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This is part of the background information by Sylvia Engdahl for her science fiction novel Stewards of the Flame. If you don't see a menu on the left, please click here and then on "Implanted tracking chips."

Microchips Are Already Being Implanted in Humans

When I wrote Stewards of the Flame in 2005, I made up the whole idea of the implanted tracking chips. It seemed to me a likely distant-future development, considering that we now microchip cats and dogs. I wasn't aware that passive chips were already being implanted in humans, and that tracking-enabled active ones are not far off. I certainly didn't know that there were many blogs and articles on the Web opposing this invasion of privacy, which I didn't discover until later.

A 2007 news report revealed that implanted microchips have caused cancer in mice and rats and that some enthusiasts were therefore having second thoughts about them. Of course, the possibility that they might cause cancer is not the only, or original, objection to implants. One prevalent one is Christian fundamentalists' claim that they are the "Mark of the Beast" referred to in the Bible. One doesn't have to believe this to consider their widespread implantation a bad idea; many people fear that they could be employed as a means of government surveillance. And the scary thing is not so much the possibility that someday an arbitrarily-imposed law might require them, but that the public might very well come to favor such a law for healthcare reasons if not out of concorn for national security.

Implanted microchips were approved by the FDA in 2004 and are used by some hospitals to ensure the availability of patients' medical records. Once people get used to this -- and in the future, perhaps, to monitoring of serious medical conditions -- will they not be less adverse to the thought of the government making use of implanted chips for whatever purposes it finds convenient? It seems that my longtime conviction that medical "benefits" are a foot in the door for tyranny may not be far off base.

The Verichip was taken off the market in 2010 due to lack of public acceptance, but was renamed and continued to be sold to other nations. Similar passive chips are now available and and their potential as a replacement for credit cards is limited mainly by the lack of scanners in stores. Some people have chips merely for the convenience of not having to carry door keys. As of 2014 a do-it-yourself kit for implanting them is available for just $99; the fact that its development was paid for through crowdfunding shows that resistance is fading. By the time implantable tracking chips become available, they may seem no more objectionable than GPS-equipped cell phones.

Here are links to a few of the many sites that discuss this topic:

Will Microchip Implants in Humans Become Mandatory? New American, May 3, 2014. By Selwyn Duke. "Biometric scanners/RFID tracking devices are already used in college dining halls and some amusement parks, and the technology is even being used in Africa to keep track of who is being vaccinated. . . . There is precedent for acceptance of such intrusion; after all, your cellphone has an RFID chip and can be used to track your every movement, and its camera can be remotely activated by authorities."

IsThere a Microchip Implant in Your Future? Fox News, August 30, 2014. By John Brandon. "Using chip implants to track people would require an infrastructure of transponders scattered around a city that read their identity in public buildings and street corners."

Microchips Will Be Implanted Into Healthy People Sooner Than You Think, Business Insider, August 8, 2014. By Dina Spector. "The failure of VeriChip, later rebranded as PositiveID, highlights the legal issues of microchipping people. Since 2009, at least nine states have either passed laws or proposed bills to prohibit the enforced implantation of chips."

Chip Implants: Better Care or Privacy Scare?, WebMD, July 27, 2005. By Daniel J. DeNoon. "John Halamka, MD . . . has one of the chips implanted in the back of his right arm. . . . 'If a chip could also serve as a GPS, reporting my location, or act as an emergency transponder, requesting rescue, I would definitely upgrade.' he says."

RFID Chip Inside: The Murky Ethics of Implanted Chips, IEEE Spectrum, March 1, 2007. By Kenneth R. Foster and Jan Jaeger. "There is a darker side, namely the erosion of our privacy and our right to bodily integrity. After all, do you really want to be required to have a foreign object implanted in your arm just to get or keep a job?"

Human Bar Code, The News Today (Philippines), February 2, 2007. By Philip S. Chua. "There is concern among various sectors of society that this 'human bar coding' would curtail individual civil liberties and violate the person's constitutional freedom and right to privacy, confidentiality, security and safety."

Microchip Implants Raise Privacy Concern, USA Today, July 21, 2007. By Todd Lewan. "There have been rumors on Wall Street and elsewhere of the potential uses for RFID in humans: the chipping of U.S. soldiers, of inmates, or of migrant workers, to name a few."

