Toronto Star (Ontario, Canada) (pg. D1)  [Printer-friendly version]
December 10, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: One day we will all happily be implanted with
microchips, and our every move will be monitored. The technology
exists; the only barrier is society's resistance to the loss of
privacy. An expert on surveillance and society lays out how
corporations and governments will team up to break down that fragile

By Kevin Haggerty

By the time my four-year-old son is swathed in the soft flesh of old
age, he will likely find it unremarkable that he and almost everyone
he knows will be permanently implanted with a microchip. Automatically
tracking his location in real time, it will connect him with databases
monitoring and recording his smallest behavioural traits.

Most people anticipate such a prospect with a sense of horrified
disbelief, dismissing it as a science-fiction fantasy. The technology,
however, already exists. For years humane societies have implanted all
the pets that leave their premises with a small identifying microchip.
As well, millions of consumer goods are now traced with tiny radio
frequency identification chips that allow satellites to reveal their
exact location.

A select group of people are already "chipped" with devices that
automatically open doors, turn on lights, and perform other low-level
miracles. Prominent among such individuals is researcher Kevin Warwick
of Reading University in England; Warwick is a leading proponent of
the almost limitless potential uses for such chips.

Other users include the patrons of the Baja Beach Club in Barcelona,
many of whom have paid about $150 (U.S.) for the privilege of being
implanted with an identifying chip that allows them to bypass lengthy
club queues and purchase drinks by being scanned. These individuals
are the advance guard of an effort to expand the technology as widely
as possible.

From this point forward, microchips will become progressively smaller,
less invasive, and easier to deploy. Thus, any realistic barrier to
the wholesale "chipping" of Western citizens is not technological but
cultural. It relies upon the visceral reaction against the prospect of
being personally marked as one component in a massive human inventory.

Today we might strongly hold such beliefs, but sensibilities can, and
probably will, change. How this remarkable attitudinal transformation
is likely to occur is clear to anyone who has paid attention to
privacy issues over the past quarter-century. There will be no 3 a.m.
knock on the door by storm troopers come to force implants into our
bodies. The process will be more subtle and cumulative, couched in the
unassailable language of progress and social betterment, and mimicking
many of the processes that have contributed to the expansion of
closed-circuit television cameras and the corporate market in personal

A series of tried and tested strategies will be marshalled to
familiarize citizens with the technology. These will be coupled with
efforts to pressure tainted social groups and entice the remainder of
the population into being chipped.

This, then, is how the next generation will come to be microchipped.

It starts in distant countries. Having tested the technology on guinea
pigs, both human and animal, the first widespread use of human
implanting will occur in nations at the periphery of the Western
world. Such developments are important in their own right, but their
international significance pertains to how they familiarize a global
audience with the technology and habituate them to the idea that
chipping represents a potential future.

An increasing array of hypothetical chipping scenarios will also be
depicted in entertainment media, furthering the familiarization

In the West, chips will first be implanted in members of stigmatized
groups. Pedophiles are the leading candidate for this distinction,
although it could start with terrorists, drug dealers, or whatever
happens to be that year's most vilified criminals. Short-lived
promises will be made that the technology will only be used on the
"worst of the worst." In fact, the wholesale chipping of incarcerated
individuals will quickly ensue, encompassing people on probation and
on parole.

Even accused individuals will be tagged, a measure justified on the
grounds that it would stop them from fleeing justice. Many prisoners
will welcome this development, since only chipped inmates will be
eligible for parole, weekend release, or community sentences. From the
prison system will emerge an evocative vocabulary distinguishing
chippers from non-chippers.

Although the chips will be justified as a way to reduce fraud and
other crimes, criminals will almost immediately develop techniques to
simulate other people's chip codes and manipulate their data.

The comparatively small size of the incarcerated population, however,
means that prisons would be simply a brief stopover on a longer
voyage. Commercial success is contingent on making serious inroads
into tagging the larger population of law-abiding citizens. Other
stigmatized groups will therefore be targeted. This will undoubtedly
entail monitoring welfare recipients, a move justified to reduce
fraud, enhance efficiency, and ensure that the poor do not receive
"undeserved" benefits.

Once e-commerce is sufficiently advanced, welfare recipients will
receive their benefits as electronic vouchers stored on their
microchips, a policy that will be tinged with a sense of
righteousness, as it will help ensure that clients can only purchase
government-approved goods from select merchants, reducing the always
disconcerting prospect that poor people might use their limited funds
to purchase alcohol or tobacco.

Civil libertarians will try to foster a debate on these developments.
Their attempts to prohibit chipping will be handicapped by the
inherent difficulty in animating public sympathy for criminals and
welfare recipients -- groups that many citizens are only too happy to
see subjected to tighter regulation. Indeed, the lesser public concern
for such groups is an inherent part of the unarticulated rationale for
why coerced chipping will be disproportionately directed at the

The official privacy arm of the government will now take up the issue.
Mandated to determine the legality of such initiatives, privacy
commissioners and Senate Committees will produce a forest of reports
presented at an archipelago of international conferences. Hampered by
lengthy research and publication timelines, their findings will be
delivered long after the widespread adoption of chipping is
effectively a fait accompli. The research conclusions on the
effectiveness of such technologies will be mixed and open to

Officials will vociferously reassure the chipping industry that they
do not oppose chipping itself, which has fast become a growing
commercial sector. Instead, they are simply seeking to ensure that the
technology is used fairly and that data on the chips is not misused.
New policies will be drafted.

Employers will start to expect implants as a condition of getting a
job. The U.S. military will lead the way, requiring chips for all
soldiers as a means to enhance battlefield command and control -- and
to identify human remains. From cooks to commandos, every one of the
more than one million U.S. military personnel will see microchips
replace their dog tags.

