jasonbwatson

September 9, 2014

Interesting applications?

On August 29 an article by John Brandon appeared on FoxNews.com. The article was entitled, “Is there a microchip implant in your future?” The article’s lead paragraph offers several ways in which said implant could make life simpler…safer, even. For example, you could pass through airport security with your identity being transmitted via your implant, or “it can help you buy groceries at Wal Mart.” Possibly, the implant could help save your life should you ever find yourself kidnapped in a foreign country.

Brandon writes, “Microchip implants like the ones pet owners use to track their dogs and cats could become commonplace in humans in the next decade.” That simple statement is one that I find incredibly alarming, and I suspect most people will agree. Brandon lists potential advantages as including the quick location of a missing or kidnapped child or of soldiers or journalists in war zones. While those are possible advantages, there are also, of course, many possible disadvantages. During the last presidential campaign season Republican Ron Paul was mostly mocked when he pointed out that a suggested national identification card that might be used to address immigration issues could just as easily be misused by the government against U.S. citizens. The reality, though, is that such misuse is entirely possible, and the potential danger of such misuse is exponentially higher with a microchip implanted into a person than with any kind of identification card.

Brandon’s article cites Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, an author and scholar, as saying that implanted microchips could be “less intrusive than some emerging ID systems which rely on physical biometrics (like your fingerprints or unique eye pattern).” While that argument could no doubt be made, and probably convincingly, it fails to take into consideration the fact that my fingerprints or unique eye pattern (with a retinal scan, for instance) are only usable when I offer them or, in the case of fingerprints, leave them behind. Would it be easier to walk through some unseen detection system that reads my implant and immediately grants me access to a restricted area than to pause, place my eye against some kind of scanner and wait for it to read my retina? Probably. But I think I’ll take the retinal scan every time, thank you, because it is up to me whether I want to submit myself to that scan or not.

While Brandon’s article cites all kinds of possible advantages for crime fighting and security that could be provided with the implants, it seems to me that an implant could quite possibly be easier to steal than fingerprints or retinas. Maybe I’ve seen too many spy moves and crime thrillers in which complex security systems must be foiled, but if all that is necessary is for someone to have the chip that is inside me I cannot imagine it bothering them to make a small incision and remove it if that chip is going to get them whatever it is they are wanting (and they have already demonstrated a willingness to get it through illegal means). The article informs us that the chips are “easy to install and remove, and, because they are implanted under the skin, they are unobtrusive.” Unobtrusive is good…easy to remove may not be when considering the possible criminal applications of these devices.

Brandon also writes that these microchips are being used “to manage farm animals. Farmers can track sheep, pigs and horses as they move through a gate, weigh them instantly and make sure they are eating properly.” For the farmer or rancher that may be terrific. But do I really want someone–anyone–to have the ability to track me as I move anywhere, to weigh me instantly or make sure that I am eating properly? Do I want anyone to be able to do any of the myriad other things that an implanted chip would allow? And, by the way, am I the only one troubled by the idea that if it works for livestock it surely must be a good idea for humans? Such “logic” is a step onto a very dangerous way of thinking indeed.

The article further states that implants are “normally” only useful within a short range, meaning they could not be used to track people unless there was “an infrastructure of transponders scattered around a city that read their identity in public buildings and street corners.” There are two things about this statement that I find exceedingly troubling. First, the word “normally” indicates that there are exceptions; if trying to still concerns about possible abuses of this technology, “normally” is a poor word choice! Secondly, given the ever-expanding presence of cameras in cities around the world–for the purpose of fighting crime, of course–I do not find that stretches credulity at all to imagine that “an infrastructure of transponders” could easily be “scattered around a city.”

Other possible uses Brandon identifies? “If children were chipped, teachers could take attendance in the classroom.” Um, no thank you. It doesn’t take so long to put eyes on a child, or even to call names and have children respond “here” that we need to facilitate the taking of attendance by means of microchips. What else, then? “Police could track cars and read data without needing to scan license plates.” Again, I think I’ll pass, thanks. There are ample abuses of the technology that exists already, but various government agencies; the idea of giving them even stronger technology with greater potential for abuse is not appealing in the least. A final possible use Brandon suggests: “[I]f you walk into a donut shop, the owner could read your taste preferences (glazed or not glazed) without needing a loyalty card.” Beyond the idea that I find this ridiculous and not even close to being a need, this would serve only to create even more disconnect between humans–something we have more than enough of as it is.

To his credit, Brandon does include a few possible abuses of the technology and questions as to whether not implanting chips in humans is ethical. Among the potential abuses mentioned are someone “hacking into the infrastructure and stealing your identity to invading your privacy and knowing your driving habits.” Brandon even talked to Troy Dunn who has a show on TNT in which he attempts to locate missing persons. While he said microchip technology would likely make his job easier, he is “strongly against the practice for most people.” He said he would support the use of chips for “convicted felons while in prison and on parole; for sex offenders forever; and for children if parents opt in.”

Stu Lipoff, a spokesman for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, said, “People might find it a bit unsavory, but if it is not used to track you, and apart from the privacy issues, there are many interesting applications.” No doubt; but these are major “ifs” and “apart froms,” ones far bigger than I would be willing to toss out. Saying “if it is not used to track you, and apart from the privacy issues” is akin to asking, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?” Sometimes the potential upside cannot even come close to the probably downside.

Interestingly enough, Brandon ended his article with this statement about the microchips: “At least it’s better than having a barcode stitched into our foreheads.” Yeah, probably so–less obtrusive an all that. But the implication is the same. Scripture makes it clear that there will come a day when the government requires a “mark” for buying and selling. Don’t be surprised if it takes the form of an implanted microchip.

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