by Timothy Chilman
(An earlier post took a contrary view. A little diversity of opinion is no bad thing.)
A biochip is a radio frequency identification (RFID) transponder the size of a grain of rice which is injected into the human body. Biochips were first used to monitor fisheries in 1983, but are now used by more than 300 zoos and 80 government agencies in a minimum of 20 countries to track pets, lab animals, and endangered wildlife. It is possible to use a patented “zip quill” system to press biochips into a creature without recourse to a syringe.
At the very least, a biochip can hold a 16-digit number which can be scanned in the same manner as a bar code. Biochips are inert – they do not react with contact to human tissue. They are immune to tampering, virtually undetectable, and indestructible. Biochips contain no battery or any other thing which could wear out, making them require no maintenance and last anything up to a century. The price starts at $200.
Biochips could be used by governments to control access to airplanes, airports, ships, nuclear power plants, national research laboratories, computer networks, and correctional facilities. They could be used by individuals to control access to computers, autos, cellphones, and even homes. People could be secure in the knowledge that their bank accounts and credit cards could not be used by anyone other than themselves, which is a major consideration now that identity fraud costs $48bn a year in the United States, with consumers shouldering $5bn of that. Anybody would appreciate the convenience of paying with a biochip. Biochips could grant access to a person’s medical records, which could save time in the treatment of unconscious accident victims or Alzheimer’s patients. The first person to be biochipped was Professor Kevin Warwick of the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. The chip, in his arm, allows him to open doors and operate lights.
Civil liberties wonks are up in arms at the prospect of people being able to prove who they are. Activist groups called for a voluntary moratorium on RFID tagging until it has been thoroughly discussed. Signatories to the petition included Privacy International, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the British think tank, the Foundation for Information Policy Research. Paul Richard of the San Diego-based National Center for Financial Education said, “The real danger is too heavy a hand watching over your life. It’s nobody’s business where you spend your money so long as you earn it legally. No government entity should know where you spend money for groceries.” He concluded, “It’s really frightening when you think about it.”
The Whole Dog Journal, a newsletter for holistic dog care which is published in Greenwich, Conn., said that many dog owners refuse to have biochips implanted to their pets due to the “Big Brother” aspect. When the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services said it would like every pet dog and cat in the city to be biochipped, one official remarked, “There is something spooky about it.”
Many people claim that biochips are the Mark of the Best, as mentioned eight times in the Bible. One such occurrence is Revelations 13:16-17:
“And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.”
It would be very bad P.R. to put biochips into the right hand or forehead. Fortunately, other locations can be used.
One benefit of biochips is that it would make it harder for illegal immigrants to find work. A national ID card system would achieve the same effect, but would be more fallible: it is not possible to forge a biochip. Illegal immigrants are often complained of, for instance by the Daily Hate, the British newspaper whose website is the most popular of any newspaper in the world. The New York Times counters that this is because the views of sister sites are counted.
Nanotechnology has made it possible for biochips to contain more than a million features. Biochips holding more than 15 digits could be very useful. The Department of Energy’s National Laboratory in Argonne addresses pressing national problems of science and technology. Its employees hail from 60 countries, and conduct cutting edge research in almost every scientific discipline, in concert with companies, universities, and federal, state, and municipal agencies. Researchers there have developed a biochip which can diagnose certain cancers before patients begin to show symptoms. The biochips work by detecting anti-bodies produced in reaction to cancer. Treatments could be tailored to a patient’s anti-body profile. Tim Barder, president of the Eprogen, Inc. company which is using the technology under license, said, “This technology is really designed to take advantage of the information contained within the patient’s own biology. What makes this technique unique is that scientists can use the actual expression of the patient’s disease as a means of obtaining new and better diagnostic information that doctors could use to understand and fight cancer better.” Barder said the technology brought the bedside to the laboratory.
Biochips could detect upper respiratory diseases. When such a disease manifests itself, doctors must establish whether the infection is viral or bacterial, particularly in the case of pediatrics. Biochips would save time here. Strep tests take but a few minutes to process, but yield so many false negatives that pediatricians customarily send samples for more thorough and time-consuming – and expensive – testing. Biochips could also test for plague or anthrax, and people would line up for them the next time there is an anthrax scare. Biochips could detect multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) and the frequently deadly Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureu.
Daniel Schabacker, who developed the technology, said, “The most important thing with these types of infections is that you have to be right and get the answer quickly. Some of the tests out there, though marginally quicker than ours, are so inaccurate that they’re almost useless. Especially when you’re talking about anthrax or plague, you have to be confident in your diagnosis or else risk causing a panic.”
