The ethical issue of using maicrochips in humans - Ethics Essay Example




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The Use of Microchips

It is important to realize that the use of microchips is in its rudimental stages when it comes to using it on humans, while the number of people who have any kind of microchip implanted in them could be only in the few thousands, and at this point it is completely voluntary.  Many state legislators had come up with laws that will make it illegal for anyone to make implanting microchips mandatory and some of them had laid a penalty of $10,000 for everyday it is made mandatory. [1] The 2005 Wisconsin Act 482, passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Jim Doyle on May 30, 2006 prohibits the required implanting of microchips in humans. [2]

Other than that, microchips had been in use with a considerable number that had surpassed several millions on animals for the sole purpose of tracking them when they stray from their owners and it had made the tracking process very simple.  The microchip is implanted inside the animals and what would be decoded on it is the name and the address of the owners, which could be easily scanned, whereby identifying who the exact owner is possible.  When extending the use of microchips to humans some of their use had been to track lost children and confused Alzheimer’s patients.  There is an effort that had undergone to extend it to some workplaces to distinguish illegal immigrants, criminals, and authorized staff. Even if not in a large scale it had been in use for medical purposes where at least what kind of ailment a patient could be suffering from and if the patient has certain allergies could be kept on record under a digital tag decoded on a chip, and it could be scanned at a time of an accident and the like.
Human Use
The idea of using microchips in humans has its appeals because it simplifies many procedures, especially as the complication of the microchip manufacturing technology advances.  In all this if there is anything that is feared to be compromised might be privacy, where there is a possibility that the procedure could be abused, and that stage has not been reached yet simply because the technology is still evolving to make it there.  That would only happen when the amount and genre of information decoded on the chips escalates and when microchips pack the capability of tracking people’s movement.  Currently, what can be accomplished is it had been made possible to insert a grain sized chip that is coated with biocompatible glass using a syringe that was found not to be painful, between the shoulder blades of animals and on the arm or teeth of humans.  This will make the scanning easy and could be done from a close range, where with the right kind of scanner the information decoded on the transponder chip could be scanned and displayed on a screen.  This technology till date has not shown any complication except that even if it had become a lucrative business it is still unregulated.  If there had been any shortcoming reported those that manufacture the microchips come up with their own scanners obstructing the standardizing of the tool, making it difficult to find out if the stray animals had the chips implanted in them or not, and for the obvious reason the chip will not emit signal for the wrong scanner.  The other fear is since the technology is new its long-term effect is not known.

There had already been microchips implanted in teeth so that by scanning the teeth area it is possible to see whatever had been decoded on a screen.  Carrying microchips on a tag had been in limited use serving as an identity since reading it using a scanner is possible.  These kinds of microchips are the earliest generation and do not have power of their own except that they can be activated by low frequency radio waves emitting whatever information they are encoded with, which could be scanned and displayed on a screen or serve any purpose intended for them at the time of manufacturing them such as giving access to certain areas etc.  The smart version of such microchips had been in use with breast implants and heart transplant patients where they were used to report the device’s functioning status or they can spot if any adverse problem develops. [3]
FDA’s Involvement
Hughes Aircraft had gotten the approval of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the earliest version of a device used for medical purposes where these read only chips were used to record the medical history of patients.  Such devices can only be read from a foot away but the possibility that they could be read from a distance as long as they had the battery power had been stipulated the stage where questioning the ethical nature of such devices might come into play.  Even at this early stage when they are read-only, anyone who has the scanning device could access the information decoded on them where those who are carrying the implants had no means of blocking any unwarranted excursion. Assuming that the information carried on the microchips could be sensitive, which is possible in the case of a medical record that would be vulnerable since anyone can access it using the right device.  The ethical question raised in such circumstances could be that not many patients would like to carry their medical record on their sleeves for everyone to see.

