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Computer chip implanted in humans?

February 27, 2002 Posted: 8:24 AM EST (1324 GMT)


The new "VeriChip" is about the size of a grain of rice and could be embedded beneath a person's skin.




WASHINGTON (AP) -- The science of security may soon get under your skin.

A Florida technology company is preparing to seek government approval for a computer ID chip that would be implanted inside the body and could be used to store everything from secret codes to sensitive medical information.

Applied Digital Solutions' new "VeriChip" is another sign that September 11 has catapulted the effort to secure America into a realm with uncharted possibilities -- and also new fears for privacy.

"The problem is that you always have to think about what the device will be used for tomorrow," said Lee Tien, a senior attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy advocacy group.

"It's what we call function creep. At first a device is used for applications we all agree are good but then it slowly is used for more than it was intended," he said.

The company also is developing another implant device that would work in conjunction with the VeriChip to allow satellite tracking of an individual's every movement. The tracker is already attracting interest across the globe for tasks like foiling kidnappings, the company says.

Applied Digital, based in Palm Beach, Florida, says it soon will begin the process of getting Food and Drug Administration approval for the VeriChip, and intends to limit its marketing to companies that ensure its human use is voluntary.

"The line in the sand that we draw is that the use of the VeriChip would always be voluntarily," said Keith Bolton, chief technology officer and a vice president at Applied Digital. "We would never provide it to a company that intended to coerce people to use it."

More than a decade ago, Applied bought a competing company, Destron Fearing, which had been making chips implanted in animals. Those chips were bought mainly by animal owners wanting to provide another way for pound workers to identify a lost pet.

Chips for humans aren't that much different.

Ethical questions

But company officials say they were hesitant to market the chips for people because of ethical questions -- until the September 11 terror attacks.

"It's a sad time ... when people have to wonder whether it's safe in their own country," Bolton said.


The "Verichip" can be used to store everything from secret codes to sensitive medical information.


The makers of the chip also foresee it being used to help emergency workers, for instance, diagnose a lost Alzheimer's patient or access an unconscious patient's medical history.

Getting the implant would go something like this:

A person or company buys the chip from Applied Digital for about $200 and the company encodes it with the desired information. The person seeking the implant takes the tiny device -- about the size of a grain of rice, to their doctor, who can insert it with a large needle device.

The doctor monitors the device for several weeks to make sure it doesn't move and that no infection develops.

The device has no power supply, rather it contains a millimeter-long magnetic coil that is activated when a scanning device is run across the skin above it. A tiny transmitter on the chip sends out the data.

Without a scanner, the chip cannot be read. Applied Digital plans to give away chip readers to hospitals and ambulance companies, in hopes they'll become standard equipment.

Religious concerns

The chip has drawn attention from several religious groups.

Theologian and author Terry Cook said he worries the identification chip could be the "mark of the beast," an identifying mark that all people will be forced to wear just before the end times, according to the Bible.


Both privacy advocates and religious groups have voiced concerns.


Applied Digital has consulted theologians and appeared on the religious television program the "700 Club" to assure viewers the chip didn't fit the biblical description of the mark because it is under the skin and hidden from view.

Even with the privacy and religious concerns, some are eager to use the product.

Jeff Jacobs in Coral Springs, Florida, has contacted the company in hopes of becoming the first person to purchase the chip.

Jacobs suffers from a number of serious allergies and wants to make sure medical personnel can diagnose him.

"They would know who to contact, they would know what medications I'm on, and it's quite a few," he said. "They would know what I'm allergic to, what kind of operations I've had and where there might be problems."