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RFID - It May Be Inescapable, but Should It Be Implantable?

Friday, October 12, 2007 by: Andrea Jean
Tags: RFID, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) RFID technology is used widely in the public and private sector to assist businesses with asset tracking and security. Hospitals use RFID equipped bracelets and patches to track newborn movements, prevent accidental switching of infants, reduce prescription medicine and surgical errors, and monitor the location of equipment.   Public transportation systems worldwide use RFID equipped cards to track and bill use of the services, such as "EZ Pass" type equipment for toll roads or payment cards for mass transit systems. Corporations and schools use RFID chips in identification cards to control access to restricted areas. Many cars have RFID chips in their ignition keys, and keyless ignition works because of the technology as well.

In most of these situations the type of RFID product used is a chip in a bracelet or some kind of device that is portable and removable, but recently the subject of implantable RFID, radio-frequency identification, is receiving a lot of attention in the news. On September 9, 2007, an Associated Press article said that research in the 1990s showed that implanted RFID chips caused cancer in mice and rats and may cause cancer in cats, dogs, and humans. Verichip, the manufacturer specifically mentioned in the article, has responded to the accusation with assertions that research confirming the safety of their implantable chips was not included in the article, that mice and rats are far more likely to develop tumors at the site of any type of injection, and that the FDA has cleared the chip as a Class II Medical Device.

Although an RFID chip in particular may not cause cancer, the inflammation caused by surgical implantation of a foreign object can increase the instance of tumor development. According to the National Cancer Institute, "Inflammation is a response to acute tissue damage, whether resulting from physical injury, ischemic injury, infection, exposure to toxins, or other types of trauma. It can play a role in tumor suppression by stimulating an antitumor immune response, but more often it appears to stimulate tumor development," and "chronic inflammation is also clearly correlated with increased risk of developing cancer."

While millions of people experience acute tissue damage from surgery, injury or infection every year, the deliberate implanting of a foreign object that could produce chronic inflammation for the purposes of tracking has activists concerned, especially when combined with fears about privacy.

According to Verichip, a leading manufacturer of RFID products, all of its implantable RFID chips are "passive," which means that the chips themselves do not contain a power source such as a battery. The chips only transmit data when in range of a reader, and therefore are not continuously transmitting. In the case of current technology passive chips, the reader needs to be within about ten feet of the chip in order to extract data. These chips are therefore not equipped to handle any kind of long-range GPS capability – less than most cell phones. 

As for the actual data on the chip, the only information available is a 16-digit identifier that must be matched up to a database. Simply knowing the number will not identify name, address, or any other personal information unless the person with the scanner also has access to the proper database.

Neither the limited transmission range nor the limited data capability found in current chips assuages the fear of privacy advocates who point out that criminally intent people or overzealous employers could still take advantage of the technology. An office building with readers built into doorways and halls could effectively track the movement of employees throughout the day, or a stalker could install readers in homes to track the movement and routines of victims. Databases can be hacked and open up the possibility of identity theft, or simple abuse by the keepers of the information. 

One of the biggest concerns of activists is that eventually the government will push to require RFID chips either in identification cards or implantable chips, tied to a centralized database that would maintain a complete medical history and would also be able to track general movement every time an ID had to be presented. In an apparent first step in that direction, Verichip was in discussions in 2006 with the Pentagon to replace military dog tags with implantable chips tied back to identification and medical history databases, along with other discussions to implant immigrants and guest workers.

So far, three states (Wisconsin, North Dakota, and California) have banned the forced implantation of RFID chips by employers. Meanwhile, Verichip recently celebrated the launch of a partnership with Alzheimer's Community Care in Florida, where 90 Alzheimer's patients were implanted with RFID chips to assist in identification if they wander away from their caregivers.

Although consumers today are not in any way anonymous when we consider all of the information we provide to businesses in the course of our daily lives, the specter of the population as a whole being persuaded or coerced into accepting the idea of implantable RFID chips should raise serious health and privacy questions.

About the author

Andrea is a Denver area financial planner, financial educator with the Heartland Institute of Financial Education, writer, wife & mother. Questions, comments and story ideas may be directed to [email protected]

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