conspiracy theorists (though we now know better than to rule out all conspiracy theories). Nor do they believe that these dark scenarios are inevitable. But we do believe that we are close to the point of no return. Others believe that point is much closer [1]. It remains for individuals to speak up and argue for, and to demand regulation, as has happened in several states in the United States where Acts have been established to avoid microchipping without an individual's consent, i.e., compulsory electronic tagging of citizens. Our politicians for a number of reasons will not legislate on this issue of their own accord, with some few exceptions. It would involve multifaceted industry and absorb too much of their time, and there is the fear they might be labelled anti-technology or worse still, failing to do all that they can to fight against “terror.” This is one of the components of the modern-day Realpolitik, which in its push for a transparent society is bulldozing ahead without any true sensibility for the richness, fullness, and sensitivity of the undergrowth. As an actively engaged community, as a body of concerned researchers with an ecumenical conscience and voice, we can make a difference by postponing or even avoiding some of the doomsday scenario outlined here.

Finally, the authors would like to underscore three main points. First, nowhere is it suggested in this paper that medical prosthetic or therapeutic devices are not welcome technological innovations. Second, the positions, projections, and beliefs expressed in this summary do not necessarily reflect the positions, projections, and beliefs of the individual contributors to this special section. And third the authors of the papers do embrace all that which is vital and dynamic with technology, but reject its rampant application and diffusion without studied consideration as to the potential effects and consequences.


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IEEE Keywords: Implants, TV, Data systems, National security, Pressing, Engines, Condition monitoring, Circuits,Feeds, Databases

Citation: M.G. Michael, Katina Michael, Toward a State of Überveillance, IEEE Technology and Society Magazine ( Volume: 29, Issue: 2, Summer 2010 ), pp. 9 - 16, Date of Publication: 01 June 2010, DOI: 10.1109/MTS.2010.937024

Legal Ramifications of Microchipping People in the United States of America


The ability to microchip people for unique positive identification, and for tracking and monitoring applications is becoming increasingly scrutinized by the legal profession, civil libertarians, politicians in positions of power, human rights advocates, and last but not least, citizens across jurisdictions. The United States is among the few nations internationally, that have moved to enact state-level legislation, regarding the microchipping of people in a variety of contexts. This paper provides an overview of nine state laws/bills in the United States of America that have either enacted anti-chipping legislation or have recently proposed bills regarding the enforced chipping of persons. The aim of the paper is to highlight excerpts of legislation, to identify relevant stakeholders the legislation is directed toward and to briefly describe how it may affect their chipping practices. As a final outcome, the paper seeks to broadly compare state legislation, identifying differences in penalties and fines, and to show the complexity of this kind of approach to protecting the rights of citizens against unscrupulous uses of advanced information technologies.

Section 1.


The capability to implant people with microchips has its roots in the field of medicine as far back as the innovation of pacemakers in the late 1950s [1][2]. Embedded chip-on-a-card technology, that could identify the cardholder, commonly known as smart cards or integrated circuit cards, was patented and prototyped for the first time in France by Roland Moreno in 1974 [3]. But it was not until 1998, that official reports of the first demonstrated microchip implantation in a human for identification and tracking purposes was achieved by Professor Kevin Warwick of the University of Reading in the Cyborg 1.0 experiment [4]. While United States patents date back to the 1970s, regarding apparatus allowing subcutaneous implants, such as guns for dispensing “pellets” comprising a case with a hollow needle attached to it [5], it was not until later that patents pertaining to medical devices stipulated a unique identification mechanism allowing for the collection of individual patient diagnostic data.

In 1987, beyond unique ID, a location tracking device was patented by a plastic surgeon Dr Daniel Man [6], residing in Florida in the United States. The abstract description of the patent reads: “[a] new apparatus for location and monitoring of humans has been developed. The device employs a unique programmable signal generator and detection system to locate and monitor the movement of individuals. It additionally utilizes a physiological monitoring system to signal a warning for the necessity for immediate help. The device is small enough to be implanted in young children as well as adults. The power supply and signal generator are designed to function at a low duty cycle for prolonged periods before recharging” [7].

Section 2.

Advancements in Implantable Technology and the Law

The challenges brought about by implantable technology, outside the biomedical arena, were for the greater part ignored until the mid-1990s. Few could debate against the obvious benefits brought about by the advancement of medical-related technologies to patients suffering from curable diseases or illnesses, and the lifestyle enhancements they promised and delivered, especially in the area of prosthesis. Even today, few could argue that implants for genuine therapeutic purposes pose any real danger to society at large if applied correctly; in fact they act to prolong life and aid sufferers to go about living as normal life as possible.

We can point to medical breakthroughs, such as those by Alfred Mann, that are likely to help hundreds of thousands of people in the future, to better cope with the treatments of diabetes, cancer, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases via automated drug delivery technologies [8]. Implantable technologies have already helped the deaf hear, and are likely to help the blind see, and to correct functional neural deficits using electrostimulation techniques and much more. The promise of nanotechnology, has brought with it the prospect of implantable treatments for Parkinson's Disease, epilepsy, Tourette's syndrome (which is now beyond the experimental stage), and even obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

Responsible, well-tested, and regulated applications of nanotechnology within the biomedical domain can only have positive impacts on the individual who is a recipient of an implant [9]. But in today's commercial context, even biomedical technologies can serve dual purposes, opening up a number of critical moral questions [10] regarding who is actually in control [11] and at what cost [12]. For as Mark N. Gasson writes regarding information and communication technology (ICT) implantable devices, “[a] number of wider moral, ethical and legal issues stem from enhancement applications and it is difficult to foresee the social consequences, the fundamental changes on our very conception of self and the impact on our identity of adoption long term. As a result, it is necessary to acknowledge the possibilities and is timely to have debate to address the wider implications these possibilities may bring” [13].

It is the “legal issues” pertaining to ICT implants which have been addressed only by a few researchers and their respective groups. As there are now several commercial organizations marketing a variety of applications using ICT implants for IDentification and location tracking purposes, some states in the USA have acted as ‘first movers’ to quell citizen concerns over the potential for enforced chipping, and to safeguard the individual's human rights. Of course, this is all set against a backdrop at a national level concerned about national security, and consecutive governments that have introduced widespread radio-frequency identification (RFID) and tracking and monitoring capabilities in passports, driver's licenses, toll-ways etc.

Section 3.

Seminal Works

Of the scant research that has been written addressing legal dilemmas of ICT implants, two can be considered landmark and representative of the literature. Elaine M. Ramesh, from the Franklin Pierce Law School wrote in anticipation of human microchip implants and offered initial insights on the legal implications even before Warwick's Cyborg 1.0 experiment [14]. Almost a decade later, a second paper by William A. Herbert, member of the New York State Public Employment Relations Board, wrote a paper addressing the legal issues related to advanced technologies like Global Positioning Systems (GPS), biometrics, and RFID implants [15]. To date, this article serves to be the most complete on the topic at large.

Ramesh uses a qualitative approach and discusses the rights that may be infringed by humancentric microchip implants in the areas of common law, constitutional rights, the Fourth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment and property rights. The scenarios and results with cases relating to the above laws provided by Ramesh were limited to the point that commercial diffusion of RFID implants only occurred in 2003, with pre-registration beginning in 2002 [16]. Ramesh explains that the human body is not generally accepted as “property” which is her rationale behind the gap in the legal system. If property ownership of one's body could be confirmed, (that is we can claim ownership of one's body and do what we will with it) then property law would apply as protection giving an individual the right to refuse of implantation of the microchip without any consequences as the individuals body is his or her ‘owned property’ (Ramesh, 1997). However this same legislation would bring with it a mine-field of other problems to do with ownership and the rights associated with “selling” one's body or individual body parts.

After the events of September 11, 2001 and the enactment of the USA PATRIOT Act, Herbert [15] analyzed current State and Federal laws within the context of employer practices across the United States. Herbert describes the laws and relevant cases in his paper, along with potential solutions. Herbert justifies his research by addressing the concern over American Labor Laws granting employers greater powers over most employee privacy expectations. Herbert's findings indicate that, “[t]he scope and nature of current legal principles regarding individual privacy are not sufficient to respond to the rapid development and use of human tracking technology” [15]. It is this very disproportionate “power” relationship that could be further propagated and exploited by ICT implants, that Michael and Michael have termed “uberveillance” [17].

Since Herbert's seminal paper, a number of states have enacted what has come to be known in the popular sense as anti-chipping legislation. The rest of this paper is dedicated to providing excerpts of laws and bills for nine U.S. states related to ICT implants for humans [18]. Seven state laws/bills were collected during the main study period in 2007, with two additional laws/bills found in 2009. It must be underscored that this list of states should not be considered an exhaustive list of legislation.

For the states investigated during the main study period in 2007, a legislative excerpt is presented, stakeholders pertaining to the law are identified, and a brief description of how chipping practices in that state may be affected is provided. For the two additional acts/bills found in 2009, only an excerpt is presented with no further analysis. As a final outcome, the paper seeks to broadly compare seven state acts/bills, identifying differences in penalties and fines, and to show the complexity of this kind of approach to protecting the rights of citizens against unscrupulous uses of advanced information technologies. The main contribution of this paper is bringing the state laws together to make identifying similarities and differences easier, and to allow for future research opportunities between United States federal and state legislative comparisons towards harmonization and conflict.

Section 4.

State of California

4.1 SB 362, Identification Devices: Subcutaneous Implanting

SECTION 1. Section 52.7 is added to the Civil Code, to read:

Except as provided in subdivision  person shall not require, coerce, or compel any other individual to undergo the subcutaneous implanting of an identification device.
(1) Any person who violates subdivision  may be assessed an initial civil penalty of no more than ten thousand dollars (1,000) for each day the violation continues until the deficiency is corrected.
This section shall not in any way modify existing statutory or case law regarding the rights of parents or guardians, the rights of children or minors, or the rights of dependent adult.

4.2 Definition

The language used to define the implant; “subcutaneous implanting of an identification device” (2007 California SB 362) provides longevity for the legislation as it can be used for any device that can be implanted and used for identification rather than specifically stating a microchip, RFID tag, or commercial product name [19].

4.3 Who it affects?

“Except as provided in subdivision (g), a person shall not require” (2007 California SB 362) prevents an individual to force the implantation of the device on another, however it does allow the Government of California and the Government of the United States to use the technology as they see fit.

4.4 Exceptions

Section G as stated in the above extract of bill 362 refers to the “existing statutory or case law regarding the rights of parents or guardians” (2007 California SB 362). Because of this clause, a parent and/or a legal guardian may sign the written consent form for any child under the age of 15 under California Family Law to receive an implant.

‘A minor may only consent to the minor's medical care or dental care if all of the following conditions are satisfied: (1) The minor is 15 years of age or older. (2) The minor is living separate and apart from the minor's parents or guardian, whether with or without the consent of a parent or guardian and regardless of the duration of the separate residence. (3) The minor is managing the minor's own financial affairs, regardless of the source of the minor's income.” (California Family Code §6922(a)) If these clauses are not satisfied then the parent or guardian has the right over the child and the right to implant the child.

A minor may sign his/her own consent for the use of a implantable microchip if used for the sole purpose of aiding in the treatment of a psychological disability under California Family Code §6924.

“A minor who is 12 years of age or older may consent to mental health treatment … if both of the following requirements are satisfied: (1) The minor, in the opinion of the attending professional person, is mature enough to participate intelligently in the outpatient services or residential shelter services. (2) The minor  would present a danger of serious physical or mental harm to self or to others without the mental health treatment or counseling or residential shelter services, or  is the alleged victim of incest or child abuse” (California Family Code §6924).

Section 5.

