Health @ Heart
Human Bar Code
Bar codes for commercial products and services are today a standard armamentarium of the business world. Its use has transformed daily transactions, inventory, record-keeping, accounting, auditing, budgeting, projections, etc. into simpler, more accurate, faster, more efficient, and time-saving endeavors.
A very impressive example on how the use of bar codes has made life a lot easier for all of us every day is grocery shopping or doing purchases in stores in general. Today, we zip through the counters a lot speedier compared to manual counter-checks of yesteryears.
However, "human bar coding" is totally another matter. The idea of implanting a microchip into a person, whose personal identity data and sensitive private information are on the chip (which could also pinpoint the exact real-time location of the wearer) is creating a lot of controversy. There is concern among various sectors of society that this "human bar coding" would curtail individual civil liberties and violate the person's constitutional freedom and right to privacy, confidentiality, security and safety. There is also the fear that this technology could be used by unscrupulous people or criminals, by competing corporations, or even by some agencies in the government, for illegal information gathering or surveillance, or for some immoral objectives.
Is there such microchip today?
Yes, it is no longer science fiction. Available today, the implantable micro-chip radio frequency identification device (RFID) is inert (does not cause adverse reaction on contact with human tissues), encapsulated, the size of a grain of rice or the tip of a ballpoint pen (12 mm by 2.1 mm) that is powered and transmits information when activated by a chip reader. It is tamper-proof, practically undetectable and indestructible, and is implanted under the skin.
What is it made of?
The micro-chip is tiny (transmitter-computer) chip that has a special polyethylene sheath that encloses it, which makes the skin and subcutaneous tissue adhere to it, causing a tissue envelope around the chip and preventing the chip from migrating. It contains no chemical or battery. The chip is dormant until activated by a small radio frequency energy from a proprietary scanner. The chip never runs down and has a life expectancy of 20 years.
How is the chip implanted?
The chip is small enough to fit inside a special "intravenous needle" introducer. It is inserted using a syringe-type inserter, which comes with the chip preassembled and sterile. It is injected much like a regular injection into the area under the skin in the fleshy part of the inner aspect of the upper arm. A little sting is felt by the recipient during the insertion. No anesthetic agent is needed.
Any possible health complications?
The micro-chip acts like any foreign body when implanted under the skin, much like a large a sliver or splinter. It causes foreign body reaction and scar formation around (encapsulating) it, a natural body defense mechanism to isolate the foreign body. Unless the person is extremely allergic to the material and "rejects" it, which would be rare, the implant should not cause any complication.
What are the applications for the RFID?
There are various areas where the implantable micro-chip could be used, besides for personal universal identification and tracking down people. The extended applications include: financial, banking, and public transportation (airport, docks, railways, busses, automatically recording flight manifest log or passenger list, etc.) security, health data storage, access to residential and commercial buildings, access to sensitive government installations, national research laboratories, nuclear power plants, correctional facilities, and for tracking down parolees, ex-convicts, criminals. It could also be useful in homeland security and the fight against terrorism. At the present, the implantation is purely voluntary.
How about its practical use?
Micro-chips will someday come in various forms, features, specs and capabilities, to suit the needs and objectives of the individuals or their employers. At the present, the memory of the implantable micro-chip is rather limited. The scenario could be as follows (depending on the type of chip and what data the person, or the requiring employer, wants on the chip): this implanted micro-chip shall contain a unique verification number, the wearer's identity, like name, sex, date of birth, social security number, Medicare Number, name of spouse and children, addresses (home, office, vacation home or hideaways, street and email, phone numbers (landline, fax, and cell, etc.), attending physician and contact number, clinic or hospital), blood type, allergies, illnesses (including sexually-transmitted diseases), medications and dosages, credit card numbers, banks and account numbers, various insurance policy numbers, etc. The chip could also contain confidential code for access to specific private, business, or governmental buildings. The receiver scanner records each entry and exit, with date and precise time. On top of this, the chip can be made a tracking device that could precisely pinpoint the location of the person (a child or a pet) with the implanted chip. This is most helpful in locating a missing person, alive or dead. Paramedics on an accident scene, or physicians/nurses attending to an unconscious patient in the hospital can simply use a scanner to extract vital information from the injured. The features of, and the data on, the micro-chip can be tailored to the needs of the employer company and/or the individual. Right now, the VeriChip, for instance, includes a memory that holds 128 characters only. Larger microchips, and highly specialized and more sophisticated ones, are underway. With all these features and capabilities, it is easy to imagine how this device could be abused or used for evil purposes.
Is RFID compatible with other security devices?
Yes, as a matter of fact it could supplement advanced biometric devices, such as face recognition or thumbprint readers, retina scanners, and provide foolproof security.
Who makes these implantable micro-chips?
There are various companies manufacturing the implantable micro-chips, who also maintain a Global Chip Subscriber Registry for a fee of about $10 a month. The information on the chip could be updated through the internet or by calling the registry office.
What's the future of implantable micro-chips?
In a perfect world, universal implantation of this radio frequency device on everybody (data and info adjusted for each age or professional group, personal, company or government needs, etc.) and used only for legitimate, legal and noble purpose, this micro-chip could make life better for all of us, provide better security and peace of mind for us and our loved ones, and even save lives, and tremendously benefit mankind as a whole. However, this is not a perfect world. That's why there are concerns and fears. But just like any offspring of the advances in science and technology, the actual and potential benefits of the RFID and its more sophisticated models will someday make implantable micro-chip a common "household" item. Who knows? Perhaps fashion might even jump in and create a "designer series" of micro-chips.
(Dr. Philip S. Chua is Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus based in Northwest Indiana and Las Vegas, Nevada, and is the Chairman of Cardiovascular Surgery of the Cebu Doctors' University Hospital in Cebu City. He is also the Vice-President for Far East Operations of the Cardiovascular Hospitals of America, a hospital builder in Wichita, Kansas. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org)