Following quickly behind will be the massive security sector. Security
guards, police officers, and correctional workers will all be expected
to have a chip. Individuals with sensitive jobs will find themselves
in the same position.

The first signs of this stage are already apparent. In 2004, the
Mexican attorney general's office started implanting employees to
restrict access to secure areas. The category of "sensitive
occupation" will be expansive to the point that anyone with a job that
requires keys, a password, security clearance, or identification badge
will have those replaced by a chip.

Judges hearing cases on the constitutionality of these measures will
conclude that chipping policies are within legal limits. The thin
veneer of "voluntariness" coating many of these programs will allow
the judiciary to maintain that individuals are not being coerced into
using the technology.

In situations where the chips are clearly forced on people, the
judgments will deem them to be undeniable infringements of the right
to privacy. However, they will then invoke the nebulous and
historically shifting standard of "reasonableness" to pronounce
coerced chipping a reasonable infringement on privacy rights in a
context of demands for governmental efficiency and the pressing need
to enhance security in light of the still ongoing wars on terror,
drugs, and crime.

At this juncture, an unfortunately common tragedy of modern life will
occur: A small child, likely a photogenic toddler, will be murdered or
horrifically abused. It will happen in one of the media capitals of
the Western world, thereby ensuring non-stop breathless coverage. Chip
manufactures will recognize this as the opportunity they have been
anticipating for years. With their technology now largely bug-free,
familiar to most citizens and comparatively inexpensive, manufacturers
will partner with the police to launch a high-profile campaign
encouraging parents to implant their children "to ensure your own
peace of mind."

Special deals will be offered. Implants will be free, providing the
family registers for monitoring services. Loving but unnerved parents
will be reassured by the ability to integrate tagging with other
functions on their PDA so they can see their child any time from any

Paralleling these developments will be initiatives that employ the
logic of convenience to entice the increasingly small group of
holdouts to embrace the now common practice of being tagged. At first,
such convenience tagging will be reserved for the highest echelon of
Western society, allowing the elite to move unencumbered through the
physical and informational corridors of power. Such practices will
spread more widely as the benefits of being chipped become more
prosaic. Chipped individuals will, for example, move more rapidly
through customs.

Indeed, it will ultimately become a condition of using mass-transit
systems that officials be allowed to monitor your chip. Companies will
offer discounts to individuals who pay by using funds stored on their
embedded chip, on the small-print condition that the merchant can
access large swaths of their personal data. These "discounts" are
effectively punitive pricing schemes, charging unchipped individuals
more as a way to encourage them to submit to monitoring. Corporations
will seek out the personal data in hopes of producing ever more fine-
grained customer profiles for marketing purposes, and to sell to other

By this point all major organizations will be looking for
opportunities to capitalize on the possibilities inherent in an almost
universally chipped population. The uses of chips proliferate, as do
the types of discounts. Each new generation of household technology
becomes configured to operate by interacting with a person's chip.

Finding a computer or appliance that will run though old-fashioned
"hands-on"' interactions becomes progressively more difficult and
costly. Patients in hospitals and community care will be routinely
chipped, allowing medical staff -- or, more accurately, remote
computers -- to monitor their biological systems in real time.

Eager to reduce the health costs associated with a largely docile
citizenry, authorities will provide tax incentives to individuals who
exercise regularly. Personal chips will be remotely monitored to
ensure that their heart rate is consistent with an exercise regime.

By now, the actual process of "chipping" for many individuals will
simply involve activating certain functions of their existing chip.
Any prospect of removing the chip will become increasingly untenable,
as having a chip will be a precondition for engaging in the main
dynamics of modern life, such as shopping, voting, and driving.

The remaining holdouts will grow increasingly weary of Luddite jokes
and subtle accusations that they have something to hide. Exasperated
at repeatedly watching neighbours bypass them in "chipped" lines while
they remain subject to the delays, inconveniences, and costs reserved
for the unchipped, they too will choose the path of least resistance
and get an implant.

In one generation, then, the cultural distaste many might see as an
innate reaction to the prospect of having our bodies marked like those
of an inmate in a concentration camp will likely fade.

In the coming years some of the most powerful institutional actors in
society will start to align themselves to entice, coerce, and
occasionally compel the next generation to get an implant.

Now, therefore, is the time to contemplate the unprecedented dangers
of this scenario. The most serious of these concern how even
comparatively stable modern societies will, in times of fear, embrace
treacherous promises. How would the prejudices of a Joe McCarthy, J.
Edgar Hoover, or of southern Klansmen -- all of whom were deeply
integrated into the American political establishment -- have manifest
themselves in such a world? What might Hitler, Mao or Milosevic have
accomplished if their citizens were chipped, coded, and remotely

Choirs of testimonials will soon start to sing the virtues of
implants. Calm reassurances will be forthcoming about democratic
traditions, the rule of law, and privacy rights. History,
unfortunately, shows that things can go disastrously wrong, and that
this happens with disconcerting regularity. Little in the way of
international agreements, legality, or democratic sensibilities has
proved capable of thwarting single-minded ruthlessness.

"It can't happen here" has become the whispered swan song of the
disappeared. Best to contemplate these dystopian potentials before we
proffer the tender forearms of our sons and daughters. While we cannot
anticipate all of the positive advantages that might be derived from
this technology, the negative prospects are almost too terrifying to
contemplate. What might Hitler, Mao or Milosevic have accomplished if
their citizens were chipped, coded, and remotely monitored?

Copyright (c) 2006, Toronto Star Newspapers Limited.