State of Colorado

5.1 HB 07–1082, a Bill for an Act Concerning a Prohibition On Requiring an Individual To Be Implanted with a Microchip

A person may not require an individual to be implanted with a microchip.
A violation of this section is a Class 3 Misdemeanor punishable as provided in section 18–1.3–501. Each day in which a person violates this section shall constitute a separate offence.

5.2 Definition

The term “microchip” is used to describe the device however no formal definition is provided therefore any device containing a microchip or device of similar or advanced capabilities is included within the definition of a ‘microchip’ and therefore must adhere to this Bill.

The crime of forcing the implantation of a microchip is defined as a “Class 3 Misdemeanor” (2007 Colorado HB 1082) which according to Colorado Revised Statutes results in a minimum sentence of 750 fine per offence [20].

5.3 Who it affects?

“A person may not require an individual” (2007 Colorado HB 1082) prevents all individuals within the state of Colorado, however does not protect against United States federal legislation.

5.4 Exceptions

The bill does not outline any clause by where the legislation is void and therefore no loop holes exist. However this then allows the judicial branch to make decisions with each individual based on their specific circumstances, and they have the power to put previous legislation, statute or constitution above HB 1082 deeming it null and void for the case in question. The judicial branch is defined as the branch of the courts whereby the court determines the application of which law is applicable for each specific case and enforces it and determines the sentence/punishment based upon the law written by the legislative branch [21]. The same exception is applied to the majority of the states presented below.

Section 6.

State of Florida

6.1 SB 2220, an Act Relating To Implanted Microchips; Prohibiting the Implanting Of a Microchip or Similar Monitoring Device

It is a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in . 775.082, . 775.083, or . 775.084, Florida Statutes, to knowingly implant, for tracking or identification purposes a microchip or similar monitoring device into a person without providing full disclosure to that person regarding the use of the device and obtaining the person's informed written consent.

6.2 Definition

The implantable microchip in Florida SB 2220 is defined as “a microchip or similar monitoring device” (2007 Florida SB 2220) which therefore validates the legislation (if enacted) for any technology used for the purpose of monitoring, tracking, tracing and identification.

The crime of forcing the implantation of a microchip is defined as a “felony of the third degree” (2007 Florida SB 2220) which according to Florida Criminal Code §775.082 (penalties) and §775.083 (fines) “For a felony of the third degree, by a term of imprisonment not exceeding 5 years” (Florida Criminal Code §775.082) and a fine of “$5,000, when the conviction is of a felony of the third degree” (Florida Criminal Code §775.083).

6.3 Who it affects?

“Into a person without providing full disclosure to that person regarding the use of the device and obtaining the person's informed written consent” (2007 Florida SB 2220) prevents all individuals within the state of Florida, however does not protect against United States federal legislation. The use of the device must also be outlined to the individual and recognition of the individuals understanding of the implants use must be received prior to the implantation and operation of the device.

Section 7.

State of North Dakota

7.1 SB 2415, an Act Relating To Implanted Microchips in Individuals; and To Provide a Penalty

SECTION 1. A new section to chapter 12.1–15 of the North Dakota Century Code is created and enacted as follows: Implanting microchips prohibited. A person may not require that an individual have inserted into that individual's body a microchip containing a radio frequency identification device. A violation of this section is a class A misdemeanor.

7.2 Definition

The implantable microchip in North Dakota SB 2415 is defined as a “microchip containing a radio frequency identification device” (2007 North Dakota SB 2415). This legislation is therefore limited by its definition and allows the use of devices by which their main technology to achieve its purpose is not radio frequency. Therefore utilization of innovations such as microwaves and barcodes may be argued as immune to the legislation.

The crime of forcing the implantation of a microchip is defined as a “class A misdemeanor” (2007 North Dakota SB 2415). Which according to North Dakota Century Code §12.1–32 “Class A misdemeanor: up to one year in prison, $2000 fine or both” (North Dakota Century Code §12.1–32).

7.3 Who it affects?

“A person may not require that an individual have inserted into that individual's body” (2007 North Dakota SB 2415). Therefore any individual does not have to agree to the implantation of a microchip regardless of status.

Section 8.

State of Ohio

8.1 SB 349 a Bill To Prohibit an Employer From Requiring an Employee Of the Employer To the Employee's Body a Radio Frequency Identification Tag

Sec. 4113.81. No employer shall require an employee of the employer to have inserted into the employee's body a radio frequency identification tag. Any employer who violates this section shall be subject to a fine of not more than one hundred fifty dollars per violation.
As used in this section:
“Radio frequency identification tags” mean a silicon chip containing an antenna that stores data and transmits that data to a wireless receiver.
“Employer” means the state, any political subdivision of the state, or any person employing one or more individuals in the state.

8.2 Definition

The implantable microchip is defined as a “radio frequency identification tag” (2006 Ohio SB 349) in the main text which may seem open to the use of other technologies, however definition (A) states; “Radio frequency identification tags mean a silicon chip containing an antenna that stores data and transmits that data to a wireless receiver” (2006 Ohio SB 349). Therefore the legislation is in relation to any technology that achieves its purpose by the above method.

The preamble of this bill is a proposal for amendment of Ohio Code 4113. Ohio Code 4113 is the Miscellaneous Labor Provisions Code which provides legislation from dismissal laws, to wages to whistle blowing (Ohio Code §4113). This is a clear indication that there was no intention to have the bill / legislation protect every individual of the state, rather to protect an employee from an employer.

8.3 Who it affects?

Ohio's proposed legislation is very unique in the subject affected by it. “No employer shall require an employee” (2006 Ohio SB 349). Unlike the other states, Ohio only proposes the legislation against employer's therefore protecting an employee over an unfair dismissal due to refusing implantation.

8.4 Exceptions

The 2006 Ohio SB 349 leaves itself open for attack. By only referencing an employee to employer relationship the legislation does not prevent state government, hospitals, doctors, parents or any other individual to be microchipped unless the individuals lawyer can prove a violation of §2903.13 of the Ohio Code (assault) whereby “No person shall knowingly cause or attempt to cause physical harm to another or to another's unborn” (Ohio Code §2903.13) whereby the coercion and physical act of microchipping could be classed as assault.

The punishment outlined in 2006 Ohio SB 349 does not reference any Ohio Code section or specify it in a misdemeanour or felony class, instead an exact figure of 150 in addition to the original price of purchasing and using a commercial implant product. If an organisation wants to utilise the technology for convenience and security $150 per employee (or per violation) may be considered an investment rather than a crime,

Section 9.

State of Oklahoma

9.1 HB 2092, SB 47 an Act Prohibiting the Forced Implantation Of a Microchip

No person shall require an individual to undergo the implanting of a microchip.
Any person convicted of violating the provisions of this section shall be subject to a fine of not more than Ten Thousand Dollars ($10,000.00). Each day of continued violation shall constitute a separate offense.

9.2 Definition

The term “microchip” is used to describe the implantable microchip, however no formal definition is provided therefore any device containing a microchip or device of similar or advanced capabilities is included within the definition of a ‘microchip’ and must adhere to this bill.

9.3. Who it affects?

“No person shall require an individual” (2007 Oklahoma HB 2092) prevents all individuals within the state of Oklahoma however does not protect against United States federal legislation.

Section 10.

State of Wisconsin

10.1 2005 Wisconsin Act 482 Prohibiting the Required Implanting Of Microchip in an Individual and Providing a Penalty

The people of the state of Wisconsin, represented in senate and assembly, do enact as follows: SECTION 1. 146.25 of the statutes is created to read: 146.25 Required implanting of microchip prohibited.
No person may require an individual to undergo the implanting of a microchip.
Any person who violates sub. (1)may be required to forfeit not more than $10,000. Each day of continued violation constitutes a separate offense.

10.2 Definition

The term microchip is used however no definition is provided therefore any device containing a microchip or device of similar or advanced capabilities is included within the definition of a ‘microchip.’

10.3 Who it affects?

“No person may require an individual to undergo the implanting of a microchip” (2005 Wisconsin Act 482) prevents all individuals within the state of Wisconsin however does not protect against United States federal legislation.

Section 11.

State of Georgia

11.1 HB 38, Microchip Consent Act

SECTION 2… 1) ‘Implantation’ includes any means intended to introduce a microchip internally, beneath the skin, or applied to the skin of a person.(2) ‘Microchip’ means any microdevice, sensor, transmitter, mechanism, electronically readable marking, or nanotechnology that is passively or actively capable of transmitting or receiving information. This definition shall not include pacemakers.(3) ‘Person’ means any individual, irrespective of age, legal status, or legal capacity.(4) ‘Require’ includes physical violence, threat, intimidation, retaliation, the conditioning of any private or public benefit or care on consent to implantation, including employment, promotion, or other benefit, or by any means that causes a. person to acquiesce to implantation when he or she otherwise would not.  No person shall be required to be implanted with a microchip. This Code section shall be subject to a two-year statute of limitations beginning from the date of discovery that a microchip has been implanted.  Any person required to have a microchip implanted in violation of this Code section shall be entitled to pursue criminal charges in addition to filing a civil action for damages. Each day that a microchip remains implanted shall be subject to damages of not less than $10,000.00 per day and each day shall be considered a separate violation of this Code section.  The voluntary implantation of any microchip or similar device may only be performed by a physician and shall be regulated under the authority of the Composite State Board of Medical Examiners.”

Section 12.

State of Missouri

285.035.1. No employer shall require an employee to have personal identification microchip technology implanted into an employee for any reason.

For purposes of this section, “personal identification microchip technology” means a subcutaneous or surgically implanted microchip technology device or product that contains or is designed to contain a unique identification number and personal information that can be non-invasively retrieved or transmitted with an external scanning device. Any employer who violates this section is guilty of a class A misdemeanor.

Section 13.

Cross-case comparison

From the seven (7) states studied in 2007, it is clear that there are subtle yet possibly detrimental differences between the legislation enacted (e.g. in the case of North Dakota and Wisconsin) and the legislation pending enactment.

13.1 Stakeholder & Other Definitions

Citizen: Refers to any other citizen within the state of the (enacted / pending) legislation other than the subject (oneself).

Employer: Refers to the manager, management, owner, franchiser or CEO of an organization by where the subject is currently employed on any basis (full time, casual, part time, or probation).

Government: Refers to the state government and anyone employed by the state government including law enforcement personnel.

Hospitals (Doctors): Refers to any healthcare practitioner including, general practitioners and psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and nurses of the subject who may be deemed suffering a mental illness.

Parents:Refers to the parents and guardians of a minor as defined by the state and the carer / guardian / solicitor of a subject deemed mentally ill or elderly.

Yourself: Refers to the subject, an individual wishing to approve the implantation of a microchip into their body.

Fine: Refers to a monetary fine payable for the offence of coercing an individual to be chipped. If a period of time (day(s), month(s), year(s)) is including in this field then jail time for that period indicated is part of the maximum sentence for the crime.

Consecutive Day: Refers to the punishment (jail time / momentary fine) applicable for each day in which the crime occurs.

13.2 Fines and Punishment

The following section provides a breakdown of the key elements within the Acts and Bills for each state and shows what is permitted by law and what is disallowed with regards to ICT implants states of the U.S.A. Section 13.2 should be read together with Table 1.

Table 1.&nbsp;U.S. State Anti-Chipping Laws/Bills Comparison Chart as of October 2007

Table 1. U.S. State Anti-Chipping Laws/Bills Comparison Chart as of October 2007

The yellow colored sections of the table represent a fine or punishment which can be seen as too light in comparison to the other states. In California for each day the offence occurs after the initial offence a 10,000) is charged. According to the United States Census Bureau, a citizen of California on average earns 6.666% more than an average American and 17.7% more than the average citizen of North Dakota [22] and yet the proposed fine in California is only 10% of the fine quoted in North Dakota's enacted legislation (2007 North Dakota SB 2415).

