RFID Inside: The Murky Ethics of Implanted Chips

Article ID: 527607

Released: 24-Feb-2007 12:50 PM EST

Source Newsroom: IEEE Spectrum Magazine

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Newswise — What if your boss asked you to have a chip implanted in your arm? Would you do it? What if it meant getting a higher salary? Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, small circuits consisting of a microchip and an antenna that generate a radio signal when triggered by a reading device, are implanted in millions of pets and livestock to keep track of them and return them to their owners if they are lost. In the last few years people have begun to have tags planted in themselves--a move that could have serious repercussions for our privacy and freedom, according to Kenneth R. Foster and Jan Jaeger, University of Pennsylvania professors and authors of an article in the March issue of IEEE Spectrum.

Indeed, society has yet to answer such basic questions as whether an implanted tag is the property of the person it's implanted in or the company that issued the tag. When you leave a job, you typically turn in your keys, Foster and Jaeger point out. Would you have to have an implant surgically removed with each job change?

Although mandating that everyone be chipped seems far from likely, Jaeger and Foster are concerned that supposedly voluntary implantation would be anything but. Responding to a proposal to chip guest workers entering the United States for employment, they write: "Guest workers might ostensibly consent to having chips implanted. But would chipping them be truly voluntary? Such 'voluntary' actions may determine a person's ability to earn a living, and the worker might not view the implantation as something he or she could refuse. What person facing poverty at home and given the prospect of a job in a different country would be in a position to argue?"

With thousands of people already implanted, it's past time to answer these thorny questions.


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