The fifth most popular issue in our second annual poll of Emerging Ethical Dilemmas and Policy Issues in Science and Technology is "data chip implants," with roughly 10% of the total votes. Below we've provided more information about this topic to serve as a resource to students, educators, journalists, policy makers, and concerned citizens.
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Data chip implants
For the most part, data chip implants are the bogeymen of anti-technology activists and religious groups that fear a future where all humans are monitored (and even controlled) by a chip implanted at birth. In reality, the only humans with data chip implants currently are the so-called "bodyhackers" who have implanted RFID (radio-frequency identification) chips, usually into their hands, on their own in an effort to aid in the storage of financial data or identification documents. But paranoia has been so high in the past that states including Wisconsin, California, Georgia, and North Dakota have enacted legislation to prohibit mandatory data chips implants in the future. While we may see a surge in the production of data chips that can be voluntarily implanted, mandatory biochips are still the stuff of scifi. But it didn't always look that way from the outside. In 2004, chip created by VeriChip (now PositiveID) became the first Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved human-implantable microchip, designed to store medical data.
But while data storage and transmission via an implanted data chip is on hold, it may be important to ask how different this technology would be from the machines we carry on our bodies almost constantly? Smartphones, GPS navigators, and medical devices constantly transmit personal data that can be used in a variety of ways or hacked into by nefarious agents.
Those in favor of data chip implants argue that they can bring a world of good - the ability to monitor convicted criminals, particularly those who have committed sex crimes; locating lost children, giving paramedics and doctors immediate access to our medical records.
We currently use GPS tracking, smartphone apps, radio frequency technology, and temporary tattoos to store and transmit some of this data. VeriChip (now PositiveID) was the first Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved human-implantable microchip back in 2004, so the technology has been around for a while. But the ethical dilemmas and policy issues are just now being discussed.
Can these implants become a mandatory form of ID? How do we protect our privacy from hackers? Can this data be sold to law enforcement or other companies? Does the good outweigh the bad?
Information on Human-implanted RFID chips (InfoSec Institute)
Ethical Assessment of Implantable Brain Chips (Paidea Project)
California Bans Forced RFID Tagging of Humans (Government Technology)
AMA Issues Ethics Code for RFID Chip Implants (RFID Journal)
High Tech, Under the Skin (New York Times)
Why I Want a Microchip Implant (BBC Future)
Microchips in humans spark privacy debate (USA Today)
Chip Implants: Better Care or Privacy Scare? (Fox News)
Use of Implanted Patient-Data Chips Stirs Debate on Medicine vs. Privacy (Washington Post)
Is There a Microchip Implant in Your Future? (Fox News)