Thought Police This Spy Chip Gets Under Your Skin
Subdermal RFID chip provokes furore
By Lester Haines
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
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
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-
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
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