Ohio put in place a maximum penalty of 150 is not too much of an added expense to the $200 outlay per microchip [23]. This fine is not comparable to any of the other states and may oppose a risk rather than a benefit if it becomes enacted and employers act on the proposed $350.00 ‘investment.’

The peach colored section of Table 1 outlines the three states (Colorado, Florida and North Dakota) proposing jail time part of the maximum sentence if an individual is in breach of the legislation. These jail times come about by the classification of the offence as a felony or a misdemeanor and of a particular class. These classifications are then cross referenced to the State Code in order to determine the maximum sentence. Even though these states vary with punishment and do not have a monetary fine comparable with Oklahoma and Wisconsin, the fact they reference a classification under a criminal code protects the legislation for many generations. The fine attached to a classification may be changed if the legislative or judicial assembly makes a proposal and these changes often occur in a change in inflation or the Consumer Price Index (CPI), making the fine comparable in years to come. States that propose a fixed fine do not allow for inflation or CPI and may become a more relaxed punishment during the development of society over subsequent decades.

The green colored sections of Table 1 outline who is allowed to enforce the implantation of a microchip upon an individual without direct punishment in reference to the enacted or proposed bill of that state. In the case of Ohio only an employer who is a citizen of Ohio is prevented from chipping an employee of an Ohio state registered firm (2006 Ohio SB 349). California is the only state out of the seven that included clauses by which an exemption from punishment could be applied. Section (g) of 2007 California SB 362 allows the parents and guardians of minors to enforce the implantation of a device under certain circumstances outlined in §6922 and §6924 of the California Family Code. This clause does not mean that this does not apply to the other six states. The judiciary has the power to veto the legislation if they feel other legislation such as a Family Act is more relevant to the case or superior to the microchipping legislation and the defendant's lawyer has the ability to utilize these acts or codes to refute the microchipping legislation.

Section 14. 


As the development and deployment of the implantable microchip continues to gather momentum across markets and jurisdictions, the greater the propensity for case law to emerge related to the specific ICT implantable technology. The problem with state laws, as demonstrated in the U.S.A is that legislation is not uniform, at least at the state level, and even more anomalous is a comparison between state and federal legislation, which will be the focus of a forthcoming study.


1. C. M. Banbury, Surviving Technological Innovation in the Pacemaker Industry 1959-1990. New York: Garland Publishing, 1997.

2. J. H. Schulman, "Human Implantable Technologies," in Career Development in Bioengineering and Biotechnology, G. Madhavan, Ed., 2009, pp. 167-172.

3. R. A. Lindley, Smart Card Innovation. Australia: Saim, 1997.

4. K. Warwick, I, Cyborg. UK: Century, 2002.

5. J. B. Wyatt, P. D. George, and K. Van Dyck, "Implant Gun, Pfizer Inc.," in Appl. No.: 05/046,159 United States Patent, 15 June 1970.

6. D. Man, "Dr. Man Plastic Surgery," 2009.

7. D. Man, "Implantable homing device," in United States Patent: 4,706,689. Boca Raton, Florida: USPTO, 8 January 1987.

8. A. Mann, "Where Technology and Life Unite," Alfred Mann Foundation, 2009.

9. M. Treder, "Radical Prosthetic Implants," Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, 2009.

10. K. Michael and M. G. Michael, "Microchipping People: The Rise of the Electrophorus," Quadrant, vol. 414, pp. 22-33, 2005.

11. K. Michael, M. Michael, and R. Ip, "Microchip Implants for Humans as Unique Identifiers: a Case Study on VeriChip," presented at 3TU: Ethics, Identity and Technology, The Hague, The Netherlands, 2007.

12. M. G. Michael and K. Michael, "Uberveillance: Microchipping People and the Assault on Privacy," Quadrant, vol. LIII, pp. 85-89, 2009.

13. M. N. Gasson, "ICT Implants: the Invasive Future of Identity," in IFIP International Federation for Information Processing: The Future of Identity in the Information Society;, vol. 262, S. Fischer-Hübner, P. Duquenoy, A. Zuccato, and L. Martucci, Eds. Boston: Springer: Springer, 2008, pp. 287-295.

14. E. M. Ramesh, "Time Enough? Consequences of Human Microchip Implantation," Franklin Pierce Law Centre, vol. 8, 1997.

15. W. A. Herbert, "No Direction Home: Will The Law Keep Pace With Human Tracking Technology to Protect Individual Privacy and Stop Geoslavery?," I/S - A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society, vol. 2, pp. 409-472, 2006.

16. ADSX, "Get Chipped™: VeriChip™ preregistration program," in Applied Digital Solutions, 2002.

17. K. Michael and M. G. Michael, Innovative Auto-ID and Location-Based Services: from Bar Codes to Chip Implants. Hershey: Information Science Reference, 2009.

18. W. Kluwer, "States regulate use of microchips as tracking device," CCH® Internet Research NetWork, 2009.

19. C. E. Lyon, "California Bans Mandatory Implanting of Identification Devices," Morrison & Foerster, November 2007.

20. F. L. College, "Colorado Revised Statutes, Fort Lewis College," 2007.

21. US Library of Congress, "Federal Judiciary Branch," 21 July 2007.

22. US Census Bureau, "Current Population Survey (CPS): Annual Social and Economic Supplement," 2007.

23. T. Chin, "Tiny Implant Puts Portable Medical," in American Medical News, April 24 2006.

IEEE Keywords: Law, Legal factors, Implants, Legislation, Monitoring, Humans, Medical diagnostic imaging, Signal generators, Diseases, Pharmaceutical technology

INSPEC: public administration, legislation, rights protection, legal ramification, microchipping people, United States of America, state legislation,state law, state bill, antichipping legislation

Citation: Angelo Friggieri, Katina Michael and M.G. Michael, 2009, The legal ramifications of microchipping people in the United States of America- A state legislative comparison, ISTAS09, IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society, ISTAS '09. 18-20 May, Tempe, Arizona, DOI: 10.1109/ISTAS.2009.5155900.

Lend Me Your Arms: Use and Implications of RFID Implants


Recent developments in the area of RFID have seen the technology expand from its role in industrial and animal tagging applications, to being implantable in humans. With a gap in literature identified between current technological development and future humancentric possibility, little has been previously known about the nature of contemporary humancentric applications. By employing usability context analyses in control, convenience and care-related application areas, we begin to piece together a cohesive view of the current development state of humancentric RFID, as detached from predictive conjecture. This is supplemented by an understanding of the market-based, social and ethical concerns which plague the technology.

1. Introduction

Over the past three decades, Radio-frequency identification (RFID) systems have evolved to become cornerstones of many complex applications. From first beginnings, RFID has been promoted as an innovation in convenience and monitoring efficiencies. Indeed, with RFID supporters predicting the growth of key medical services and security systems, manufacturers are representing the devices as ‘life-enhancing’. Though the lifestyle benefits have long been known, only recently have humans become both integral and interactive components in RFID systems. Where we once carried smart cards or embedded devices interwoven in clothing, RFID technology is now at a point where humans can safely be implanted with small transponders.

This paper aims to explore the current state of development for humancentric applications of RFID. The current state is defined by the intersection of existing development for the subjects and objects of RFID – namely humans and implants. The need for such a study has been identified by a gap in knowledge between present applications and future possibility. This study aims to overcome forecast and provide a cohesive examination of existing humancentric RFID applications. Analysis of future possibility is outside the scope of this study. Instead, a discussion will be provided on present applications, their feasibility, use and social implications.

2. Literature review

The literature review is organized into three main areas – control, convenience, and care. In each of these contexts, literature will be reviewed chronologically.

2.1. The context of control

A control-related humancentric application of RFID is any human use of an implanted RFID transponder that allows an implantee to have power over an aspect of their lives, or, that allows a third party to have power over an implantee. Substantial literature on humancentric control applications begins in 1997 with United States patent 5629678 for a ‘Personal Tracking and Recovery System’. Though the literature scientifically describes the theoretical tracking system for recovery of RFID-implanted humans, no further evidence is available to ascertain whether it has since been developed. Questions as to feasibility of use are not necessarily answered by succeeding literature. Reports of the implantation of British soldiers [1] for example lack the evidentiary support needed to assuage doubts. Further, many articles highlight the technological obstacles besieging humancentric RFID systems. These include GPS hardware miniaturization [2] and creating active RFID tags capable of being safely recharged from within the body. Further adding to reservation, much literature is speculative in nature. Eng [3], for example, predicts that tags will be melded into children to advise parents of their location.

Despite concerns and conjecture, actual implementations of humancentric control applications of RFID have been identified. Both Murray [4] and Eng documented the implantation of Richard Seelig who had tags placed in his hip and arm in response to the September 11 tragedy of 2001. This sophisticated technology was employed to provide security and control over personal identification information. Wilson [5] also provides the example of 11-year old Danielle Duval who has had an active chip (i.e. containing a rechargeable battery) implanted in her. Her mother believes that it is no different to tracking a stolen car, simply that it is being used for another more important application.

2.2. The context of convenience

A convenience-related humancentric application of RFID is any human use of an implanted RFID transponder that increases the ease with which tasks are performed. The first major documented experiment into the use of human-implantable RFID was within this context. Sanchez-Klein [6] and Witt [7] both journalize on the self-implantation of Kevin Warwick, Director of Cybernetics at the University of Reading. They describe results of Warwick’s research by his having doors open, lights switch on and computers respond to the presence of the microchip. Warwick himself gives a review of the research in his article ‘Cyborg 1.0’, however this report is informal and contains emotive descriptions of “fantastic” experiences [8].

Woolnaugh [9], Holden [10], and Vogel [11] all published accounts of the lead-up to Warwick’s second ‘Cyborg 2.0’ experiment and although Woolnaugh’s work involves the documentation of an interview, all three are narrative descriptions of proposed events rather than a critical analysis within definitive research frameworks. Though the commotion surrounding Warwick later died down, speculation did not with Eng proposing a future where credit card features will be available in implanted RFID devices. The result would see commercial transactions made more convenient.

2.3. The context of care

A care-related humancentric application of RFID is any human use of an implanted RFID transponder where function is associated with medicine, health or wellbeing. In initial literature, after the Cyborg 1.0 trial, Kevin Warwick envisioned that with RFID implants paraplegics would walk [7]. Building incrementally on this notion then is the work of Kobetic, Triolo and Uhlir who documented the study of a paraplegic male who had muscular stimuli delivered via an implanted RFID controlled electrical simulation system [12]. Though not allowing the mobility which Warwick dreamt of, results did include increased energy and fitness for the patient.

Outside the research sphere, much literature centers on eight volunteers who were implanted with commercial VeriChip RFID devices in 2002 trials. Murray [13], Black [14], Grossman [15] and Gengler [16] all document medical reasons behind the implantation of four subjects. Supplemented by press releases however, all reports of the trials were journalistic, rather than research-based. In contrast, non-trivial research is found in the work of Michael [17]. Her thesis uses a case study methodology, and a systems of innovation framework, to discuss the adaptation of auto-ID for medical implants.

2.4. Critical response to literature

More recent publications on humancentric RFID include the works of Masters [18], Michael and Michael [19], Perusco and Michael [20], Johnston [21], and Perakslis and Wolk [22]. Masters approaches the subject from the perspective of usability contexts, while Perusco and Michael use document analysis to categorise location services into tag, track and trace applications. Johnston uses content analysis to identify important themes in the literature, supplemented by a small-scale sample survey on the social acceptance of chip implants. Perakslis and Wolk also follow this latter methodology. Of the other (earlier) landmark studies, the majority are concerned with non-humancentric applications. Gerdeman [23], Finkinzeller [24] and Geers [25] all use case studies to investigate non-humancentric RFID and hence our methodological precedent is set here. The bulk of the remaining literature is newstype in nature and the absence of research frameworks is evident. The few exceptions to this include Woolnaugh [9] who conducted an interview and Murray [13] and Eng [3]who provide small case studies. In further criticism the news articles do not demonstrate technological trajectories but speculate on utopian implementations unlikely to be achieved by incremental development in the short to medium-term. Thus, any real value in these news articles can only be found in the documentation of events.

