An electronics expert is attempting to unleash various authorities, including the General Medical Council, local social services and the police on Professor Kevin Warwick for his proposed kiddie-chipping activities.
According to the Reading Evening Post Bernard Albrecht started with the General Medical Council to confirm there was a possible case for assualt in the event of an operation "without medical basis" being carried out on a child. He then checked the police, who appear not to have bitten, and then onwards to social services for Wokingham District Council (after an abortive attempt at Reading Borough Council).
Wokingham somewhat feebly responded, "the project referred to appears to be a research initiative and should therefore be conducted within the university’s guidelines for carrying out ethical research." It is not clear whether by this Wokingham meant 'had better be conducted' or merely 'will no doubt be conducted.' Given what social service departments are supposed to do, we hope it's the former.
Further information that has emerged as Warwick conducted his PR tour this week hasn't entirely made the nature of the device clear, but has almost certainly provided enough evidence for an investigation on health grounds. Warwick still hasn't specified precisely how the device is intended to work, but has revealed that it's a transmitting implant, which is intended to work on the mobile phone network. If you're concerned about possible health implications of children using mobile phones, then it would seem logical to be concerned about surgically implanting mobile phone components in your child. So there are probably half a dozen official bodies in the UK alone who should be taking a look at this one before it goes ahead.
In our previous piece we speculated that the kiddie-chip might be a GPS device, but although there are tracking systems that incorporate GPS, using this technology in anything even approaching the size of an implant isn't feasible, and as the interviews rolled on it became apparent GPS wasn't part of the equation. Here, for example, is ABC of Australia:
"KEVIN WARWICK: Basically it operates off the mobile phone network within the UK and ordinarily it's not sending out any signal at all. It's just in a sleep mode and the idea is that if the parents are worried their child has been missing for several hours that they'll contact the police and as long as the police and the parents are quite happy, then a simple wake up code is transmitted by the network out to the implant, and then it starts sending out a signal which essentially the police can use very quickly to track down where the child with the implant is."
So it's a device that communicates with the mobile phone network and operates in low-power mode until it gets a wake-up call. Then it transmits. There are several problems with this. First, although mobile phone companies have the capability to use triangulation between base stations to produce GPS-like location data, they're rightly sensitive about this. If they did it as a matter of course then they'd get beaten up for privacy invasion, and as and when they do do it they'd like to make (yum) money out of location-based services. Whatever, they won't enable this one lightly for Captain Cyborg, so if the device is really near ready, and it's using triangulation, he must already have an unwary network in tow.
It is of course possible that something could be rigged without the network and without triangulation. Mobile phones can report which cell they're currently communicating with, so the unit could fire this off to a third party, and it could then be used to provide an approximate location on a map. This would be reasonably helpful in a built up area with numerous cells, less so out in the boonies.
All of that presupposes you can get the necessary components of a mobile phone in a small enough package to insert under the skin. Our researches with the industry in the UK lead us to conclude that you can't right now; one of the service providers contacted was absolutely insistent that if you were going to connect to the network you needed to have a SIM, no arguments, and that takes care of most of the real estate on its own. Those of you who said 'what about the mobile phone in the tooth' shoudl be aware that this particular little lark used the jawbone as an antenna, the mouth as a speaker (or something) and required a modified real mobile phone somewhere in the near vicinity, because it was communicating with that, not the network. If it was working, which it wasn't.
Aside from the SIM and the incredibly minituarised phone itself, you need an antenna and a power source. Cyborg is silent on antenna, and therefore may be contemplating something wacky involving bones, but told The Guardian one of the problems still needing to be ironed out was how to recharge the chip's battery. Which we'd have thought was pretty fundamental, while shoving a battery into your body really ought to alert some more government agencies. What kind of battery, Kev?
ABC confirms unreadiness: "Now we're looking for a silicone substance for covering this particular implant. It's not actually making any contact with muscles or the nervous system. It's really just lying dormant most of time in the body, except when called into action." Silicone substance? Did we hear another agency twitch?
Most of the pieces published during Warwick's media frenzy followed his agenda closely, and the Guardian's was no expection. But towards the end you can see another agenda starting to poke out:
"He has called for an urgent government debate on the issue, and believes ministers should consider implants for all children." Could that possibly be what he really said? He went on: "This is why we need the debate to take place. In future it may be that only the police have the authority to allow the system to be activated. But, as things stand, parents can have that right themselves." Conjure up your own spectres from that little lot, people.
Thanks, incidentally, to all of those readers who wrote in with suggestions, pointers and comments. One common thought we think worth considering is the effect widespread chipping is likely to have on ruthless kidnappers; the less evident such devices are, the more exploratory surgery they're likely to do. Even the Whereify system (an example of a GPS-wireless combo with the same objective as Warwick's device) could be vulnerable to this. Yes, it's a bracelet, but oh dear, parents can lock it on. Such parents should make sure their kids carry bolt-cutters, or only get kidnapped by kidnappers who own some. We note from the BBS at www.kevinwarwick.com that LRAM of Columbia says "In Colombia we have 3500 Kidnapping each year We are interesting in your implantable tracking device for security aplications, please send an e-mail to me in other to be more closer to your develope. We have the 65% of the kidnapping in the world. Please help us !" We shudder to think what the FARC's idea of exploratory surgery might be.
Here though, are a couple of the suggestions. Mike Allbright comes up with a corker that pulls in an entirely different infrastructure:
"I agree with your assessment that Warwick's claims can't be realized given today's state of miniaturization, but there is a solution that might make the RFID (SmartID) system work. As I'm sure you know these devices are essentially transponder chips coupled to coils that are energized when the unit passes through a (coded) magnetic field--hence no batteries required. The solution to the child-napper problem might be found in the traffic lights. Most traffic lights (in my neck of the woods) have coils built into the pavement which can detect the presence of a car and cause the lights to change accordingly. Potentially these coils could serve double duty by also transmitting the ident code and reading the ID responses. In a kidnapping situation, these systems could report (in real-time) whenever a particular ID tag passes a such-equipped intersection--enabling authorities to close in on it's location."
There, now you can be worried about traffic lights invading your privacy. Jon Tarry postulates a power charging system that Warwick clearly isn't using, but that might make some sense:
"A mobile phone can be located to approx. the nearest meter by triangulation using 2 or more adjacent cells. If the embedded device only transmits a pulse once every 20 minutes or so, it would seem quite conceivable to construct a small device which could be recharged by induction using e.g. an arm-band at night, especially considering the small size of the watch/necklace mobile-phones available in Japan."
A 20 minute pulse might possibly be more power efficient than permanent standby, waiting for a wake-up. We know not. By the close of this piece we had hoped to be able to bring you the item alluded to at the bottom of the Reading Evening Post article, "In tomorrow’s Evening Post 'I’m right – but let’s have an ethical debate' says Professor Kevin Warwick. Unhappily, this doesn't seem to have made it to the site yet, but no doubt the many IT-savvy locals will let us know the minute it does. ®