Rosina ArrietaIS 301 ” Information Systems for ManagersEastern New Mexico State University – PortalesHuman RFID Microchips: Embrace It or Ban ItIntroductionRadiofrequency identification (RFID) is a controversial technology that employs transponders or tiny microchips, also called smart radio tags, which are placed on or within objects. Remote readers using radiofrequency signals can interrogate these to yield information ranging from simple identification codes to detailed information about the object on which the tag is placed. The tags can be active, emitting signals powered using a built-in battery, or passive, using energy from the reader to activate circuits that transmit information to the reader CITATION Fos08 l 1033 (Foster & Jaeger, 2008).
Technology is well advanced for implanting RFID tags within the body CITATION Tro l 1033 (Troyk). Implantable RFID tags are widely used in identifying farm animals, thoroughbred horses, household pets, and other animals, for health or non-health reasons CITATION Fos08 l 1033 (Foster & Jaeger, 2008). The idea for employing the tags to identify humans came after the horror of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York when the vice-president of the VeriChip Corporation, the only company to receive federal approval in the United States for subcutaneous RFID chips, saw on television that firemen were writing their badge numbers on their arm with pen so they could be identified in the event of a disaster CITATION Kan04 l 1033 (Kanellos, 2004).
The first implantable RFID system for humans to reach the market was developed by the Digital Angel Corporation from South St.
Paul, MN, a manufacturer of RFID tags used in pets and livestock, and by its wholly owned subsidiary VeriChip Corporation from Delray Beach, FL CITATION Fos08 l 1033 (Foster & Jaeger, 2008). RFID tags are now being implanted under the skin of the elderly or individuals with metal disabilities to track their location and prevent them from becoming lost. How it WorksThe system uses a passive transponder approximately the size of a grain of rice, which is injected beneath the skin in the posterior upper right arm. When exposed to magnetic fields from the reader, the chip powers itself up and repeatedly transmits a unique 16-digit identifying code back to the reader. The chip communicates in one direction only, without listening for an acknowledgement from the reader, and its signal can be read up to a distance of tens of centimeters using a company supplied reader CITATION Fos08 l 1033 (Foster & Jaeger, 2008). The data on the chip can be fixed or can be rewritten and/or modified. RFID tags come in three categories, which are passive, active, or semi-passive CITATION Men06 l 1033 (Menges, 2006).
Passive tags require no internal power supply and the antenna gathers enough power from the incoming radio frequency signal and transmits a response. Active tags serve as beacons as they have their own power source, usually a small battery. Therefore, they have a longer range of reading and larger memories than passive tags. Semi-passive tags, also known as battery-assisted tags, activate only when a signal from an interrogator is detected. Since passive tags function without a battery, they have a virtually unlimited operational lifetime compared to active tags. Furthermore, they are typically much smaller and less expensive to manufacture. However, they can be read only at very short distances, just a few feet at most CITATION Gad07 l 1033 (Gadzheva, 2007).Passive microchips, electronic labels, RFID tags or transponders for electronic identification consists of an electric resonance artifact made up of a capacitor circuit, a reception and transmission antenna, and an electronic microchip, which upon coming in contact through the antenna at an approximate 10-cm distance with a low power and modulated amplitude specific electromagnetic field generated by a scanner, is powered by the voltage induced in the resonance, so that it can transmit the unique identification code to the scanner. Once there, the code is amplified and converted to digital format.
Therefore, it is deciphered, and the unique identification number is shown. The tag consists of the microchip, which stores a 16-digit identification code, laser engraved on the surface unalterably prior to its assembly. The antenna is a copper wire coil around a ferrite core, which receives and transmits the different signals to and from the reader. The capacitor receives the necessary voltage from the scanner to allow the microchip to activate and transmit the identification code CITATION Mor13 l 1033 (Moreno, Vallejo, Garzon, & Moreno, 2013). Potential ApplicationsHuman implanted chips are being marketed as a way to limit access to secure areas or as anti-kidnapping devices, as well as means to track and quickly identify in emergency situations individuals with serious medical conditions or mental disabilities or to serve as cashless payment devices with a wave of the hand CITATION Gad07 l 1033 (Gadzheva, 2007).