Doctors would not have to order so many tests. Schabacker said, “Biochips give us the ability to run a test that allows your doctor to figure out exactly what you’re suffering from during the time that you’re in his or her office,” he said.
The Chinese company, CapitalBio, has invested heavily in biotechnology for more than a decade. It holds almost 150 patents in the realm of biochips, which helped China to overtake the United States to become the world’s top issuer of patents in 2012. The company’s CEO, Jing Cheng, said that biochips could screen for 80 genetic disorders. The government of Beijing paid CapitalBio RMB100 million ($15 million, more or less) for biochip kits to screen newborn babies for an allergy to antibiotics which can cause deafness.
It was reported by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA that researchers at the University of California, Berkeley and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. had developed biochip technology which could reveal the toxicity of chemicals early in the experimental stage. Bear in mind that pharmaceutical companies invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the pursuit of chemical compounds which will be the next Prozac, Viagra, or other blockbusting medication. Often, endeavors are aborted at a late stage when toxic side effects become apparent. Jonathan Dordick, a professor of chemical and biological engineering for Rensselaer, said that around 70 percent of drug failures are due to toxicity. Countless animals would be spared, making biochips more attractive at a time when the European Union has banned testing on animals.
The speed of diagnosis afforded by biochips could save lives. In the case of blood poisoning, the faster doctors recognize and treat sepsis, the greater is the patient’s chance of survival. Biochips developed at Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques IPM in Freiburg could do this within 20 minutes, while otherwise samples would have to be sent to a central laboratory. Biochips could also be used to test for drugs, but we shall have to live with that.
So biochips more complicated than those that merely store a number could save lives. What is the value of a human life? The Environmental Protection Agency puts the value at $9.1 million. The figure was only $6.8 million during Dubya’s administration, when lives were worth less. The Food and Drug Administration values a human life at $7.9 million, compared to $5 million under Dubya. The Transportation Department says $6 million. The value continues to rise, with the EPA suggesting cancer deaths should have 50 percent more value because the death is agonizing. The Department of Homeland Security said that deaths from terrorism should have twice the value they would otherwise.
Meg Reilly, a spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget, said that the U.S. government uses the best available science in coming up with these (admittedly, different) numbers. W. Kip Viscusi, a professor of economics at Vanderbilt University, said, “Agencies have been using numbers which I thought were just too low.” His research was used by most federal agencies to arrive at their figures. The value of a human life is certainly sufficient to pay for a great number of expensive biochips.
Would people accept biochips? Sure, if you offer them $250. Bill Cross posted a notice asking for volunteers to be implanted with a biochip which was intended to sound just like the Mark of the Beast, in return for this sum. Thousands applied. A CNN poll way back in 1999 found that 47 percent of people would be prepared to consider being biochipped, while 53 percent would not. Ian Pearson, chief futurologist of the mammoth telecommunications company, BT, said that people have screws inserted to their legs and ear and eye implants, but feel no less human.
The LoJack Corporation of Dedham, Mass. markets a device which has been used to located 30,000 stolen automobiles. Spokesman Paul McMahon said, “We get calls all the time: ‘Is this available for children?’” Inquiries are also received by people caring for relatives suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Athletes at the Olympic Games in London have been biochipped, although they have the option of instead using an ID card. Discounts and prizes are available to participants in the program, and the biochips were inserted to shoulders and so were not the Mark of the Beast. There has been consideration of using biochips to measure the performance of athletes.
Biochips could be made fashionable. The Baja Beach Club is one of the hottest nightspots in Barcelona. It has a special area where VIPs can enjoy exclusive services, and unique means were sought by which VIPs could be identified. Biochips were settled on, and now one is required for entry to this area. 430 clubgoers submitted themselves for implantation. When the club’s owner, Conrad Chase, was interviewed for a radio show, he was asked if a person would not be a VIP without a biochip, and he said that would be a great slogan to use. He said that clubgoers would not object to a biochip, as many already had piercings, tattoos or breast implants. The cost is EUR125/$166/£106. Chase said he thought all firearm owners should be biochipped, and that VertiChip, the company providing the chips, had told him the Italian government was set to implant all its workers.
Radio host Alex Jones, well-known for the conspiracy website, www.infowars.com, has long said said that biochips would be made fun so that spotty-faced teenagers desiring to be part of the “in” crowd would beseech their fathers, “Aww, Dad, can I please get biochipped?” This trend has begun.