Furthermore, as it was contemplated if such chips are used to carry someone’s identity card such as a Social Security Number (SSN) it is not difficult to imagine the kind of problem that would ensue since it will not be difficult to make the decoding devices.  There had been suggestions made to fend off such speculations where it is possible to make it difficult for others with no authority to access such personal information and one suggestion put forward was to encode unique physical characteristics or biometrics identifiers that require a means of an inherent validating method.  Therefore, many adverse possibilities had been highlighted that will make such a system unworkable because it would make people vulnerable to many abuses even if, especially in the U.S., such a system is believed to hold the solution for the illegal immigration problem and numerous criminal activities.  But till date that had not been possible, simply because in the case of the migrant workers, even if it might be possible to facilitate the controlling process, once inside the country they can remove the chip and could disappear.
The Stage Microchips are At
The advanced level of the microchip could be the one that would have a read-write capability where the encoded information could be changed from outside without changing the microchip and the area that is considered for such use is in the medical history of patients where any development could be recorded so that the recent information will be available on the microchip itself, instead of on a remote record as it is now.   Another area that will be impacted with such introduction would be the financial history of individuals where they can carry their financial records wherever they go, to the point where they might not need a card when approaching an ATM other than entering a simple instruction when they are prompted after being recognized by the ATM.  Banks had been working to come up with smart cards that will facilitate their interaction with their clients and this might avail them one venue.  Extending the use to many areas including payroll, loan management, investment management etc is under consideration.  However, the ethical issue of exposing individuals for all sorts of possibilities is out there too, where anyone could get that information by simply scanning the implanted microchip, even if it might be possible to avoid that by introducing complicated encoding or encrypting system.  When such capability is at hand those who have a bad public record could be obligated to have the implanted microchips, and it could make things easier for law enforcement officers and employers, but that can also be abused because there is no reason why there will not be a source that will be able to change the record or replace it with another microchip, which means the chips will have to carry something unique about the individuals that cannot be easily altered, such as fingerprints.  [4]

It does not mean there will not be other uses where those who have the microchip with write-read implanted in them could have advantage whereas when making payment is involved since the transaction could be recorded for simply going through the normal procedure that they were used to, such as walking in and walking out of a store carrying the products they want without paying at the cashier, or using filling stations might be the same where all they have to do is fill their tank and drive away and the amount will automatically be deducted from their account.  The same could apply while using airlines, buses, and trains, where people can simply go through doors without using any medium of exchange and all along the transactions they incur would come of their account through the implanted microchip that is capable of read-write and can keep track of their financial activity.  This and more could be some of the advantages that will be available when the technology is developed, but the problem might be there are going to be areas people will have to avoid or will have to be extra careful with so that they will not be charged by mistake, not a serious problem though since all the precautions will be put in place as everyone is going to work in concert.  Yet, it is also possible to conceptualize that there would always be someone who will try to abuse such possibilities and the safety mechanisms could always be thought of as they occur or in advance.
The most Advanced Stage
The third stage is the one that everyone is cringing about simply because ethics could be breached and what that would mean is like so many things that are working seamlessly those who are in charge of such processes will have to be trusted or they have to be heavily regulated.  And that technology is read-write and tracking, which means in addition to the above mentioned capabilities, such devices could be made to emit radio signals enabling others to track and pinpoint the exact location the signal is originating from.   There is no denying some of the advantages here where the case of children could be one where it will make a lot of difference when they are lost or are in danger.  The same applies for pets or animals although the level of the technology is at currently is not capable of doing that, but it had been possible quite a while back to track lost items such as cars for example, or a stolen laptop, and in one case a stolen cash had been tracked down successfully not because the notes had the microchips embedded in them a process that is in the making, but a teller put such a tracking device in the cash when the bank was robbed and police were able to track the individual who got away with the money with a relative ease.

