Companies are allowed to market computer ID chips which
can be embedded under a person's skin in the US, after the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the technology its qualified approval.
The FDA said yesterday it would not block use of such devices as long as they contain no medical data - paving the way for the sale of devices such as the VeriChip, from Applied Digital Solutions.
VeriChip, an implantable, radio frequency identification biochip slightly larger than the size of a grain of rice, can be scanned (using equipment expected to cost between $1,000 and $3,000) to give a unique ID number. Its use is touted for security and emergency, as well as for medical applications. In South America, the chip has been bundled with a GPS-unit and sold to potential kidnap victims, Wired reports.
ADS intends to sell the chip for about $200, with an annual service charge of $40 for maintaining a user database.
In medicine (the main market), the idea is that if a patient is unconscious or otherwise unable to tell doctors about medical conditions then doctors can still find out this information from the ID contained on the VeriChip. This number is cross-referenced with hospital databases to give a patient's medical records.
It seems little more convenient than if a person is say, diabetic or has a rare blood group, or has an allergy, and carries this information by an unbreakable bracelet around their wrist.
Judging from its web site, Applied Digital Solutions is a little more ambitious: it appears to wants to store medical on the chip. However the FDA has drawn the line on anything more than the storage of basic ID data on the chip.
"If they put medical records in, we would be concerned about the use," the FDA's medical device chief, Dr. David Feigal, told AP.
The FDA would "step in" in such cases, he said. The FDA is concerned that medical data on the chip may be out of date.
But there's also the security issue to address - how can the designers ensure that their chip is tamper-proof?
And let's not forget the civil liberties implications.
The subjects of an implant may have little control over the data it holds. It's easy to imagine that the implantation of the device will one day become compulsory. That's all we need - an ID card on steroids. ®