3. Research methodology

Several modes of academic inquiry were used in this study, though usability context analyses were the focal means of research. These analyses are similar to case studies as they investigate “a contemporary phenomenon within its real life context when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident” [26]. They also similarly use multiple sources of evidence, however are differentiated on the basis of the unit of analysis. In a usability context analysis methodology, units are not individuals, groups or organizations but are applications or application areas for a product, where ‘product’ is defined as “any interactive system or device designed to support the performance of users’ tasks” [27]. The results of multiple analyses are more convincing than a singular study, and the broad themes identified cover the major fields of current humancentric RFID development.

Further defining the research framework, the primary question to be answered – ‘what is the current state of application development in the field of humancentric RFID devices?’ – is justifiably exploratory. It entails investigation into contemporary technology usage and seeks to clarify boundaries within the research area. As such, this is a largely qualitative study that uses some elements of descriptive research to enhance the central usability context analyses. The usability context analyses are also supplemented by a discussion of surrounding social, legal and ethical ambiguities. By this means, the addition of a narrative analysis to the methodology ensures a thorough investigation of usage and context.

4. Usability context analysis: control

The usability context analysis for control is divided into three main sub-contexts – security, management, and social controls.

4.1. Security controls

The most basic security application involves controlling personal identification through identifying data stored on a transponder. In theory, the limit to the amount of information stored is subject only to the capacity of the embedded device or associated database. Further, being secured within the body, the loss of the identifier is near impossible even though, as has occurred in herd animals, there are some concerns over possible dislodgement. Accordingly, the main usability drawback lies with reading the information. Implanted identification is useless if it is inaccessible.

Numerous applications have been proposed to assist individuals who depend solely on carers for support. This group consists of newly-born babies, sufferers of mental illness, persons with disabilities and the elderly. One use involves taking existing infant protection systems at birthing centres and internalizing the RFID devices worn by newborns. This would aid in identifying those who cannot identify themselves. Further, when connected to security sensors and alarms, the technology can alert staff to the “unauthorized removal of children” [28]. The South Tyneside Healthcare Trust Trial in the UK is a typical external-use example case. Early in 1995, Eagle Tracer installed an electronic tagging system at the hospital using TIRIS electronic tags and readers from Texas Instruments. Detection aerials were hidden at exit points so that if any baby was taken away without authorisation, its identity would be known and an alarm raised immediately. The trial was so successful that the hospital was considering expanding the system to include the children’s ward. [29] Notably, a number of other institutions have already begun targeting RFID applications toward adolescents. In Japan students are being tagged in a bid to keep them safe. RFID transponders are being placed inside their backpacks and are used to advise parents when their child has arrived at school [30]. A similar practice is being conducted in California where children are being asked to “wear” RFID tags around their necks when on school grounds [31].

Commentators are using this lack of objection to external electronic tagging for minors to highlight the idea that a national identity system based on implants is not impossible. Some believe that there will come a time when it will be common for different groups in the population to have tags implanted at birth. In Britain, chip implantation was suggested for illegal immigrants, asylum seekers and even travellers. Smet [32] argued the following, “[i]f you look to our societies, we are already registered from birth until death. Our governments know who we are and what we are. But one of the basic problems is the numbers of people in the world who are not registered, who do not have a set identity, and when people move with real or fake passports, you cannot identify them.”

4.2. Management controls

Many smart card access systems use RFID technology to associate a cardholder with access permissions to particular locations. Replacing cards with RFID implants alters the form of the ‘key’ but does not require great changes to verification systems. This is because information stored on a RFID microchip in a smart card can be stored on an implanted transponder. Readers are similarly triggered when the transponder is nearby. This application would have greatest value in ‘mission critical’ workplaces or for persons whose role hinges upon access to a particular location. The implanted access pass has the added benefit of being permanently attached to its owner.

Access provision translates easily into employee monitoring. In making the implanted RFID transponder the access pass to certain locations or resources, times of access can be recorded to ensure that the right people are in the right place at the right time. Control in this instance then moves away from ideals of permission and embraces the notion of supervision. A company’s security policy may stipulate that staff badges be secured onto clothing or that employees must wear tags woven into their uniforms. Some employers require their staff to wear RFID tags in a visible location for both identification purposes and access control [33]. In this regard, Olivetti’s “active badge” was ahead of its time when it was first launched [34].

4.3. Social controls

In the military, transponders may serve as an alternative to dog tags. Using RFID, in addition to the standard name, rank and serial number, information ranging from allergies and dietary needs to shoe size can be stored. This purports to ease local administrative burdens, and can eliminate the need to carry identification documents in the field allowing for accurate, immediate identification of Prisoners-Of-War.

Just as humancentric applications of RFID exist for those who enforce law, so too do applications exist for people who have broken it. The concept of ‘electronic jails’ for low-risk offenders is starting to be considered more seriously. In most cases, parolees wear wireless wrist or ankle bracelets and carry small boxes containing the vital tracking technology. Sweden and Australia have implemented this concept and trials are taking place in the UK, US, Netherlands and Canada. In 2002, 27 American states had tested or were using some form of satellite surveillance to monitor parolees [14]. In 2005 there were an estimated 120,000 tracked parolees in the United States alone [35]. Whilst tagging low-risk offenders is not popular in many countries it is far more economical than the conventional jail. Social benefits are also present as there is a level of certainty involved in identifying and monitoring so-called ‘threats’ to society. In a more sinister scenario in South America, chip implants are marketed toward victims of crime rather than offenders. They are seen as a way “to identify kidnapping victims who are drugged, unconscious or dead” [36].

5. Usability context analysis: convenience

The usability context analysis for convenience is divided into three main sub-contexts – assistance, financial services and interactivity.

5.1. Assistance

Automation is the repeated control of a process through technological means. Implied in the process is a relationship, the most common of which involves linking an implantee with appropriate data. Such information in convenience contexts can however be extended to encompass goods or physical objects with which the implantee has an association of ownership or bailment. VeriChip for example, a manufacturer of human-implantable RFID transponders, have developed VeriTag for use in travel. This device allows “personnel to link a VeriChip subscriber to his or her luggage… flight manifest logs and airline or law enforcement software databases” [37]. Convenience is provided for the implantee who receives greater assurance that they and their luggage will arrive at the correct destination, and also for the transport operator who is able to streamline processes using better identification and sorting measures.

Advancing the notion of timing, a period of movement leads to applications that can locate an implantee or find an entity relative to them [38]. This includes “find me”, “find a friend”, “where am I” and “guide me to” solutions. Integrating RFID and GPS technologies with a geographic information systems (GIS) portal such as the Internet-based would also allow users to find destinations based on their current GPS location. The nature of this application lends itself toward roadside assistance or emergency services, where the atypical circumstances surrounding the service may mean that other forms of subscriber identification are inaccessible or unavailable.

5.2. Financial services

Over the last few decades, world economies have acknowledged the rise of the cashless society. In recent years though, alongside traditional contact cards, we have seen the emergence of alternate payment processes. In 2001, Nokia tested the use of RFID in its 5100-series phone covers, allowing the device to be used as a bank facility. RFID readers were placed at McDonalds drive-through restaurants in New York and the consumer could pay their bill by holding their mobile phone near a reader. The reader contacted a wireless banking network and payment was deducted from a credit or debit account. Wired News noted the convenience stating, “there is no dialing, no ATM, no fumbling for a wallet or dropped coins” [39]. These benefits would similarly exist with implanted RFID. Ramo has noted the feasibility, commenting that “in the not too distant future” money could be stored anywhere, as well as “on a chip implant under [the] skin” [40]. Forgetting your wallet would no longer be an issue.

It is also feasible that humancentric RFID eliminates the need to stand in line at a bank. Purely as a means of identification, the unique serial or access key stored on the RFID transponder can be used to prove identity when opening an account or making a transaction. The need to gather paper-based identification is removed and, conveniently, the same identification used to open the account is instantly available if questioned. This has similar benefits for automatic teller machines. When such intermediary transaction devices are fitted with RFID readers, RFID transponders have the ability to replace debit and credit cards. This is in line with Warwick’s prediction that implanted chips “could be used for money transfers, medical records, passports, driving licenses, and loyalty cards” [41].

5.3. Interactivity

On August 24, 1998 Professor Kevin Warwick became the first recorded human to be implanted with an RFID device. Using the transponder, Warwick was able to interact with the ‘intelligent’ building that he worked in. Over the nine days he spent implanted, doors formerly requiring smart card access automatically opened. Lights activated when Warwick entered a room and upon sensing the Professor’s presence his computer greeted him. Warwick’s ‘Project Cyborg 1.0’ experiment thus showed enormous promise for humancentric convenience applications of RFID. The concept of such stand-alone applications expands easily into the development of personal area networks (PANs) and the interactive home or office. With systems available to manage door, light and personal computer preferences based on transponder identification, further climate and environmental changes are similarly exploitable (especially considering non-humancentric versions of these applications already exist) [42].

Given the success of interacting with inanimate locations and objects, the next step is to consider whether person-to-person communication can be achieved using humancentric RFID. Such communication would conveniently eliminate the need for intermediary devices like telephones or post. Answering this question was an aim of ‘Project Cyborg 2.0’ with Warwick writing, “We’d like to send movement and emotion signals from one person to the other, possibly via the Internet” [43]. Warwick’s wife Irena was the second trial subject, being similarly fitted with an implant in her median nerve. Communicating via computer-mediated signals was only met with limited success however. When Irena clenched her fist for example, Professor Warwick received a shot of current through his left index finger [44]. Movement sensations were therefore effectively, though primitively, transmitted.

6. Usability context analysis: care

The usability context analysis for care is divided into three main sub-contexts – medical, biomedical and therapeutic.

6.1. Medical

As implanted transponders contain identifying information, the storage of medical records is an obvious, and perhaps fundamental, humancentric care application of RFID. Similar to other identification purposes, a primary benefit involves the RFID transponder imparting critical information when the human host is otherwise incapable of communicating. In this way, the application is “not much different in principle from devices… such as medic-alert bracelets” [16]. American corporation VeriChip markets their implantable RFID device for this purpose. Approved for distribution throughout the United States in April of 2002, it has been subject to regulation as a medical device by the Food and Drug Administration since October of the same year.

Care-related humancentric RFID devices provide unparalleled portability for medical records. Full benefit cannot be gained without proper infrastructure however. Though having medical data instantly accessible through implanted RFID lends itself to saving lives in an emergency, this cannot be achieved if reader equipment is unavailable. The problem is amplified in the early days of application rollout, as the cost of readers may not be justified until the technology is considered mainstream. Also, as most readers only work with their respective proprietary transponders, questions regarding market monopolies and support for brand names arise.

6.2. Biomedical

A biosensor is a device which “detects, records, and transmits information regarding a physiological change or the presence of various chemical or biological materials in the environment” [45]. It combines biological and electronic components to produce quantitative measurements of biological parameters, or qualitative alerts for biological change. When integrated with humancentric RFID, biosensors can transmit source information as well as biological data. The time savings in simultaneously gathering two distinct data sets are an obvious benefit. Further, combined reading of the biological source and measurement is less likely to encounter the human error linked with manually correlating data to data sources.

