In a previous blog, we looked at Iowa Congressional hopeful Dr. Pat Bertroche’s proposal that the federal government begin implanting radio frequency identification (RFID) chips in illegal aliens apprehended by immigration authorities, so they could be detected if they tried to cross the border again. “I can micro-chip my dog so I can find it. Why can’t I micro-chip an illegal?” the then-candidate asked.
Bertroche made headlines across the nation and triggered a fusillade of snarky comments in the blogosphere, even after he subsequently revealed that he offered the idea primarily to “point out the inanity of the media,” and apologized to “those who I deeply offended if they think I actually compared them to dogs and if they think I actually want to microchip them.” Nevertheless, Bertroche went on to a resounding loss in the June primary, in which he garnered just one percent of the vote.
That outcome seems to suggest that advocating mandatory RFID implants in humans may not be a winning strategy for politicians. Some view it merely as an intrusion upon civil liberties, but a smaller subset of religious conservatives, such as Christian author Katherine Albrecht, suspect that the chips may be the mark of the beast depicted in Revelation 13:16. Still other RFID opponents insist that the government eventually will implant chips in the U.S. population to implement the recently passed healthcare reform law. As an article from NewAmerican.com, a conservative website, opined in March:
As it turns out, however, RFID implants in humans are just one front in what some see as the fast-escalating battle of surveillance Armageddon. Earlier this week I happened to peruse the official platform of the Texas Republican Party. In addition to the party’s stated opposition to RFID implants in humans, a national ID card, human cloning or genetic alteration, and red-light surveillance cameras, the manifesto contains this point:
If you’re shocked to hear that the federal government intends to track the location and movements of your Norwich terrier or Portuguese water dog, you may want to dial back your outrage a bit. No such U.S. program for monitoring household pets currently exists, and none seem to be under consideration here. If you’re a Brit, though, it’s another story. This Guardian UK article reports that the British government recently did mandate the implantation of identification chips in all canines, ostensibly to protect postal workers from dangerous dogs and deter underground dog-fighting rings.
Instead, in the U.S., federal efforts to use to track animals have mostly focused on farm animals vulnerable to plagues such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, more commonly known as mad cow disease. In 2004, after the discovery of a cow infected with the contagion, the Bush administration created the National Animal Identification System, an effort to get ranchers and farmers to voluntarily tag their cows, pigs, poultry and other animals with a unique identification number that would be entered in a database. That way, in case there was another diseased animal discovered, other animals that had been exposed could be quickly tracked down, before they could spread the infection.
As the New York Times reported earlier this year, farmers and ranchers disliked and distrusted the $120 million identification system, and only 36 percent were willing to participate.
If the prospect of the IRS and the FBI amassing data from RFID chips in animals wasn’t scary enough, some farmers also saw a mark-of-the-beast connection. In 2008, the Virginia-based Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund filed a federal lawsuit in an attempt to block the identification system, alleging, among other things, that states were forcing farmers to electronically tag their animals. Among the filings was this declaration from Rev. Rosanne Wyant, a Christian minister and organic dairy farmer from Michigan, which since 2007 has required RFID ear tags for cattle before they can be transported.
In February, the Obama administration decided to scrap the existing system and replace it with a new one with a less ominous-sounding, albeit wonkier name, the Animal Disease Traceability Framework. The new system, which will be run entirely by officials from individual states and Native American tribal nations, mandates only the tracking of animals that are transported from one state to another. Local officials will have the option of using branding or metal tags instead of RFIDs. Instead of uploading the information to a national database, they’ll instead maintain local records that federal Department of Agriculture officials will only be able to access in the event of an outbreak. That system would make it almost as complicated for the feds to identify cows as it is for them to obtain paperwork on gun purchases, which thanks to the lobbying of gun-control opponents are kept only by the dealers who sell them.
While the new decentralized animal tracking system seems to have placated farmers and ranchers, conspiracy-minded Cassandras continue to warn that what federal officials really want to do is implant insidious devices under the scruff of your Abyssinian or golden retriever. The web site of an organization called Animals Club Freedom National Org. Inc, for example, fears the worst:
Crazy, huh? On the other hand, don’t forget that in China, the government banned dog ownership during the 1960s-1970s Cultural Revolution, and that officials more recently have imposed a one-dog policy upon Beijing residents. So perhaps you can never be too vigilant.