There is no doubt that it could do wonders with criminals that are required to be confined in their house or within a certain area, which will do a much better job than the existing technology that is dependant on a telephone system that could be disrupted if there is a line failure.  However, the ethical issue could also be prevalent here because individuals with no criminal record will lose their privacy as their whereabouts could be spotted from anywhere on the planet that being the advanced stage of the microchip that is planned to be integrated with the Global Positioning System (GPS) in the future, which means those who will be forced to carry such implants could lose their privacy to whoever is making the implanting such a device mandatory and most probably even if the technology had not reached their yet that might be why some state legislatures had been coming up with laws the would forbid making microchip implanting mandatory.
The latest development in RFID came in the year 2004 when the FDA approved a microchip named VeriChip, manufactured by Applied Digital Solutions that involved a microchip the size of a grain of rice that can be implanted in the triceps area for medical purposes.  The procedure is simple, painless, it is an outpatient procedure, and it takes a few minutes to insert the chip using a syringe and a local anesthetic.  Once inserted in the body the microchip is not visible for the bare eye.  All the chip contains for now is a 16 digit number to identify the patient and after scanning the number whoever is in charge could access the medical history using the Internet, which shows the rudimentary stage that it is at. [5] The device now costs $200 for anyone who wants to use it who will have to cover the cost of the physician that will implant it, as well as a $10 monthly fee for database maintenance.   At the time of the implanting those who are agreeing with the procedure will have to come up with what they want to use it for and it works only to emit a number that could be scanned at this stage.  It is very difficult to see the ethical conflict early on since it is voluntary, but depending on what had been decoded on the chip when things get advanced, when its use for financial purposes or as an ID is reached, it is possible that there could be some abuse in the making because anyone that has the decoding scanner could access the 16 digit number or the other information that will be decoded on the chips in the future.  Even for that, there might be simple mechanisms that could cloak the chip when it is not in need or developing a mechanism to make it inaccessible might be possible.  [6]


Hitachi’s RFID Introduction

The recent development in RFID tags technology seems to originate from Hitachi that had developed chips that measure .05 x .05 in diameter and can store a unique 38 digit number that had already been used to prevent ticket forgery, as well as could be inserted inside numerous items eventually being capable of preventing forgery and theft from stores and the like.  The other surprising introduction is the one that is in a powder form and all it requires is spreading or applying it to a given area.   That could be done on many items such as bank notes for example, or on an illegal political rally where it could be spread as good as any other powder and those that had attended the rally could easily be tracked down.  Here again it is possible to see the ethical issue surfacing, but it always depends on what it is used for.  For example, it has a better use at the boarder where it is possible to bring those who cross the boarder in contact with the substance and tracking them down will be easy.   Suspected terrorists will find it difficult to conceal their movement and contacts since tracking will be easy by simply throwing a small amount of the powder at them.  [7]

Whenever the measure is taken against illegal activities and is not implanted inside of humans there might not be an ethics question to be worried about, but the possibility is if the powder fall in the wrong hand still its use could be abused.  It had also been made possible to implant the tiny microchips in the finger tips of humans to use them as an identifying mechanism and still all the advanced chip can hold is a 38 digit number that will have to be inserted into other programs to access the information tagged to it, revealing the risk is not still high since such information could be made safe.  But the ethical question will kick in when individuals have no more privacy because of the tracking device implanted in their body that could emit an electric signal showing their exact location. Applied Digital Solutions that had claimed to come up with such chips to be implanted in children, to track them down when they are lost that is expected to work in tandem with the GPS has not yet made it to the market revealing that there are still some technological hurdles to overcome.  But companies such as Wal-Mart and Gillette have claimed to embed RFID into some of their products would mean people who are buying those products could be tracked as long as those microchips are embedded in the items they pick.  If the chips are embedded inside clothing it is difficult to demagnetize them, but it might be possible to crash them if they are spotted, but that might not either be easy, and some have even suggested mircowaving the items might destroy the chips.  This shows people are already worried about their privacy that could be invaded by the products they pick form the various stores and it is needless to count them since some of them such as watches, jewelry, all sorts of clothing could travel with the owners everywhere.  It is possible to powder a car for a wrongful tracking, yet since most car owners are installing a tracking device to avoid theft those who are in charge of the operation could abuse their position.[8]