Implantable transponders allowing for the measurement of body temperature have been used to monitor livestock for over a decade [25]. As such, the data procurement benefits are well known. It does however give a revolutionary new facet to human care by allowing internal temperature readings to be gained, post-implantation, through non-invasive means. In 1994 Bertrand Cambou, director of technology for Motorola’s Semiconductor Products in Phoenix, predicted that by 2004 all persons would have such a microchip implanted in their body to monitor and perhaps even control blood pressure, their heart rate, and cholesterol levels.[46] Though Cambou’s predictions did not come to timely fruition, the multitude of potential applications are still feasible and include: chemotherapy treatment management; chronic infection or critical care monitoring; organ transplantation treatment management; infertility management; post-operative or medication monitoring; and response to treatment evaluation. Multiple sensors placed on an individual could even form a body area network (BAN).

An implantable RFID device for use by diabetes sufferers has been prototyped by biotechnology firm M-Biotech. The small glucose bio-transponder consisting of a miniature pressure sensor and a glucose-sensitive hydrogel swells “reversibly and to varying degrees” when changes occur in the glucose concentrations of surrounding fluids [47]. Implanted in the abdominal region, a wireless alarm unit carried by the patient continually reads the data, monitoring critical glucose levels.

6.3. Therapeutic

Implanted therapeutic devices are not new; they have been used in humans for many years. Alongside the use of artificial joints for example, radical devices such as pacemakers have become commonplace. The use of RFID with these devices however has re-introduced some novelty to the remedial solution [48]. This is because, while the therapeutic devices remain static in the body, the integration of RFID allows for interactive status readings and monitoring, through identification, of the device.

There are very few proven applications of humancentric RFID in the treatment usability sub-context at current if one puts cochlear implants [49] and smart pills aside [50]. Further, of those applications at the proof of concept stage, benefits to the user are generally gained via an improvement to the quality of living, and not a cure for disease or disability. With applications to restore sight to the blind [51] and re-establish normal bladder function for patients with spinal injuries already in prototyped form however, some propose that real innovative benefit is only a matter of time [52]. Arguably the technology for the applications already exists. All that needs to be prototyped is a correct implementation. Thus, feasibility is perhaps a matter of technological achievement and not technological advancement.

7. Findings

The choice of control, convenience and care contexts for analysis stemmed from the emergence of separate themes in the literature review; however the context analyses themselves showed much congruence between application areas. In all contexts, identification and monitoring are core functions. For control, this functionality exists in security and in management of access to locations and resources. For convenience, identification necessarily provides assistance and monitoring supports interactivity with areas and objects. Care, as the third context, requires identification for medical purposes and highlights biological monitoring as basic functionality.

Table 1. High level benefits and costs for humancentric RFID

With standard identification and monitoring systems as a basis, it is logical that so many humancentric applications of RFID have a mass target market. Medical identification for example is not solely for the infirm because, as humans, we are all susceptible to illness. Similarly, security and convenience are generic wants. Combined with similarities between contextual innovations, mass-market appeal can lead to convergence of applications. One potential combination is in the area of transportation and driver welfare. Here the transponder of an implanted driver could be used for keyless passive entry (convenience), monitoring of health (care), location based services (convenience), roadside assistance (convenience) and, in terms of fleet management or commercial transportation, driver monitoring (control).

Despite parallels and a potential for convergence, development contexts for humancentric RFID are not equal. Instead, control is dominant. Though care can be a cause for control and medical applications are convenient, it is control which filters through other contexts as a central tenet. In convenience applications, control is in the power of automation and mass management, in the authority over environments and devices. For care applications, medical identification is a derivative of identification for security purposes and the use of biosensors or therapeutic devices extends control over well-being. Accordingly, control is the overriding theme encompassing all contexts of humancentric RFID in the current state of development [53].

Alongside the contextual themes encapsulating the usability contexts are the corresponding benefits and costs in each area (Table 1). When taking a narrow view it is clear that many benefits of humancentric RFID are application specific. Therapeutic implants for example have the benefit of the remedy itself. Conversely however, a general concern of applications is that they are largely given to social disadvantages including the onset of religious objections and privacy fears.

7.1. Application quality and support for service

For humancentric RFID, application quality depends on commercial readiness. For those applications being researched, the usability context analyses suggest that the technology, and not the applications, present the largest hurdle. In his Cyborg 1.0 experiments for example, Professor Kevin Warwick kept his transponder implanted for only nine days, as a direct blow would have shattered the glass casing, irreparably damaging nerves and tissue.

Once technological difficulties are overcome and applications move from proof of concept into commercialization, market-based concerns are more relevant. Quality of data is a key issue. In VeriChip applications, users control personal information that is accessible, though stored in the Global VeriChip Subscriber Registry database, through their implanted transponder. The system does not appear to account for data correlation however, and there is a risk of human error in information provision and in data entry. This indicates the need for industry standards, allowing a quality framework for humancentric RFID applications to be created and managed.

Industry standards are also relevant to support services. In humancentric applications of RFID they are especially needed as much usability, adjunct to the implanted transponder, centers upon peripherals and their interoperability. Most proprietary RFID readers for instance can only read data from similarly proprietary transponders. In medical applications though, where failure to harness available technology can have dramatic results, an implantee with an incompatible, and therefore unreadable, transponder is no better off for using the application. Accordingly, for humancentric RFID to realize its promotion as ‘life-enhancing’, standards for compatibility between differently branded devices must be developed.

Lastly, the site of implantation should be standardized as even if an implanted transponder is known to exist, difficulties may arise in discerning its location. Without a common site for implantation finding an implanted RFID device can be tedious. This is disadvantageous for medical, location-based or other critical implementations where time is a decisive factor in the success of the application. It is also a disadvantage in more general terms as the lack of standards suggests that though technological capability is available, there is no social framework ready to accept it.

7.2. Commercial viability for the consumer

A humancentric application of RFID must satisfy a valid need to be considered marketable. This is especially crucial as the source of the application, the transponder, requires an invasive installation and, afterwards, cannot be easily removed. Add to this that humancentric RFID is a relatively new offering with few known long-term effects, and participation is likely to be a highly considered decision. Thus, despite many applications having a mass target market, the value of the application to the individual will determine boundaries and commercial viability.

Value is not necessarily cost-based. Indeed, with the VeriChip sold at a cost of $US200 plus a $10 per month service fee, it is not being marketed as a toy for the elite. Instead, value and application scope are assessed in terms of life enhancement. Therapeutic devices for example provide obvious remedial benefit, but the viability of a financial identification system may be limited by available infrastructure.

Arguably, commercial viability is increased by the ability of one transponder to support multiple applications. Identification applications for example are available in control, convenience and care usability contexts. The question arises however, as to what occurs when different manufacturers market largely different applications? Where no real interoperability exists for humancentric RFID devices, it is likely that users must be implanted with multiple transponders from multiple providers. Further, given the power and processing constraint of multi-application transponders in the current state of development, the lack of transponder portability reflects negatively on commercial viability and suggests that each application change or upgrade may require further implantation and bodily invasion.

7.3. Commercial viability for the manufacturer

Taking VeriChip as a case study, one is led to believe that there is a commercially viable market for humancentric applications of RFID. Indeed, where the branded transponder is being sold in North and South America, and has been showcased in Europe [54], a global want for the technology is suggested. It must be recognized, however, that in the current state of development VeriChip and its parent, Applied Digital Solutions have a monopoly over those humancentric RFID devices approved for use. As such, their statistics and market growth have not been affected by competition and there is no comparative data. The difference between a successful public relations campaign and reality is therefore hard to discern.

Interestingly, in non-humancentric commercial markets, mass rollouts of RFID have been scaled back. Problems have arisen specifically in animal applications. The original implementation of the 1996 standards, ISO 11784: ‘Radio-frequency identification of animals – Code structure’ and ISO 11785: ‘Radio-frequency identification of animals – Technical concept’ for example, were the subject of extensive complaint [55]. Not only did the standards not require unique identification codes, they violated the patent policy of the International Standards Organization. Even after the ISO standards were returned to the SC19 Working Group 3 for review, a general lack of acceptance equated to limited success. Moreover, moves have now been made to ban the use of implantable transponders in herd animals. In a high percentage of cases the transponder moved in the fat layer, raising concerns that it might be later consumed by humans. Further, the meat quality was degraded as animals sensing the existence of an implanted foreign object produced antibodies to ‘attack’ it [18].

8. Discussion

8.1. Personal privacy

Given its contactless nature and non-line-of-sight (nLoS) capability, RFID has the ability to automatically collect a great deal of data about an individual in a covert and unobtrusive way. Hypothetically, a transponder implanted within a human can communicate with any number of readers it may pass in any given day. This opens up a plethora of possibilities, including the ability to link data based on a unique identifier (i.e. the chip implant), to locate and track an individual over time, and to look at individual patterns of behaviour. The severity of violations to personal privacy increase as data collected for one purpose is linked with completely separate datasets gathered for another purpose. Consider the use of an implant that deducts programmed payment for road tolls as you drive through sensor-based stations. Imagine this same data originally gathered for traffic management now being used to detect speeding and traffic infringements, resulting in the automatic issue of a fine. Real cases with respect to GPS and fleet management have already been documented. Kumagi and Cherry [56] describe how one family was billed an “out-of-state penalty” by their rental company based on GPS data that was gathered for a completely different reason. Stanford [57] menacingly calls this a type of data use “scope creep” while Papasliotis [58] more pleasantly deems it “knowledge discovery”.

These notions of ‘every-day’ information gathering, where an implantee must submit to information gathering practices in return for access to services, offends the absolutist view of privacy and “an individual [having] the right to control the use of his information in all circumstances” [59]. Indeed, given their implantation beneath the skin, the very nature of humancentric transponders negates the individual’s ability to ‘control’ the device and what flows from it. Not only do the majority of consumers lack the technical ability to either embed or remove implants but they naturally lack the ability to know when their device is emitting data and when it is not. There is also a limited understanding of what information ‘systems’ are actually gathering. This becomes a greater danger when we note that laws in different jurisdictions provide little restraint on the data mining of commercial databases by commercial entities. In this instance, there would be little to stop RFID service providers from mining data collected from their subscribers and on-selling it to other organisations.

Moreover, even where ethical data usage is not questioned, intellectual property directives in Europe may hamper the promise of some service providers to keep consumer data private. According to Papasliotis [58] “… the proposed EU Intellectual Property (IP) Enforcement Directive includes a measure that would make it illegal for European citizens to de-activate the chips in RFID tags, on the ground that the owner of the tag has an intellectual property right in the chip. De-activating the tag could arguably be treated as an infringement of that right”.

8.2. Data security

Relevant approaches to RFID security in relation to inanimate objects have been discussed in the literature. Gao [60] summarises these methods as “killing tags at the checkout, applying a rewritable memory, physical tag memory separation, hash encryption, random access hash, and hash chains”. Transponders that are embedded within the body pose a different type of data security requirement though. They are not in the body so they can be turned off, this being a circumvention of the original purpose of implantation. Instead, they are required to provide a persistent and unique identifier. In the US however, also thwarting an original purpose, a study has shown that some RFID transponders are capable of being cloned, meaning the prospect of fraud or theft may still exist [61]. One possibility, as proposed by Perakslis and Wolk [22], is the added security of saving an individual’s feature vector onboard the RFID chip. Biometrics too, however, is fraught with its own problems [62]. Despite some moves in criminal justice systems, it is still controversial to say that one’s fingerprint or facial image should be held on a public or private database.