The potential use of the human implants for the delivery of health services from hospital to home care can prove life-saving when used properly. Proponents of the technology argue that making life simpler for the patient is part of the future of medicine. As the healthcare industry moves toward electronic healthcare records, subcutaneous chips could play a key role. For instance, in the event the patient is unconscious of incapacitated CITATION Jon06 l 1033 (Jones, 2006). The implanted chip would provide immediate identification without the need to search for clues in the patient’s belongings such as wallets, purses or clothing labels CITATION Gad07 l 1033 (Gadzheva, 2007). RFID implants in children are gaining popularity in Latin American and Russian markets where rich parents fear that their children may be kidnapped and are therefore willing to brand them electronically in the hope that it will make it easier to trace kidnapped victims. Mexico, which is second only to Columbia in regard to the number of abductions per year, is turning into the biggest human chip market CITATION McH04 l 1033 (McHugh, 2004).
Furthermore, subcutaneous human tracking devices are viewed as a way to identify and track convicted criminals or possible terrorists and even immigrants or guest workers CITATION Chr06 l 1033 (Christensen, 2006).RFID tags can also be used to identify many unclaimed casualties and human remains in the event of a natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina in 2006 or the Asian Tsunami in 2005CITATION Gad06 l 1033 (Gadh & Prabhu, 2006). Belgian scientist at the Catholic University of Leuven have embedded an RFID chip into a tooth to store detailed personal information such as a person’s name, nationality, date of birth and gender, which can be read after death and used by forensic scientist trying to identify bodies after natural disasters and terrorists attacks with numerous victims CITATION Lib06 l 1033 (Libbenga, 2006).RFID chips, which are implanted beneath the skin, can also be used to maintain access control for secure locations.
This can be done by simply placing the body part containing the implant close to the reader, the user can open doors of secure rooms, start cars or even access computer systems. Proponents of the technology claim that the basic advantage of such security systems is that the implants cannot be lost or forgotten CITATION Gad07 l 1033 (Gadzheva, 2007). Also, at the Baja Beach clubs, in Spain and the Netherlands, people use RFID implants as cashless payment devices to speed drink orders and payment with just a wave of the hand CITATION Gos04 l 1033 (Gossett, 2004).Controversial IssuesThe Food and Drug Administration (FDA) listed potential hazards as adverse tissue reaction, migration of implanted transponder, compromised information security, failure of implanted transponder, failure of inserter, failure of electronic scanner, electromagnetic interference, electrical hazards, magnetic resonance imaging incompatibility, and needle stick CITATION Uni04 l 1033 (United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA), 2004). Another controversy that has risen is about the possible carcinogenic effects of implanted chips. Radiofrequency identification technology in general raises a number of important privacy and other issues CITATION Bal06 l 1033 (Ball & Wood, 2006). For example, the possible harms from implanted RFIDs ranging from tracking of individuals to mind control. Using RFID technology to track individuals is already a reality, and products are on the market for such purposes.
However, privacy advocates’ biggest fear is that RFID implants in the human body will make us lose our individuality and dignity and be treated like inventory or branded like cattle CITATION EPI06 l 1033 (EPIC, 2006). At present, RFID implants available on the market are passive devices that contain only an identification number that may be used to access person’s identity and authorized personal information from a database. However, the use of sophisticated data mining techniques combined with other technologies could create severe privacy and data protection issues, not to mention breach of security of the database or the tag itself CITATION Moo06 l 1033 (Moore, 2006).
