The 'barcoding' of people has quietly begun rolling out in the US, via Applied Digital Solutions' VeriChip, which has its genesis in Digital Angel. Last month the "historic chipping of the Jacobs family" took place, with a total of eight people having a unique identifier injected under their skin, and last week Digital Angel began a consumer launch of chipping technology with a series of 30 minute commercials on some US cable channels.
It works like this. For a $200 fee and $10 a month for data storage you get your own personal chip, said to be about the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen, inserted. A handheld VeriChip scanner can then be used to read the information on the chip, and naturally the positive medical aspects of the system are being majored on at the moment. The Jacobs family suffers from various ailments, so if one of them is taken ill near a medical centre equipped with a VeriChip scanner.... Ah yes, you see the problem, and the need to achieve critical mass. Nate Isaacson, also in the first wave of chipping, is however a more plausible example at this juncture.
He has Alzheimer's, and so long as VeriChip achieves a reasonable uptake in this area then there seems some likelihood of confused people found wandering around being scanned and identified. It'd be something the police and/or medics would probably reckon would be worth a shot.
What VeriChip doesn't do at this juncture is allow any kind of remote tracking. It's not big enough to have onboard power for this, you'd need an antenna, and in order to have something of that kind of footprint you'd need FDA approval. Not having to have FDA approval for the smaller devices is however a major advantage, because you can sell it on cable TV via toll free numbers. According to Randolph K. Geissler, Chief Executive Officer of Digital Angel Corporation, "Although it is too early to determine sales results from this initial advertising effort, we anticipate a positive response. We plan to continue to use this direct-to-consumer marketing channel as a supplement to our previously announced commercial sales efforts. These involve marketing Digital Angel’s products and services through vertical sales programs in the nursing home, offender-monitoring, security, and Alzheimer’s markets, to name just a few."
The people business model is based, according to Applied Digital, on Digital Angel's HomeAgain animal identification system. Vets and animal shelters were given free scanners, and there you go, some kind of critical mass brewing. It's also significant that three of the company's execs have been chipped, not because they have any ailments (not disclosed ones, anyway), but because they wanted "to demonstrate to the world our complete confidence in the success of this exciting, life-enhancing technology."
So although vertical markets are being targeted initially, really they want people to accept it as natural on the basis that's it's entirely positive, and everybody should have it done. The security potential is substantial, and the privacy issues come clanking along behind. It'd sure as hell be a pretty good way of expediting airline ticketing in these security-conscious days, and once we were on that particular slippery slope. You could chip the military, Saddam could chip his whole cabinet, inhabitants of secure communities could voluntarily chip themselves... ®