Unfortunately, whatever the security, researchers like Stanford believe it is a “virtual certainty” that tags and their respective systems “will be abused” by some providers [57]. Here, the main risk for consumers involves third parties gaining access to personal data without prior notice. To this end, gaining and maintaining the trust of consumers is essential to the success of the technology. Mature trust models need to be architected and implemented, but more importantly they need to be understood outside of an academic context. Though it is important that trust continues to grow as an area of study within the e-commerce arena, it will be the practical operation of oversight companies like VeriSign in these early days of global information gathering which will allow consumers to create their own standards and opinions.

Outside of clear ethical concerns regarding third-party interests in information, another temptation for service providers surrounds the use of data to target individual consumer sales in value-added services and service-sets relying on location information. Though not an extreme concern in itself, we note that any such sales will face the more immediate concern of deciding on a secure and standard location for implants. For now live services place the implant in the left or right arm but the problems with designating such a zone surround the possibility of exclusion. What if the consumer is an amputee or has prosthetic limbs? Surely the limited space of the human body means that certain things are possible, while others are not. Thus, recognizing the limitations of the human body, will service providers brand transponders and allow multifunctional tags for different niche services? Which party then owns the transponder? The largest service provider, the government or agency acting as an issuer, or the individual? Who is responsible for accuracy and liable for errors? And more importantly, who is liable for break-downs in communication when services are unavailable and disaster results?

8.3. Ethical considerations

Molnar and Wagner [63] ask the definitive question “[i]s the cost of privacy and security “worth it”?” Stajano [64] answers by reminding us that, “[t]he benefits for consumers remain largely hypothetical, while the privacy-invading threats are real”. Indeed, when we add to privacy concerns the unknown health impacts, the potential changes to cultural and social interaction, the circumvention of religious and philosophical ideals, and a potential mandatory deployment, then the disadvantages of the technology seem almost burdensome. For the present, proponents of emerging humancentric RFID rebuke any negatives “under the aegis of personal and national security, enhanced working standards, reduced medical risks, protection of personal assets, and overall ease-of-living” [22]. Unless there are stringent ethical safeguards however, there is a potential for enhanced national security to come at the cost of freedom, or for enhanced working standards to devalue the importance of employee satisfaction. The innovative nature of the technology should not be cause to excuse it from the same “judicial or procedural constraints which limit the extent to which traditional surveillance technologies are permitted to infringe privacy” [58].

Garfinkel et al. [61] provide a thorough discussion on key considerations in their paper. Though their main focus is on users of RFID systems and purchasers of products containing RFID tags, the conclusions drawn are also relevant to the greater sphere of humancentric RFID. Firstly, Garfinkel et al. begin by stipulating that a user has the right to know if the product they have purchased contains an RFID tag. In the current climate of human transponder implant acceptance, it is safe to assume that an individual who has requested implantation knows of their implant and its location. But, does the guardian of an Alzheimer’s patient or adult schizophrenic, have the right to impose an implant on behalf of the sufferer for monitoring or medical purposes [65]?

Secondly, the user has the right to have embedded RFID tags “removed, deactivated, or destroyed” [61] at or after purchase. Applied to humancentric implantation, this point poses a number of difficulties. The user cannot remove the implant themselves without some physical harm, they have no real way of finding out whether a remaining implant has in fact been ‘deactivated’, and destroying an implant without its removal from the body implies some form of amputation. Garfinkel et al.’s third ethical consideration is that an individual should have alternatives to RFID. In the embedded scenario users should then also have to ability to opt-in to new services and opt-out of their current service set as they see fit. Given the nature of RFID however, there is little to indicate the success or failure of a stipulated user requested change, save for a receipt message that may be sent to a web client from the server. Quite possibly the user may not be aware that they have failed to opt out of a service until they receive their next billing statement.

The fourth notion involves the right to know what information is stored on the RFID transponder and whether or not this information is correct, while the fifth point is “the right to know when, where and why a RFID tag is being read” [61]. This is quite difficult to exercise, especially where unobtrusiveness is considered a goal of the RFID system. In the resultant struggle between privacy, convenience, streamlining and bureaucracy, the number of times RFID transponders are triggered in certain applications may mean that the end-user is bombarded with a very long statement of transactions.

8.4. The privacy fear and the threat of totalitarianism?

Mark Weiser, the founding father of ubiquitous computing, once said that the problem surrounding the introduction of new technologies is “often couched in terms of privacy, [but] is really one of control” [59]. Indeed, given that humans do not by nature trust others to safeguard our own individual privacy, in controlling technology we feel we can also control access to any social implications stemming from it. At its simplest, this highlights the different focus between the end result of using technology and the administration of its use. It becomes the choice between the idea that I am given privacy and the idea that I control how much privacy I have. In this regard, privacy is traded for service.

Fig. 1. The privacy-security trade-off.

What some civil libertarians fear beyond privacy exchange though is a government-driven mandatory introduction of invasive technologies based on the premise of national security. While the safety and security argument has obviously paved the way for some technologies in response to the new environment of terrorism and identity fraud [38], there is now a concern that further advancements will begin to infringe on the freedoms that security paradigms were originally designed to protect. For invasive technology like humancentric RFID, the concerns are multiplied as the automated nature of information gathering means that proximity to a reader, and not personal choice, may often be the only factor in deciding whether or not a transponder will be triggered. Though most believe that government-imposed mandatory implantation is a highly unlikely outcome of advancements in humancentric RFID, it should be recognised that a voluntary implantation scheme offers negligible benefits to a government body given the incompleteness of the associated data set. This is equally true of private enterprises that mandate the use of transponders in employees, inmates or other distinct population groups.

Where the usability context of control then becomes the realm of government organizations and private enterprise, RFID regulation is increasingly important. Not only is regulation necessary for ensuring legitimacy in control-type applications, it is also needed to prevent the perversion of convenience and care-related uses. For example, many of those implanted with RFID transponders today might consider them to be life-saving devices and the service-oriented nature of these applications means they must clearly remain voluntary (Table 2). If the data collected by the device was also to be used for law enforcement or government surveillance purposes however, users may think twice about employing the technology. In regulating then we do not want to allow unrestricted deployment and unparalleled capabilities for commercial data mining, but nor should we allow a doomsday scenario where all citizens are monitored in a techno-totalitarian state [61]. Any scope for such design of regulations must be considered in light of the illustrated privacy/security trade-off (Fig. 1). Taking any two vertices of the government – service provider – consumer triangle, privacy or security (which can often be equated with ‘control’) will always be traded in relation to the third vertex. For example, where we combine government and service providers in terms of security regulations and the protection of national interests, the consumer is guaranteed to forgo certain amounts of privacy. Similarly, where we combine government and the consumer as a means of ensuring privacy for the individual, the service provider becomes limited in the control it holds over information gathered (if indeed it is still allowed to gather information).

Table 2. Mapping contexts to the environment

9. Conclusion

In the current state of humancentric development, stand-alone applications exist for control, convenience and care purposes, but as control is the dominant context its effects can be seen in other application areas. Applications are also influenced by power and processing confines, and as such, many functions have simple bases in identification or monitoring. Application usage is made more complex however, as a need for peripherals (including readers and information storage systems) is restrained by a lack of industry standards for interoperability. Though the technology has been deemed feasible in both research and commercially approved contexts, the market for humancentric applications of RFID is still evolving. Initial adoption of the technology has met with some success but, as research continues into humancentric applications of RFID, the market is still too niche for truly low-cost, high-quality application services. Any real assessment of the industry is further prejudiced by commercial monopoly and limited research into the long-term effects of use. Coupled with security and privacy concerns, then the long-term commercial viability for humancentric applications of RFID is questionable. In the short- to medium-term, adoption of humancentric RFID technology and use of related applications will be hindered by a lack of infrastructure, a lack of standards, not only as to interoperability but also as to support for service and transponder placement, and the lack of response from developers and regulators to mounting ethical dilemmas.


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Keywords: Radio-frequency identification, Transponders, Chip implants, Humancentric applications, Usability context analysis, Location tracking, Personal privacy, Data security, Ethics

Citation: Amelia Masters and Katina Michael, "Lend me your arms: The use and implications of humancentric RFID, Electronic Commerce Research and Applications, Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring 2007, Pages 29-39, DOI:

Location-Based Services: a vehicle for IT&T convergence

Katina Michael

School of Information Technology & Computer Science, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia

Full Citation: Katina Michael, 2004, Location-Based Services: A Vehicle for IT&T Convergence, in eds. K. Cheng, D. Webb, and R. Marsh, Advances in e-Engineering and Digital Enterprise Technology, Professional Engineering Publishing United, London, UK.

* This chapter was a conference paper in the Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on e-Engineering and Digital Enterprise Technology (e-ENGDET), Leeds Metropolitan University, UK, 1-3 September 2004. Supported by IMechE, IEE, EPSRC.



Location-based services (LBS), more than any other mobile commerce application area has served to bring together information technology and telecommunications (IT&T) industries. While much has been written on the potential of LBS, literature on how it is a catalyst for digital convergence is scant. This paper identifies and explores the various levels of converging technologies in mobile commerce by using three LBS case studies. Through literal replication the findings indicate that IT&T technologies are converging at the infrastructure, appliance and application level. It is predicted that mCommerce applications will increasingly rely on industry convergence to achieve their desired outcomes.

1 Introduction

Location-Based Services (LBS) is a branch of m-Commerce that has revolutionised the way people communicate with others or gather timely information based on a given geographic location. Everything living and non-living has a location on the earth’s surface, a longitude and latitude coordinate that can be used to provide a subscriber with a wide range of value added services (VAS). Subscribers can use their mobile phone, personal digital assistant (PDA) or laptop to find information relating to their current location. Typical LBS consumer applications include roadside assistance, who is nearest, where is, and personal navigation. LBS business applications differ in their focus and many are linked to core business challenges such as optimising supply chain management (SCM) and enhancing customer relationship management (CRM). Some of the more prominent LBS business applications include: fleet management (incorporating vehicle navigation), property asset tracking (via air, ship and road) and field service personnel management (i.e. people monitoring). The emergency services sector in the United States (US) was responsible for driving the first pin-point location service, demonstrating to the world the potentially life-saving functionality of the technology. As of October 2003, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforced that wireless operators provide the Automatic Location Identification (ALI) of a caller to the emergency dispatcher. ALI standards designate that more than two-thirds of emergency calls received require the location of the individual to be accurate to within 50 metres, and 95 per cent of calls to within 150 metres. The technology is available for potential mass market deployment, how feasible it is however is a separate issue altogether. This paper provides an overview of the devices, applications and technologies used by three companies that offer LBS applications. The overall aim is to show the current state of development in leading edge LBS product innovations and to demonstrate that LBS have served to bring together information technology and telecommunications (IT&T) industries. The first section of the paper reviews previous literature and develops an analytical framework for the investigation; second each LBS product innovation will be examined; and third a discussion on the high-level effects LBS has had on IT&T convergence ensues.

2 Literature Review

2.1 Who, what, when, where & wi-fi?

The evolution of mobile location-based services has been well documented in a paper by Rao and Minakakis (1). This article summarises the platforms, technologies and standards of mobile LBS and does well to differentiate between the various techniques that can be used to determine an accurate location of an object or individual. These techniques include: cell identifier (cell ID), global positioning systems (GPS), assisted global positioning system (aGPS), and the broadband satellite network. Zeimpekis et al. (2) go into more explicit detail about each of these and identify a whole range of indoor and outdoor positioning techniques categorising these into “self positioning” and “remote positioning”. It should also be noted that location technologies can be classified as either handset-based or network-based. Cousins and Varshney (3) provide a brief overview of the location framework required for mobile location services whereas Varshney (4) goes into greater depth for each element in the framework. Balatseng and Hanrahan (5) specifically use the Global System for Mobile (GSM) to describe the logical architecture required to support mobile station positioning. Maass (6) can be credited with an implementation-level paper on location-aware mobile applications based on directory services. Varshney’s (4) paper however stands out from the rest of the literature in that he makes the important connection between the type of service offering and the level of accuracy required. He also includes the wireless LAN (wi-fi) network in the location management architecture, instituting radio frequency identification (RFID) as a significant technology embedded in the LBS framework.