Biochips could, of course, be stolen. People could be involuntarily subjected to chipectomies. Computer industry consultant, Richard Smith, said, “It’s just a bit gruesome when to think how the crooks will do these kinds of robberies.” Terry Waite, the Anglican Church envoy who was held as a hostage in Beirut for five years, said in an interview with the British newspaper, the Sunday Times, “It is very dangerous because once kidnappers get to know about these things, they will skin you alive to find them.”
Only a minority of criminals would go so far. Al Qaeda certainly could, but mutilation is forbidden under Islam. The hadith are sayings attributed to the Prophet Mohammed, and Hadith 3:65 says, “The Prophet forbade robbery (taking away what belongs to others without their permission), and also forbade mutilation (or maiming) of bodies.” Another well-respected Muslim source is The Islamic Law of Nations: Shaybani’s Siyar, which says, “Do not cheat or commit treachery, nor should you mutilate anyone.”
Al Qaeda approved of the murder and mutilation of four U.S. employees of the Halliburton private security firm in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004. Chipectomies would be un-Islamic, but that might leave al Qaeda undeterred. A poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes found that more than 75 percent of people surveyed in Pakistan, Indonesia, Morocco, and Egypt said that attacks on civilians are un-Islamic, although a significant proportion – 68 percent – of people in Pakistan declined to answer the question. Polls by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that al Qaeda was supported by 49 percent of people in Nigeria, 34 percent in Jordan, 23 percent in Indonesia, 20 percent in Egypt, 4 percent in Turkey, and 3 percent in Lebanon. Undoubtedly, the great number of Muslims who oppose attacks on civilians and the revulsion felt by people at the cutting of something from the body of a human being would weaken al Qaeda if it resorted to chipectomies.
Could biochips monitor the locations of people? At present, no, as readers have a range of no more than 12 inches. Pets are located by reading the biochip when the animal has been found. The technology, however, exists. The rumor of the biochip in Chelsea Clinton’s neck is not terribly believable, but in 1995, the Washington Post reported that Prince William had a biochip implanted to protect him. The Sunday Times reported in 1998 that 45 people had been biochipped so they could be located. These chips, part of a program known as Sky-Eye, were manufactured by the Israeli company, Gen-Etics, after their invention by Mossad. A light anesthetic was given to prevent the chip recipients from knowing where the item was located. Chips can be located to within 500 feet. The signal ceases when the host is killed because the body no longer provides the energy required for the chip to function.
Robert Davies, a special risks underwriter for the Hiscox insurance group, said that kidnap gangs in Mexico were the most sophisticated in the world, and that they searched victims for the small scars that would show where a biochip was implanted. It is difficult to detect biochips with X-rays. Sky-Eye biochips, however, cost $7,845, putting them beyond the reach of cash-strapped governments wishing to implement mass biochipping programs until such time as the technology drops in price.
Locating individuals would have been much appreciated by the FBI when it mounted COINTELPRO operations to prevent the exercise of the First Amendment rights of free speech, free press, free association, and protest by individuals and groups it regarded as subversive: pinkoes, white supremacists, and black nationalists. COINTELPRO and, indeed, J. Edgar Hoover were, however, deeply aberrational. An infallible record of the locations of people would revolutionize law enforcement. Simon Davies, the head of Privacy International, believes it might take no more than five years before biochips monitor people’s locations as effectively as home arrest bracelets presently do with criminals.
In 1999, the New York Times reported that suspected mobster Vincent (Gigi Portalla) Marino filed suit against the Drug Enforcement Administration claiming that the agency had implanted a biochip to his body when he had surgery to remove a bullet from his buttocks. He claimed to have been told of this by a DEA agent. The agency denied that it had biochipped Marino, and attorney Donald K. Stern added: “We cannot speak, however, for any extraterrestrial beings.” The FBI would not disclose whether it possessed such technology. Bureau spokesman, Paul Bresson, said, ”This is going to fall into the no-comment category. It’s discussing investigative techniques, and that’s about akin to a journalist disclosing confidential sources. It’s very sensitive.”
Governments could require anybody wishing to suckle at their teat to have a biochip. If they wished to shift the blame, other service providers such as insurance companies could require it. There are downsides: people may feel that government knowledge of their location outweighs being able to prove they were not at the location of a crime and biochips could possibly be read by unauthorized parties, so that people will know that you have hemorrhoids. But people would positively love to have their children fitted with biochips if it meant being able to know their location, kidnap victims would be exceptionally keen on them, and their medical uses could save lives.
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