Thursday, July 15, 2004
Chipping Away Personal Liberties: Mexico Initiates ID Implants for Law Enforcement 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
About eighteen months ago, I posted about the UK's proposal to use implantable active ID 'chips' in children to facilitate tracking in case of abduction; now in Mexico, workers in the judicial system are being 'chipped' for security reasons:
It's a pioneering application of a technology that is widely used in animals but not in humans. Mexico's top federal prosecutors and investigators began receiving chip implants in their arms in November in order to get access to restricted areas inside the attorney general's headquarters, said Antonio Aceves, general director of Solusat, the company that distributes the microchips in Mexico. Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha and 160 of his employees were implanted at a cost to taxpayers of $150 for each rice grain-sized chip.

[click here for a photo of the chip being implanted in the upper arm of a Mexican judicial employee - not for the squeamish]

More are scheduled to get "tagged" in coming months, and key members of the Mexican military, the police and the office of President Vicente Fox might follow suit, Aceves said. Fox's office did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

A spokeswoman for Macedo de la Concha's office said she could not comment on Aceves' statements, citing security concerns. But Macedo himself mentioned the chip program to reporters Monday, saying he had received an implant in his arm. He said the chips were required to enter a new federal anti-crime information center. "It's only for access, for security," he said.

The chips also could provide more certainty about who accessed sensitive data at any given time. In the past, the biggest security problem for Mexican law enforcement has been corruption by officials themselves. Aceves said his company eventually hopes to provide Mexican officials with implantable devices that can track their physical location at any given time, but that technology is still under development. The chips that have been implanted are manufactured by VeriChip Corp., a subsidiary of Applied Digital Solutions Inc. (ADSX) of Palm Beach, Fla. [via Evil Tangerine]
But why not a dfferent, less-invasive type of security measure - retinal scans, for instance? This would provide positive, hard-to-falsify identification without the possibility of implanted chips being surgically removed and implanted into unauthorized persons [and as Evil Tangerine mentions in the comments section, the information gathered from ID chip scans theoretically could be "skimmed" as easily as magnetic-stripe card data].

Current chip-scanners are smaller, cheaper and more portable than retinal scanning devices, and retinal scans are chiefly useful in regulating access to specific secured areas, rather in than verifying identity in the larger overall environment...which makes me suspect that Mexico's initiative is actually a "trial balloon" for more widespread future use of active "tracking" ID chips, as mentioned by Solusat's Aceves.

For more, check out the VeriChip website, which is offering special incentives and discounts for private individuals who register for an implantable ID chip:
Use of advanced VeriChip technology means the risk of theft, loss, duplication or counterfeiting of data is substantially reduced or eliminated. VeriChip products are being actively developed for a variety of security, defense, homeland security and secure-access applications, such as authorized access control to government and private sector facilities, research laboratories, and sensitive transportation resources, including the area of airport security [ital. mine].

In these markets, VeriChip is able to function as standalone personal verification technology or it is able to operate in conjunction with other security devices such as ID badges and advanced biometrics. In the financial arena, VeriChip has enormous potential as a personal verification technology that could help curb identity theft and prevent fraudulent access to banking and credit card accounts.
Personally, I'm horrified that the personal use of tracking chips may become widespread, for many reasons. Most people, including myself, don't reasonably believe that any one agency or government could (or would) suddenly implement a policy mandating widespread use of ID chips. However, what usually happens is that technologies and identity tracking methods like these first become intriguing - then optional, then convenient, then finally, indispensable.

Remember that Social Security numbers were originally intended for a specific, limited purpose; but today, it's almost impossible to function in our society without this number. You can't apply for a bank account, a driver's license, enroll in a school or apply for a job without providing your "digits." Since the use of Social Security numbers is now both unavoidable and fraught with high potential for abuse and identity theft, the next logical step is implementing a more robust individual-linked identification scheme. Frighteningly, the implanted ID chip may be that next step.

I predict that as in Mexico, ID chipping will first be used in the U.S. in high-security applications like military and government installations. Then, it may become an acceptable private-sector method for "securing" electronic commerce and preventing identity theft, because the give-up-a-little-liberty-for-a-little-security crowd will likely become voluntary early adopters. I can see the TV ads now: flashy, hip young "chipped" folks showing how easy it is pay for purchases and get ID'd at the coolest nightclubs without opening a purse or wallet.

"Got chip? Because ID cards are so 1999."