In terms of target markets for LBS, Rao and Minakakis (1) identify three target markets including the consumer, niche consumer/ business, and industrial/ corporate. Cousins and Varshney (3) also separate state-driven applications from those that are business driven which is important when discussing the overall capabilities (present and future) of LBS (7). Typical services specified by most authors range from mapping, directory services, shopping, alerting, SCM, CRM, intelligent transportation, emergency and e-health. These can be applied in any given scenario- Business-to-Consumer (B2C), Business-to-Business (B2B) and even Citizen-to-Government (C2G) relationships. Interestingly the work of Burak and Sharon (8) on FriendZone is among the few analysing usage of a single LBS commercial application. The distinction between push and pull services is also important (4). The FriendZone service is a ‘push’ mode of operation allowing a subscriber to locate friends and acquaintances nearby, whereas checking on the next movie showing closest to a location is an example of a ‘pull’ mode of operation. Some of the more common revenue business models for LBS services include the traditional subscription-based model, pay-per-view, micropayments and application service provider (ASP) facilitator (1).

2.2 The gap in the literature

The gap in the literature is two-fold. First, a paper needs to be written showcasing cutting edge LBS product innovations that reveal the current state of development. A lot of sensational material exists in the popular media about what is possible with LBS but a candid view of billable applications that are being offered now is required. Second, a look at how LBS is spurring on convergence at various levels within IT&T needs to be demonstrated. Traditional telephone companies are no longer the typical service providers (SPs). New business models are changing the rules of engagement between established companies and new entrants who are looking for niche markets. The definite move toward a packet-based solution using Internet Protocol (IP) is also blurring the line between the once easily identifiable carrier-grade applications and enterprise-level offerings. The need to reduce the time-to-market (TTM) for opportune LBS was exemplified during the SARS outbreak in 2003. Hong Kong mobile telephone operator, Sunday, rapidly developed and launched an application that warned subscribers via short message service (SMS) about buildings with confirmed or suspected SARS cases within approximately one kilometre radius of their location.

3 Methodology

The research approach for this paper is exploratory. Multiple case studies will be used to gather evidence to satisfy the two main objectives stated above. The main unit of analysis is the product innovation, and the sub-unit of analysis is the LBS technology used to implement that product innovation. Three US companies have been chosen for this study, each with billable LBS market applications. AT&T Wireless (, Wherify Wireless ( and Applied Digital Solutions ( offer product innovations that represent the diverse ways that LBS applications can be implemented. The case study protocol is composed of the following questions: What is the product innovation? What are the LBS applications the company can support? When were the company’s LBS services officially launched? Who is the target market? What kind of device(s) is/ are being used by the subscriber? What are the subscriber pricing plans (i.e. connection, monthly, usage fees)? Is it a carrier-grade or enterprise-level application? What is the level of accuracy when locating a subscriber? What do the LBS services require in terms of IT&T? It is the latter question that pertains to showing that LBS is a catalyst to IT&T convergence. In citing Kampas, Chen (9) provides a high-level framework for possible convergence at three separate layers occurring at the infrastructure, appliance and application levels. Chen also describes the notion of “colliding industries” including the communication, electronics, computing and information/ entertainment sectors.

The data gathered by the researcher will be drawn completely from information provided on the company web sites published between the period of April 2002 and April 2004. The online documentation reviewed will typically include: company background, product briefs, application user guides, technical specifications and press releases. In this manner, the method of investigation can be considered wholly e-research (10). External validity is ensured given that the companies are registered on the New York Stock Exchange and must provide factual content to their present and potential subscriber base. The possibility of researcher bias is minimised in this paper given its intent is not to prove that one service is better than another, but to document the current state of development.

4 Case Studies

4.1 Product innovations

4.1.1 The versatile mMode

AT&T Wireless was the first mobile carrier to launch m-Commerce applications in the US in July 2001. Following the success of NTT Docomo’s i-mode and c-mode in Japan, mMode provided a value-added data-centric package to AT&T’s voice and SMS basic plans. Subscribers to mMode can use numerous devices to communicate including IP-enabled phones, PDAs, handhelds and even vertical devices such as the Panasonic Toughbook and Microslate Sidearm. The service is carrier-grade and is based on a GSM network architecture that uses new network elements, namely the Gateway Mobile Location Centre (GMLC), Serving Mobile Location Centre (SMLC), and the Location Measurement Unit (LMU). AT&T Wireless is now rolling out the general packet radio service (GPRS) network and EDGE technology, increasing bandwidth by targeting specific coverage areas as demand increases and it becomes economically justifiable to do so. The accuracy of the specific location-based applications is dependent upon the general location of the mobile transmission tower most recently contacted by the customer’s device. For example, the IP device could be right next to a tower or some fifteen kilometres away. In metropolitan areas the accuracy is greater given the number of base transceiver stations is higher than in less urbanised areas.

4.1.2 The wrist-worn GPS Personal Locator

mMode’s location identification is not pin-point such as in the Wherify Personal Locator solution that is based on a combination of GPS satellites and code division multiple access (CDMA) PCS network triangulation methods. The Personal Locator wrist-worn device is accurate within 30 metres of the wearer, possibly even as close as a metre. The GPS device can be controlled by both the subscriber and individual wearer, allowing the parent subscriber to track the wearer, and for the wearer to alert the parent subscriber and/or location centre headquarters in case of an emergency. Coverage is available throughout the US given the GPS capability but is dependent on the PCS network coverage footprint. The Wherify frequently-asked-questions (FAQs) page (11) states: “[i]f a GPS signal is received, but the Locator is outside the digital wireless coverage area or does not receive a digital wireless signal, no location report will be provided. If the Locator receives a digital wireless signal, but no GPS signal is available, a CDMA tower-based location report will be available for emergencies.” On December 30th 2003, Wherify unveiled its new GPS Universal Locator Phone which is targeted at all age groups of both the consumer and business market.

4.1.3 The VeriChip implant

While mMode requires the subscriber to carry a device, and the Personal Locator requires an individual to wear a device, VeriChip is radical in that it requires the subscriber to be implanted with a microchip (see table 1 for a comparison list of attributes). The campaign to Get Chipped was launched in early 2003, and the first person to do so formally was implanted in September of that year. The chipping procedure only lasts a few minutes. There are a number of Veri centres where the procedure can take place in the US and internationally. There is even a high-tech ChipMobile bus fully equipped to perform the implant procedure, ‘on the road’. Applied Digital Solutions (ADSX) initially invested heavily in another product they called the Digital Angel in 2002, which resembled the Personal Locator solution but aimed at a broader market base than just children. The Digital Angel wristwatch was more slim-line but required the user to carry an additional wallet with battery power. While remnants of the Digital Angel web site are still operational today, it is the VeriChip which has become the flagship product of the VeriChip Corporation (a subsidiary of ADSX). About the size of a grain of rice, the VeriChip is the world’s first subdermal radio-frequency identification (RFID) microchip. According to an ADSX press release (12): “[t]he standard location of the microchip is in the triceps area between the elbow and the shoulder of the right arm.” In theory an implantee could be identified in a wi-fi network, such as in a workplace or university campus. Whereas GPS has limitations in-building locations due to construction materials used, RFID thrives in a local area network (LAN) setting, allowing walkways and door entries to act as scanners. RF energy from the scanner triggers the dormant VeriChip and in turn sends out a signal containing the unique verification number. The exchange of data is transparent and seamless in the case of RFID, there is no need to physically stop to verify a biometric feature- the network is ubiquitous. In another scenario, an individual could be identified by the RFID implant, giving emergency services access to the implantee’s medical data and history that could be potentially life-saving. Unlike other fixed services, m-Commerce applications grant the subscriber access to services twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. In the case of the VeriChip it is not only “always on” but “ever-present” inside the body of the subscriber. Unlike physical biometric attributes, the VeriChip is inconspicuous to the naked eye.

Table 1 LBS product innovations and their attributes

Table 1 LBS product innovations and their attributes


4.2 LBS applications

4.2.1 “My mMode: this time it's personal”

mMode is heavily oriented towards the consumer market, although AT&T Wireless also offer package deals to business users specifically for the purposes of email (plus attachments), web access, and remote access. mMode was marketed as the beginning of mLife, next generation services that ‘one could not live without’ (13). Among its mCommerce suite that includes news, music and finance services are a number of LBS solutions (a list of these can be found in table 2). mMode’s LBS applications are diverse- everything from a mobile traffic report to directions ‘to the nearest’ and find people nearby (14). Some of the more creative LBS are chat and date, and travel and dining. There are four plans subscribers can choose from including: mini, mega, max and ultra. The plans are charged monthly ranging from $2.99 to $19.99 USD and include a limited megabytes (MB) download. Additional usage fees are charged at between 2c and 0.6c per extra kilobyte (KB) received or sent, dependent on the plan. These fees do not include voice calls and SMS. The mMode service is bundled allowing the subscriber maximum personalisation to choose from any application they require. The myMode web site allows the subscriber to customise their preferences and settings.

4.2.2 Personal Locator “Just For Kids”

In contrast to AT&T Wireless, Wherify strategically chose to enter the market with a niche LBS application for a Personal Locator Just For Kids, specifically targeted at parents of children between the age of four and twelve. The device previously cost $399 USD but was recently slashed for a “back to school special” to $199. Monthly plans for the LBS application range from an average of $19.95 to $44.95 dependent on the plan chosen (liberty, independence or freedom). There is a one-time activation fee of $35 USD plus usage fees related to additional page requests above the included locates, additional operator assistance calls and subsequent emergency calls. Wherify makes it clear that it is looking to diversify to other niche applications including Alzheimer’s and law enforcement, even though the Locator for Kids is the only marketable application demoed on the web site at the present time (15).

Table 2- Present and future LBS applications as stated on the company web site

Table 2- Present and future LBS applications as stated on the company web site

4.2.3 “Get Chipped” with VeriChip: “technology that cares”

There is little information on the ADSX web site about the pricing of the VeriChip, however it is stated that the global VeriChip subscriber (GVS) registry subscription fee is $9.95 USD monthly. There is a cost for the implant medical procedure as well, although this is not provided. In 2002 the first one hundred pre-registered persons were granted a $50 USD discount on the chipping procedure (16). The pricing for the new VeriPay and VeriGuard services has yet to be published on the WWW and probably will not be given these are typically targeting business-to-business-to-consumer (B2B2C) solutions which are highly complex in design. The “Trusted Traveller” and residential security programs (i.e., prisoners serving their sentence from home) are two examples of VeriGuard LBS applications. One desirable feature of VeriGuard is that it could operate in conjunction with other auto-ID technologies like smart cards and biometrics, rendering customer legacy systems reusable.

4.4 Information technology and telecommunications (IT&T) requirements

4.4.1 mMode: how does it work?

Using the “find people nearby” service, the GSM/ GPRS network works as follows to determine a subscriber’s approximate location. An application request is made by a subscriber. The application server subsequently makes a location request to the gateway mobile location centre (GMLC). The GMLC in turn queries the home location register (HLR) and then contacts the appropriate mobile switching centre (MSC). Another location request is generated to identify the base station controller (BSC) where the mobile is currently using the serving mobile location centre (SMLC). The BSC then can use the location measurement unit (LMU) alongside the appropriate base transceiver stations (BTS) to determine the location of the subscriber by using the uplink time distance of arrival (UTDOA). The location information is then sent back via the above-mentioned pieces of hardware/ software until the message reaches the application server and a response is given to the subscriber. The AT&T Wireless web site provides an excellent facility to aid external developers of mobile solutions (17). Freely available for download are whitepapers, style guides, software development kits (SDK), programming guides, sample code and emulators. In table 3 can be found the major building blocks of the mMode technical solution.

