by Meghan Neal
June 1, 2012
As tech companies work to
develop ID chips, how long until we're
no longer anonymous?
continues to flirt with the idea of a ‘human barcode,’
an electronic ID chip
assigned to every person at birth.
Would you barcode your baby?
Microchip implants have become standard practice for our pets, but
have been a tougher sell when it comes to the idea of putting them
Science fiction author Elizabeth Moon last week rekindled the debate
on whether it's a good idea to "barcode" infants at birth in an
interview on a BBC radio program.
“I would insist on every individual
having a unique ID permanently attached - a barcode if you will
- an implanted chip to provide an easy, fast inexpensive way to
identify individuals,” she said on The Forum, a weekly show that
features "a global thinking" discussing a "radical, inspiring or
controversial idea" for 60 seconds .
Moon believes the tools most commonly
used for surveillance and identification - like video cameras and
DNA testing - are slow, costly and often ineffective.
In her opinion, human barcoding would save a lot of time and money.
The proposal isn’t too far-fetched - it is already technically
possible to "barcode" a human - but does it violate our rights to
Opponents argue that giving up anonymity would cultivate
“Orwellian” society where all citizens can be tracked.
“To have a record of everywhere you
go and everything you do would be a frightening thing,” Stanley,
senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union,
told the Daily News.
He warned of a “check-point society”
where everyone carries an internal passport and has to show their
papers at every turn, he said.
“Once we let the government and
businesses go down the road of nosing around in our
lives... we’re going to quickly lose all our privacy,” said
There are already, and increasingly,
ways to electronically track people.
Since 2006, new U.S. passports
include radio frequency identification tags (RFID) that store all
the information in the passport, plus a digital picture of the
In 2002, an implantable ID chip called VeriChip was approved by the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The chip could be implanted in a
person's arm, and when scanned, could pull up a 16 digit ID number
containing information about the user.
It was discontinued in 2010 amid concerns about privacy and safety.
Still scientists and engineers have not given up on the idea.
A handful of enterprising companies have stepped into the void left
by VeriChip, and are developing ways to integrate technology and
Biotech company MicroCHIPS has developed an implantable chip to
deliver medicine to people on schedule and without injection. And
technology company BIOPTid has patented a noninvasive method of
identification called the “human barcode.”
Advocates say electronic verification could help parents or
caregivers keep track of children and the elderly. Chips could be
used to easily access medical information, and would make going
through security points more convenient, reports say.
But there are also concerns about security breaches by hackers. If
computers and social networks are already vulnerable to hacking and
identify theft, imagine if someone could get access to your personal
Stanley cautioned against throwing the baby out with the bathwater
each time someone invents a new gadget.
“We can have security, we can have
convenience, and we can have privacy,” he said. “We can have our
cake and eat it too.”