Digital Angel

Through all what goes on in the microchip industry there are chips that are vying for acceptance and one of them is Digital Angel that claims it will do all of the things that had been touched on so far.  The way it claims to do it when it achieves the technological capability is by sending signal to cell phone towers and satellites, and anyone that has the frequency could access those signals. For now what smart chips implanted in patients with devices such as breast implant and mechanical hearts can send out are temperature, pulse, heartbeat, insulin level etc.  It might not be difficult to extend that to other uses that will raise the ethical question, simply because it might not be safe since sensitive information could easily be accessed.  [9]



Another chip emulating to generate interest is called VeriPay that is promising to avail a fraud-proof payment system for those who are using credit cards and might become a much better substitute to smart cards that are subject to theft.  Here also an insider could do more damage even if the chips are not visible for the bare eye, but they can be removed and used in the exact same way the original owner could be using them, endangering human life.  Or if they become to be used on a large scale everyone could be a target and crimials could get away with much worse information if they succeed, because credit cards are protected with pins that might be difficult to extract from the owner.  The level of mayhem could be serious where contracting life-threatening infection is possible at the time of trying to remove the chips.



The conclusion is at this point in time the technology is evolving and all it can do currently is display a 16 or a 38 digit number in the case of the one manufactured by Hitachi, and that number will have to be inserted somewhere into a computer to retrieve wherever the data related to it is being kept and there are other few uses mentioned that have a medical nature although their effectiveness is not proven thoroughly. [10] Other than that, the use of chips currently is only to track pets and animals, children, and those who are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for the most part and for medical record keeping in humans.  Nevertheless, the microchip’s potential is considerable and it is emulating to become a sophisticated device with a read-write capability where programming it to record any change that is communicated to it is possible.  Once that stage is successfully attained the other anticipated stage that is causing fear is the chip could have power to emit signals about its whereabouts, making those who are implanted with it vulnerable for tracking that will invade their privacy and transgress their constitutional right.  There are a few state legislatures that have made it illegal to make microchip implanting mandatory where some of them have put in place a fine of $10,000 for anyone caught doing so.

The other problem emanates from the vulnerability that might come into existence simply because anyone with the scanning and signal receiving device could detect and obtain the information decoded on the chips without the knowledge of those who have the microchip implanted in them making appearing in public places difficult and any kind of damage could be inflicted.  The damage could also get worse when the chip has the ability of read-write because anyone with the right tool can alter the information to serve any desired purpose.  Hence, the ethical issue is focused on the invading of peoples privacy that could be done without implanting the chip inside the body as it was demonstrated where RFID could be embedded into the day to day products people pick from the various stores and if there is the need they could be tracked using their credit card number.







1.      Senator introduces bill to criminalize human microchipping.  Retrieved from the Web.  March 31, 2007.

2.      Human Microchip Implantation. Retrieved from the Web.  March 31, 2007.

3.      Human Microchip Implantation. Retrieved from the Web.  March 31, 2007.

4.      Under the Skin ID Chips. Retrieved from the Web.  March 31, 2007.

5.      FDA Approves RFID Chips for Humans. Retrieved from the Web.  March 31, 2007.

6.      Implantable Chip for Sale now. Retrieved from the Web.  March 31, 2007.

7.      The Mark of the Beast. Hitachi. Retrieved from the Web.  March 31, 2007.

8.      RFID Tags.  Big Brother in Small Packages. Retrieved from the Web.  March 31, 2007.

9.      Health Care Chips Under Your Skin. Retrieved from the Web.  March 31, 2007.

10.  The Future of Chips. Retrieved from the Web.  March 31, 2007.






















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