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Subdermal RFID chip provokes furore

Black helicopters disgorging lizard invasion army, etc, etc

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Well, it's already been widely reported, but we reckon it's Vulture Central's turn to chip in its two cents' worth to the subdermal RFID chip debate.

To summarise, US cybercorporation Applied Digital Solutions has developed the so-called "VeriChip", a "miniaturised, implantable radio frequency identification device (RFID) that has the potential to be used in a variety of personal identification, security, financial, and potential healthcare applications".

Sounds good. Here's the full gen from the company: "About the size of a grain of rice, each VeriChip product contains a unique verification number that is captured by briefly passing a proprietary scanner over the VeriChip. The standard location of the microchip is in the triceps area between the elbow and the shoulder of the right arm. The brief outpatient 'chipping' procedure lasts just a few minutes and involves only local anesthetic followed by quick, painless insertion of the VeriChip. Once inserted just under the skin, the VeriChip is inconspicuous to the naked eye. A small amount of radio frequency energy passes from the scanner energizing the dormant VeriChip, which then emits a radio frequency signal transmitting the verification number."

The aforementioned financial benefits to humanity come in the form of "VeriPay", which uses the chip for cash and credit transactions. This is not the first time RFID transaction solutions have been mooted, but there is, of course, a security issue. At the recent ID World 2003 (good title - well done) in Paris, Applied Digital Solutions CEO Scott R Silverman addressed the possibility of someone mislaying their RNID "credit card": "VeriPay’s unique, under-the-skin format offers a much more secure, tamper-proof, and loss-proof solution. VeriPay brings to consumers the benefits of fast and reliable RFID technology along with the security of a subdermal format."

There's that word 'benefit' again. In fact, there is no apparent benefit to the consumer from this RFID application. Someone's business will benefit, but you'll be walking around with a chip in your arm carrying personal and/or financial information which can be scanned without your knowledge.

Well, that's what Joe Public seems to think, as exemplified by the story of Wal-Mart and its attempt to use RFID inventory control. This is just one example of possible applications which have a whole raft of civil liberties and consumers' groups calling for a moratorium on all RFID chips.

But could this not be just another Big Brother-style panic induced by the prospect of fleets of black helicopters disgorging RFID scanner-bearing lizard people bent on the subjugation of the human race? Surely there must be some practical application for this skin-deep technology?

A quick straw poll of El Reg hacks offered the following:

  • RFID-scanning autopour beer pumps which dispense your preferred tipple before you've even reached the bar.

  • RFID-enabled talking bins that know in which language to thank you when you deposit litter therein.

  • RFID-tagged microwave pizzas and ice-cream cartons which trigger a supermarket checkout "shame alarm" when purchased by fat people.

  • RFID audio chip which tells David Blunkett you're not an illegal immigrant without the poor bloke having to fumble around the Braille bit of your (easily mislaid) National Identity Card.


We're certain readers can think of plenty more. In the meantime, if you don't believe that RFID is the greatest threat to civil liberties since number plate recognition technology, and fancy becoming your very own Captain Cyborg, you can sign up for your register-now-get-chipped-later deal right here. Hurry though - there's currently an unbeatable £50 chipping discount. Now that's what we call consumer benefit. ®

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