Micro-chipping humans. Is Big Brother getting under our skins?

05-02-2015 |   |  By Paul Whytock

All of us humans are used to the idea of our pets having a micro-chip stabbed into them. But how about turning the tables and asking owners how they'd feel about being chipped?

My guess is that whereas they think it perfectly OK to inject a tiny RFID microchip implant into their nomadic Labradors and wayward Whippets it becomes an entirely different matter when they are the target of human implanted microchips. And how would they feel if it was their employer putting pressure on them to be chipped??

A company in Sweden is offering its employees the chance to have a microchip implant. It occupies a very high-tech building and 'chipped' employees could just touch doors to gain entry and operate office equipment. The pitch from the company bosses is it would increase building and personnel security. But does it really or is it just a gimmick?

These microchip tracking devices are about the size of a grain of rice and are basically constructed from just a few components such as RFID integrated circuits and capacitors. These are embedded in a bioglass glass capsule that is coated in a polypropylene substance in an effort to prevent the device from moving around the body. However, migration of a chip through body tissue is not guaranteed and, on the down side, bonding the chip in place in tissue under the skin could make future removal tricky.

Before getting into the subject of just how secure these chips make buildings and their occupants let's take a look at some of the technology being made available that could get under your skin.

These are in effect miniature transponders and they come in a variety of specifications. There are low frequency 125Khz devices that are pretty basic and have no programmable memory or security features. These are programmed during manufacture and that's it. Higher up the scale there are 13.5Mhz transponders that do have programmable memories and also 32bit password protection security and some also have integrated Near Field Communications (NFC) technology that can work in conjunction with mobile phones. Pretty sophisticated stuff.

Now whereas we expect out pets to be pretty patient about having one of these jabbed into them how about us humans. Does it hurt? Not much apparently. Can it be seen? Well that depends on where the chip is positioned. For those with little subcutaneous layers under the skin of their hand it could be visible but only slightly. They take about 40-60 days to settle down under the skin and could itch during that period and heavy scratching is discouraged as that could dislodge the chip. They are pretty durable and will withstand most knocks but extreme pressure like falling on your hand right at the site of the chip has been known to shatter them. How about medical tests when you are chipped? They are inert and do not upset MRI machines or heat-up or explode when anywhere near airport security scanners or induction ovens.

So is human microchipping a good idea? Ultimately I think it comes down to individual choice and definitely should not be something insisted upon by employers. Admittedly they could be useful, even life-saving. Take a road accident scenario and the victim is chipped with all their medical information, blood group, medication they take and existing medical problems. All very important practical information for paramedics.

But I'm really not sure about building security. Let's take a bank or research centre that requires top-level entry security. It's going to rate much more protection than employees with an entry door chip in their hand. After all, the bad guys only need to chop off an employee's hand and present that against the building's entry keypad and they're in.

And what about hacking and personal privacy? Could it be the thin end of yet another Big Brother wedge? Let's face it smart watches are already seen as an easy hack into personal details and a human microchip could present similar opportunities.


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By Paul Whytock

Paul Whytock is European Editor for Electropages. He has reported extensively on the electronics industry in Europe, the United States and the Far East for over twenty years. Prior to entering journalism he worked as a design engineer with Ford Motor Company at locations in England, Germany, Holland and Belgium.

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