Table 3. The mMode Building Blocks

Table 3. The mMode Building Blocks

AT&T Wireless differs significantly from Wherify and Applied Digital Solutions, given it owns much of its network infrastructure. AT&T Wireless also has a large existing customer base that is used to an excellent quality of service (QoS) and certain level of post sales support. Launching LBS applications nation-wide with potentially tens-of-thousands of new subscribers joining daily, requires equipment that can handle data traffic levels and systems that have been thoroughly tested for faults. mMode contains diverse LBS services- ensuring that each of these works properly and is interoperable with a range of media devices is a labour-intensive activity which is one reason why they have decided to outsource as well.

4.4.2 Personal Locator: all the bits and pieces

Wherify’s location service centre (LSC) is at the heart of its current and pending product innovations. A carrier-class server and software hub, the LSC manages and presents location-based information. Unlike mMode, Wherify utilises wireless data and aGPS. Consider the following scenario where a parent wants to be reassured that their child made it to school alright after missing the bus. The parent requests a location report via the Internet using a Microsoft IE browser (or ringing the toll-free telephone number). The LSC contacts the child’s Personal Locator via the PCS network (if within the footprint), and then downloads the current GPS data and requests a location. Using the data from the LSC, the device that is identified by an electronic serial number (ESN), finds the closest satellite and then computes the longitude and latitude coordinates of the child’s location. The Personal Locator then communicates location information to the LSC and the LSC generates a location report for the parent via the Internet. The whole process from request to report takes about sixty seconds. The parent is able to look at the report visually on a scalable map which shows streets and other feature points in a vector or aerial view, using geographic information systems (GIS) capabilities. Each report requested by the parent is logged in the customer’s event file database for billing and subscriber profiling. The location database includes a time stamp along with the longitude/ latitude coordinates. The wearer’s profile is also stored including: age, gender, height, weight and features.

Wherify make no secret of their technology partners. They include an impressive list of companies: SiRF who provide the GPS chipset that is integrated into the Personal Locator based on a-GPS; Qualcomm for the CDMA chipset; Baldwin Hackett & Meeks who are applications developers, Conexant who provide the RF board; Advanced Micro Systems who specialise in flash memory; Compaq for the server technology; Intrado for emergency communications; and GlobeXplorer Online for the component of aerial photography. Security firewalls are paramount in the Personal Locator system as is redundancy and fault tolerance. During an emergency situation for instance, the LSC is even able to interact with public safety answering points (PSAP) through Wherify’s emergency operation service. There are customer care representatives available 24x7x365.

4.4.3 VeriChip made very easy

The least complex of the three case studies in terms of technology requirements is the VeriChip. RFID networks are usually small in scale when compared to nation-wide or global networks. They include the following components: the RFID transponder, a reader that captures information, an antenna that transmits information, and a computer which interprets or manipulates the information gathered. In the case of VeriChip, there is a requirement that each subscriber registers their personal details (and other relevant information they desire) on the GVS database. At this stage all the transponders issued by VeriChip are passive but it is likely that active transponders will be issued in the future, despite the fact that they require on-board battery power to operate internal electronics. When an individual passes an associated scanner, information is read and sent to the computer via an antenna. Dependent on the application, a log may be retained or the implantee’s location updated a predefined number of times in a set period. Given global standards are an issue for debate in RFID, proprietary systems are used.

5. Discussion

5.1 Defining Convergence

Convergence means different things to different people and is usually loosely applied to denote the coming together of two distinct technologies, i.e. the merging of several products into a single good. The 2003 Penguin Concise Dictionary states that convergence is a “jargon term” and gives examples of the merging of the television (TV) and computer, or telephone and computer, or TV and WWW. To anyone who has studied technological trajectories at any length, convergence is far from being a jargon term, but a well-constituted concept in the field of innovation (18, 19, 20). Terms like “digital convergence”, “technological convergence”, “application convergence” and “industry convergence” have been used interchangeably in some instances, and in others each has carried a loaded meaning. For example, Covell (18) states: “(d)igital convergence is the merging of these improved computing capabilities, new digital multimedia technologies and content, and new digital communications technologies. This combination of computing power and functionality, digital networked interconnectedness, and multimedia capability enables new forms of human interaction, collaboration, and information sharing.” Greenstein and Khanna (20) on the other hand, distinguish between “convergence in substitutes” and “convergence in complements”. The distinction of these ‘kinds’ of convergence finally puts an end to the debate over usage. Convergence thus can occur at any level of detail, in any part of the subsystem.

5.2 LBS: a catalyst for IT&T convergence

Throughout this paper, technologies at the appliance, application and infrastructure level have been shown for each of the LBS cases. What can be seen is a coming together of what were once somewhat unrelated technologies. Most obvious perhaps is the convergence of wireless capabilities and the Internet as depicted in the mMode case. For example, IP-based phones can already receive voice, text and multimedia. And as for the vertical devices mentioned, many of these are converged technologies in themselves (e.g. the wireless PDA that is also a phone and MPEG3 player). In the case of Wherify, the traditional wristwatch has now been turned into a Personal Locator with the aid of a GPS chipset. And chip implants have found there way under the skin of human beings to converge with living tissue- chips once as big as bricks, now smaller in size than a grain of rice.

Yet it is not only at the device level that convergence is occurring. A whole suite of new applications are being created using content from syndicates, once considered to be unrelated. The Yellow Pages directory for instance, used to “find the nearest”, or “the best 10 nightlife” locations as well as providing “shopping discount alerts”. And geographic information systems once used for computer-aided design (CAD), now used to visually represent the geographic location trail of a child, using high resolution aerial photography once synonymous with superior defence intelligence systems. There are even applications like VeriPay that are forecasted to change the way that humans interact with other technologies like automatic teller machines (ATMs). Who needs to carry a card at all? Applications once used solely for businesses purposes, now permeating the consumer market given their cross-functional nature.

At the infrastructure level also, multiple network technologies are being used in tandem to locate subscribers including PCS with aGPS. Another example provided, was the VeriGuard system that will have the capability to incorporate other automatic identification (auto-ID) reader equipment belonging to smart card and biometrics. Even at the protocol level, the very essence of traditional voice calls will be packetised, i.e. voice will be data. It is obvious through the evidence provided in this paper that convergence in complements is occurring, given the products are working better together than separately (20). LBS has shown itself to also involve a diverse range of businesses from vertical and horizontal industries- from independent software vendors (ISVs) developing the applications, to third party suppliers building enabling technologies and platforms, toindustry bodies setting the appropriate standards for communications, to marketing consultants invited to develop and spearhead brand awareness campaigns. LBS brings not only the industries but the technologies to increasingly work together to form larger and larger systems (20).

6 Conclusion

Location-based services are pulling together a vast array of digital technologies like never before. The convergence between technologies is a cultural-changing force. Miniaturisation in design in particular is allowing for once separate technologies to be fused. From handset phones to smart watches to implants, the more invasive the technologies are becoming, the greater the precision for locating the subscriber or wearer or implantee. The question now, that all this technology can be used in an integrated fashion, is how far will entrepreneurs take LBS in the future? How many different players can become involved in offering LBS specifically before the state of affairs becomes too cluttered and confused? Do content providers reach mutually exclusive agreements with service providers (SPs) so that there is minimal conflict of interest? And if so, does this not limit the number of SPs to a few large players that can actually deliver LBS? And how many different types of LBS can one service provider practically offer? Looking at the dilemma from another perspective- will consumers require subscription to mMode, the Personal Locator and the VeriChip solution and carry with them a PDA, wear a GPS watch and be implanted with a chip, to circumvent a variety of limitations of each technology? Or are future directions set on a trajectory of even greater convergence proportions between all of the technologies discussed in this paper. For instance, will one device be able to cater for the needs at each level of accuracy- global, national, regional, local and in-building or will service providers amalgamate their networks to offer super-LBS services from satellite-based to network-based to LAN-based and PAN-based. Whatever the outcome, we are surely entering into a period where pervasive computing will become a dominant force in the way we live, work, and interact with one another.

7 References

(1) B. Rao & L. Minakakis, 2003, “EVOLUTION of Mobile Location-Based Services”, Communications of the ACM, 46(12), December, pp. 61-65.

(2) V. Zeimpekis et al., 2003, “A Taxonomy of Indoor and Outdoor Positioning Techniques for Mobile Location Services”, Journal of ACM SIGecom Exchanges, 3(4), pp. 19-27.

(3) K. Cousins & U. Varshney, 2001, “A Product Location Framework for Mobile Commerce Environment”, Proc. ACM 1st International Conference on Mobile Commerce, pp. 43-47.

(4) U. Varshney, 2003, ‘Location Management for Mobile Commerce Applications in Wireless Internet Environment’, ACM Transactions on Internet Technology, 3(3), August, pp. 236-255.

(5) O.E. Balatseng & H.E. Hanrahan, 2002, ‘MS Positioning for the Support of Mobile Location Services’, [, 2004].

(6) H. Maass, 1998, ‘Location-aware Mobile Applications Based on Directory Services’, Mobile Networks and Applications, 3, pp. 157-173.

(7) H.M. Deitel et al., 2001, e-Business and e-Commerce for Managers, Prentice Hall, New Jersey, p. 168-170.

(8) A. Burak & T. Sharon, 2003, ‘Analysing Usage of Location Based Services’, CHI 2003: New Horizons, April 5-10, Florida, USA, pp. 970-971.

(9) S. Chen, 2001, Strategic Management of e-Business, John Wiley and Sons, New York, pp. 5-7.

(10) T. Anderson & H. Kanuka, 2003, E-research: methods, strategies, and issues, Allyn and Bacon, Boston.

(11) Wherify, 2004, “Frequently Asked Questions”, Wherify Wireless, [, Last Accessed: 15 April 2004].

(12) ADSX, 21 November 2003, “Applied Digital Solutions’ CEO Announces “VeriPay™” Secure Subdermal Solution for Payment and Credit Transactions at ID World 2003 in Paris”, Applied Digital Solutions, [, Last Accessed: 15 April 2004].

(13) B. McDonough, 17 April 2002, “AT&T Wireless Pushes mLife with mMode”, CIO Today, [, Last Accessed: 6 April 2004].

(14) AT&T, 2003, “Feature and Services User Guide”, AT&T Wireless, [, Last Accessed: 15 April 2004], pp. 1-39.

(15) Wherify, 2003, “Wherify Wireless GPS Locator For Kids”, Wherify Wireless, [, Last Accessed: 15 April 2004], pp. 1-120.

(16) ADSX, 2003, “Implantable Personal Verification Systems”, Applied Digital Solutions, [, Last Accessed 15 April 2004], pp. 1-2.

(17) AT&T, 2003, “Developer Tools”, AT&T Wireless, [ developer/tools/, Last Accessed: 15 April 2004].

(18) A. Covell, 2000, Digital Convergence: how the merging of computers, communications, and multimedia is transforming our lives, Aegis Publishing Group, Rhode Island, p. 14.

(19) T.F. Baldwin et al., 1996, CONVERGENCE: integrating media, information & communication, Sage Publications, California, p. 209.

(20) S. Greenstein & T. Khanna, 1997, “What Does Industry Convergence Mean?” in D.B. Yoffie (ed.), Competing in the Age of Digital Convergence, Harvard Business School Press, USA, pp. 204.

8 Acknowledgements

The author is currently involved in collaborative work with Nortel Networks on the theme of the Mobile Location Centre (MLC).

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