There are two ethical concerns, disclosure of risks and truth in advertising, that are distinctive to implanted RFID chips, and in particular the VeriChip. A central ethical principle hold that individuals have a right to know about possible adverse effects of a treatment, in this case implantation of a chip. For example, a finding of carcinogenic effect of an implant in rodents is, at least, suggestive of the possibility of a similar effect in humans. The questions is whether VeriChip should have disclosed the results of the rodent studies before anti-chip activists raised the issue. Second, VeriChip markets the VeriMed system for identification of patients who might present to emergency rooms incapable of communicating their identity to caregivers. Its promotional literature lists a wide variety of conditions, which, the company believes, would justify the cost of implantation of chip and subscription to its medical database. However, there are no studies that show being chipped gives a better outcome at the emergency room or otherwise improves public health in comparison with simpler and non-invasive technologies, such as medical alert bracelets, USB drives with personal health information, fingerprint scanners, biometric identification, and identification cards in wallets. An independent assessment of the risks and benefits of the use of implanted RFID tags in humans is needed CITATION Fos08 l 1033 (Foster & Jaeger, 2008). Although, the most important and distinctive ethical issue connected with implanted RFID transponders result from the very real possibility that the chips might be implanted under real or implied coercion, coupled with the deep aversion, or at least unease, with which many individuals view the technology CITATION Fos08 l 1033 (Foster & Jaeger, 2008).
Privacy advocates fear that without adequate safeguards electronic branding of the vulnerable groups of society, such as children or the mentally ill, could turn more into a convenience for parents and guardians than a necessity for their safety. Children are usually left with no choice but to comply with their parent’s wishes to implant them. In addition to this, the practice of inserting chips in patient’s incapable of giving informed consent such as Alzheimer’s patients raises far-reaching ethical implications. Forced electronic branding of children or vulnerable adults breaches their right to dignity and the privacy they have as human beings. Furthermore, even if informed consent is being given, people should have the option to withdraw that consent at any time and this implies the possibility of the microchips being removed easily, which is not the case at present CITATION Gad07 l 1033 (Gadzheva, 2007). Chips implanted in the human body also raise unique security concerns.
RFID critics argue against the chips on technical grounds, claiming that someone could use a reader operating at the right wavelength to capture information from an implanted chip. Later this information could be used to create a cloned chip with the same functionality CITATION Lib06 l 1033 (Libbenga, 2006). Another concern is that a tech-savvy stalker could just buy a RFID reader and use it to track the chip-implanted people that happen to walk by without their knowledge or consent. Recent technical advances have shown that the chips are also vulnerable to viruses CITATION Mil06 l 1033 (Millard, 2006). Some researchers even claim that spam analogous to the spyware and adware infecting our computers and generated by the presence of your body is theoretically possible CITATION Mes05 l 1033 (Messmer & Judge, 2005).
Researchers are also investigating other applications such as creating smart guns with built-in scanners that ensure they can be fired only by their owner with a RFID chip implanted in his or her arm and enabling stores to verify an individual’s identity before accepting payment by credit card CITATION Ste04 l 1033 (Stein, 2004). In the future, implanted RFID chips will store more data and communicate with other devices outside the body as well as control certain muscles or other body parts and manipulate sensations, perceptions, thoughts and feelings CITATION Piz06 l 1033 (Pizzetti, 2006). RFID implantation might also be considered for limiting the freedom of people who pose a threat to others by constant tracking or surveillance CITATION Gad07 l 1033 (Gadzheva, 2007).At present, technological challenges such as the lack of global frequency standards, low reading rates, interference with other radio sources and insufficient encryption prevent the widespread adoption of RFID ships for human use. However, the number of people willing to have a RFID implant is constantly growing. Today, human implantation of RFID chips is gaining momentum through the promise for protecting children and other vulnerable groups.
Tomorrow, people will begin voluntarily getting chipped to perform their job duties or receive healthcare or other services. In the future, the government or employers will mandate implants in order to have a job, get life insurance and so on CITATION Gad07 l 1033 (Gadzheva, 2007). ConclusionImplantable RFID technology is presently being marketed as a measure for patient protection. The chief benefit of this is the convenient and reliable identification of an individual by means of a device that is difficult for the subject to lose. However, this might be more significant to organizations than to individuals, and the issue is intrinsically more complicated than one of consumer choice alone. Pressures will inevitably build on individuals to receive the tags as institutions adopt the use of implanted RFID tags for identification purposes CITATION Fos08 l 1033 (Foster & Jaeger, 2008). Overall, in my opinion, more research and studies are needed before implementation of mandatory RFID chips become a reality.
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