One of the increasingly ubiquitous features of 21st century life is radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, those teeny chips that store information and then transmit it whenever they pass within range of one of the receivers on a network. RFID tags are imbedded in just about everything these days, from those stacks of blue jeans in stores and pet dogs and cats to U.S. passports. A few years ago, a company called VeriChip (which since has become PositiveID) even obtained FDA approval for a tag that people could have implanted under their skin, to enable doctors to identify them and access their medical records. And now, an Iowa Congressional candidate has suggested yet another use, one that has civil libertarians a bit concerned. Here’s a snippet of a recent Cedar Rapids Gazette article:
After the blogosphere erupted in a frenzy of snarkiness over the proposal, Bertroche tried to walk back his original statement, saying that he was engaging in a little hyperbole to show how polarized the issue of immigration reform has become. (“I do not support micro-chipping humans,” he said in an email to the Iowa Independent web site. “And I do not mean to compare illegals to dogs.”) Indeed, Bertoche’s campaign web site advocates a different, less physically invasive measure — issuing RFID-tagged identification cards to undocumented immigrants that would allow them to stay in the U.S. if they have families, as long as they didn’t apply for government benefits or citizenship and agreed to pay a 10 percent income tax penalty.
But while it was startling to hear a U.S. political candidate seem to advocate involuntary implantation of RFID technology in humans, this actually isn’t the first time that someone has proposed the idea. Last year, according to this German news article, an unnamed Saudi inventor applied for a German patent on an implantable RFID chip that could be used to track not just illegal immigrants, but also criminals, political dissidents, and even domestic servants.
In his application, the inventor said that the device would be useful because the number of suspects being sought by Saudi security forces had increased in recent years. You’re probably wondering why he applied for a patent in Germany, but as the article explains, filing in multiple countries is a common practice for inventors. Ultimately, his request was rejected by the German government — which, it should be mentioned, has developed even more bizarre methods of surveillance. According to a 2007 Spiegel article, German security authorities are amassing samples of human scent in an attempt to track left-wing political protesters and suspected terrorists.
The notion of having to search through a database of citizens’ perspiration definitely makes me want to cross “German government file clerk” off my list of future employment possibilities. But I digress. Conspiracy theory-lovers that we are, a lot of Americans seem alarmed about the possibility that our government might try to implant identification chips in them. In February 2010, the Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill which, if eventually approved by the Senate, would make it illegal for employers or health insurers to force people to accept RFID implants. The bill’s sponsor, Del. Mark L. Cole, R-Fredericksburg, told the Washington Post that while he was chiefly concerned about protecting privacy, he also shared the concerns of some that RFID tags could be the “mark of the beast” described in Revelation 13:16.
When Georgia legislators recently held a hearing to consider similar legislation, they heard from an even more concerned constituency. One witness told them that the U.S. Department of Defense already has implanted a chip in one of her bodily orifices. As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported:
While the lawmakers didn’t indicate support for her charge, they did go on to approve the bill in committee, and send it to the floor for potential passage.