[Paleopsych] BBC: Implant chip to identify the dead

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Fri Jul 29 15:46:40 UTC 2005

Implant chip to identify the dead
Published: 2005/07/28 08:29:22 GMT
[Thanks to Eugen for this.]

    The carnage inflicted by bomb attacks in Egypt, London and across Iraq
    has raised the problem of how the authorities identify people in an
    emergency situation.

    Whether through natural disaster or man-made, the killing of large
    numbers of people presents a great challenge to the emergency
    services, who have to identify the victims as quickly as possible.

    One aid to identification advocated by an American company is the
    VeriChip, a small device containing a unique number injected into a
    person's arm.

    During 11 September, some rescue workers, aware of the huge dangers
    they were facing, took to writing their badge number on their skin, in
    case they became victims themselves.

    Their attempts to ensure their own identity should the worst happen
    was spotted by New Jersey surgeon Richard Seelig. Five days later, he
    injected himself with two rice grain-sized chips, containing a unique
    number which could be used to identify him.

    "I wanted to demonstrate its effectiveness as being used as an
    identifier for people," Dr Seelig told BBC World Service's Analysis

    "Also, I wanted to show it could be as comfortable for a person as not
    having one, so that it wouldn't interfere with that person's daily

    Losing anonymity

    Following the Asian tsunami which struck on Boxing Day 2004, many
    thousands of bodies could only be identified by DNA testing - a
    process that, in some cases, took months to complete.

    Similarly, following the bomb blasts on the London Underground, the
    process of identifying some bodies - particularly on the deep-lying
    Piccadilly Line - became very difficult, with some families upset by
    the amount of time it took to confirm a relative had died.

    VeriChip advocates argue it could help in these circumstances.

    Dr Seelig is now vice president for medical applications at VeriChip,
    which makes the devices - although it is yet to make a profit.

    For my personal goal of being identified in the case of an accident,
    it does work for me
    Dr John Halamka, Harvard Medical School

    He had been developing the device for more than a year before the 11
    September attacks.

    The inspiration to develop it arose during his 20 years as a surgeon
    and the regular delays caused by patients unable to remember important
    healthcare information.

    He saw that the delays could be eliminated by marrying an identifier
    to link a person with healthcare information and Radio Frequency
    Identification (RFID).

    Dr Seelig see three major uses for the chip, all of which relate to
    the need for access to a patient's medical records.

    One is for individuals who have memory impairments, such as
    Alzheimer's, or those who are unable to speak, such as those who have
    suffered a stroke.

    It may also be very useful for those with chronic diseases, such as
    heart disease or epilepsy, who can suffer an attack almost
    instantaneously. Being able to access a person's medical records in
    such an event could be life-saving.

    And the third category, Dr Seelig said, is those who have
    sophisticated medical devices such as pacemakers, as the details of
    these devices are very advanced and difficult for someone who is not
    technically-minded to recall.

    Scanned and known

    Others are also taking note of the technology. The US Federal Drug
    Administration, which scrutinises all drugs and medical devices in the
    US, has given the chip its approval; officials in Mexico have already
    used the chip as a way of heightening security in sensitive areas; and
    the Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts now has several hospitals
    testing the device.

    The emergency room at one hospital has been fitted with readers so
    that anyone who has the chip can be scanned - but Harvard has not yet
    decided how much emphasis to put on the chip's use.

    As part of the trials, Dr John Halamka, the chief information officer
    at Harvard, has been fitted with the chip in the back of his arm.

    "In a sense I've lost my anonymity," he told Analysis. "Anywhere I go
    I can be scanned and known."

    However, he said he had been convinced by the chip.

    "The side effects have been none - the readability of the chip has
    been good," he added.

    "So for my personal goal of being identified in the case of an
    accident, it does work for me."

    Identity theft

    Others, however, are not as supportive.

    "It's a very scary technology," said Katherine Albrecht, a consumer
    rights analyst and founder of Caspian, a pressure group which opposes

    Ms Albrecht has been tracking the development of the VeriChip.

    "It's very de-humanising," she added.

    "I would no longer be known as a living, breathing, spiritual person
    but become known as a single number that would be emanating from a
    chip in my flesh... essentially becoming a form of human inventory,
    rather than a human being."

    She also argues that the chip is not secure - every time a reader is
    passed, the number is tracked, whether the user wishes this or not -
    and contends that being constantly identifiable is not necessarily a
    good thing.

    "A criminal could scan you surreptitiously, then use that information
    to access other information about you, and potentially do some
    identity theft," she said.

    "The other thing they could do is that, by scanning that number, it's
    actually quite a simple matter to capture the number and create your
    own chip with the same number in it.

    "You could simply programme a different chip, put it inside an
    encapsulated device, and put it in your own arm - and at that point
    you could pose as the individual whose identity you have chosen to

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