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Industry News

Implantable MEMS and Big Brother -Resistance is Futile?

July 1, 2002
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According to Instat/ MDR, Applied Digital Solutions (ADS) manufactures the VeriChip, a microchip that is already part of a pager being used by the California Department of Corrections as a means for tracking prisoners. Such an end-use could be viewed as useful and fairly benign. The real news, however, is the impending availability of their next-generation device - an implantable version that is comprised of both a microchip and a MEMS biosensor.


In just a few months time, ADS expects to receive FDA approval of Digital Angel. The sensor chip can be implanted under the skin of the forearm in just seconds, and will continuously monitor key body parameters including pulse, temperature and blood glucose. The company is generally promoting it as a means to provide identification and important medical information in the event of an emergency. But that's only useful if all police, rescue and medical personnel have the scanner necessary to read the information on the chip. And that's not likely to happen until the use of these chips becomes ubiquitous. It's a classic case of the chicken and the egg.

What the company has quietly underscored is their real commercial intent: people tracking. The kicker is the addition of GPS capability to the sensor chip, which will allow ongoing monitoring of the person with the implanted device 24 hours a day, seven days a week, anywhere, anytime. The company is promoting it as a safety device and says it has signed a deal to distribute the chip in Brazil as means to prevent (or at least reduce) the rampant kidnappings that occur there.

Needless to say, it's only a matter of time before privacy advocates, civil libertarians and even religious groups jump all over this. From the Instat Analyst's point of view, the technology should be raising a lot of questions: who is doing the tracking, for what purpose and who has access to this data? Are there certain jobs, such as those that are high risk or could impact national security, which could justify the mandatory use of such a device? What sort of policies and regulations should be put in place in regard of its use and should they be implemented at the local, state, federal or international level?

There will be many, of course, who embrace the technology as "state of the art peace of mind." But for those who do not see it that way - we can only wonder at some point down the road whether resistance will indeed be futile?

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