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RFID chips for migrant workers in the US?

But tracking tech 'not ready for prime time'

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VeriChip chairman Scott Silverman's appearance on American TV this week has raised fears of the introduction of RFID technology.

According to RNIF, he "bandied about the idea of chipping foreigners on national television Tuesday".

RINF said Silverman appeared to be emboldened by the Bush Administration call to know "who is in our country and why they are here". He told Fox & Friends that the VeriChip could be used to register guest workers, verify their identities as they cross the border, and "be used for enforcement purposes at the employer level". He added: "We have talked to many people in Washington about using it..."

There's a long journey between having a lobbyist wittering on Fox & Friends, and any policy decision, even if former Homeland Security boss Tommy Thompson sits on the Verichip board - but the story shows the level of anxiety about radio frequency ID chips in society generally.

In Europe, according to the Financial Times, "the EU's information society commissioner, Viviane Reding, wants a debate about the security and privacy issues surrounding RFID".

That's a preparation for an e-privacy review this year. But the real story, suggests the FT, is the discovery that RFID really isn't ready for prime time.

According to IDC, many RFID plans have been pushed back - but not because of privacy fears. Privacy issues will perhaps become an issue, and the FT reports that several companies working on the technology are now starting to build safeguards into the system - but right now, the problem is simply that RFID often doesn't work, and costs too much.

But implants are likely to come back. Colombian president Alvaro Uribe has been saying that he's in favour of chipping migrant workers before giving them entry visas to the US. In the UK, prisoners allowed out of jail with radio tags are simply cutting them off their ankles; perhaps it's just a matter of weeks before surgical implants are proposed instead.

American Senator Arlen Specter recently pooh-poohed the idea. RINF noted that his objection was practical, not liberty based; he thinks people will simply dig the chips out from under their skin. "If something were developed that would be assured of working, have no doubt that a fine American such as Arlen Specter would support it," said the RINF columnist.

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