U.S. Military To Be Tagged With Spychips? Consumer Affairs August 24, 2006. By Martin H. Bosworth. "If microchip maker VeriChip has its way, the armed forces will soon be trading in their dogtags for radio-frequency identifier (RFID) microchips, implanted under the skin and containing all of their medical and personal information."

Microchips in Humans Inevitable, Free Republic (orig. Edmonton Journal, June 10, 2006). By Jodie Sinnema. "We'll do it in a well-intentioned way, wanting to look after people. But like with anything, as soon as you bring in the well-intentioned application, someone will figure out the evil application."

They Want Their ID Chips Now, Wired, February 6, 2002. By Julia Scheeres. "An X-Files-type scheme where everyone is forcibly marked and monitored by the government worries both civil libertarians and [fundamentalist] Christians, who believe new technologies such as biometrics and biochips may be the feared "Mark of the Beast" of Biblical lore."

GPS Implant Makes Debut, WorldNetDaily, May 14, 2003. By Sherrie Gossett. "Once inserted into a human, the device can be tracked by Global Positioning Satellite technology and the information relayed wirelessly to the Internet, where an individual's location, movements and vital signs can be stored in a database for future reference." (Though this article is dated 2003, as of 2014 GPS-enabled implantable chips do not yet exist.)

Mark of the Beast? WorldNetDaily, January 28, 2002. By Geoff Metcalf. "The device also has the capacity to monitor the user’s heart rate, blood pressure and other vital functions. Beyond just mere medical readouts, could it also analyze variances and become an ipso facto lie detector?"

A Chip in Your Shoulder, Slate, November 10, 2004. By Josh McHugh. "Any potential revolution in human tracking or mundane convenience comes with a fundamental insecurity. . . . Any hobbyist can just buy an RFID reader and use it to keep tabs on the chip-implanted people that happen to walk by."

Cancer Fears Raised over Chip Implants, USA Today, September 8, 2007. By Todd Lewan. "A series of veterinary and toxicology studies, dating to the mid-1990s, stated that chip implants had "induced" malignant tumors in some lab mice and rats.... After reviewing the research, specialists at some pre-eminent cancer institutions said the findings raised red flags."

Video: ABC News - Implanting microchips in patients

Under Your Skin, James Randi Educational Foundation, March 17, 2010. By Penn Bullock. "In 2007, the PositiveID Corporation in Florida injected microchips into Alzheimer’s patients as part of what it termed a 'two-year study.' Up to 200 test subjects, many incapacitated, were supplied by a nursing home in West Palm Beach. . . . Today, based on new information, doctors allege the study violated medical ethics and regulatory law."

Would you implant a microchip in your child?, Boston.com, June 9, 2010. "In spite of the whole "Big Brother" aspect, and in spite of the obvious privacy issues (not to mention health risks), the microchip may be making a comeback."

Microchip Implant Controversy: a Mark of the Beast or the Coming "Singularity"? CBS News, November 9, 2009. By Jim Edwards. "The serious debate here is over privacy and tracking concerns, and whether anyone might be required to have an implant. The vast majority of patients and consumers simply won't want one."

Satellites Track Mexico Kidnap Victims with Chips, Reuters, August 21, 2008. By Mica Rosenberg. "Affluent Mexicans, terrified of soaring kidnapping rates, are spending thousands of dollars to implant tiny transmitters under their skin. . . . Detractors say the chip is little more than a gadget that serves no real security purpose. The company injects the crystal-encased chip . . . into clients' bodies with a syringe. A transmitter in the chip then sends radio signals to a larger device carried by the client with a global positioning system in it."

Obamacare Health Reform Bill Requires RFID Microchips in Americans: Internet/Facebook Rumour, That's Nonsense, July 11, 2012. "Internet rumours are circulating that claim ObamaCare . . . requires all American citizens to be implanted with a RFID microchip which will contain information of its carrier as well as GPS tracking capabilities. The messages are nothing more than silly, baseless, unfounded conspiracy theory nonsense."

Human GPS Microchipping: Embrace It or Ban It?, Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies, March 14, 2011. By Hank Pellissier. "Microchips probably will be 'optional' in many categories at first, then they’ll be 'suggested,' then 'recommended,' and perhaps finally 'required.'”

Last updated December, 2014