Nathan Isaacson of Tamarac is one of 2,500 people who want to get computer chips implanted in their bodies.
The 83-year-old is in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. If he wanders off or gets hurt, family members worry that medical workers won't know who he is or that he's allergic to penicillin. Or that he has a recently implanted pacemaker.
The solution to such emergencies, says Palm Beach-based Applied Digital Solutions, is the VeriChip.
The $200 microchip can be encoded with information such as a person's name and Social Security number and a list of medical allergies, then injected under the skin. Emergency room workers would then use scanners to read the chip.
''It might sound regimental, but aren't we in that type of world these days?'' said Isaacson's wife, Micki.
Applied Digital is not the only company implanting computer chips.
MicroCHIPS, in Cambridge, Mass., makes products that deliver medicine to the body; AVID, in Norco, Calif., tracks pets implanted with its microchips; and Trovan, in Santa Barbara, Calif., has implantable transponders in more than 300 zoos worldwide.
For all the arguments against chip implants turning people into human LoJacks, the fate of kidnapped Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is an example of how safety issues may override privacy concerns. Richard Sullivan, chief executive officer of Applied Digital Solutions, also suggests another application: helping to track undocumented immigrants.
The problem could be solved, he said, if ``people were required to be chipped or had some combination of a device requiring them to be scanned and monitored at all times.'' ''I think it's not unreasonable to ask people who want to come to work in the country that they respect the rights of people who are citizens in the United States,'' Sullivan said.
VeriChip is the next step in the evolution of another Applied Digital product called Digital Angel, a pager-like gadget that uses global positioning system (GPS) tracking to keep tabs on people, and biosensors that monitor vital signs. Digital Angel can be turned off by the wearer or by an administrator, depending on how it's programmed. VeriChip can be removed only surgically.
Los Angeles County parolees are being monitored by Digital Angel through a three-year pilot program. Implanted microchips currently track more than 86,000 pets in Florida, as well as livestock and zoo animals. Experts predict that if trackable chip implants become widely available, there will be a long line of military personnel, diplomats, corporate executives, foreign correspondents and celebrities waiting to ``get chipped.''
This month, Brazilian government official Antonio de Cunha Lima, the first distributor of the VeriChip in Brazil, will be implanted with the chip.
Even famous curmudgeon Andy Rooney is pro-chip.
''We need some system for permanently identifying safe people,'' Rooney said in a 60 Minutes commentary on CBS. ``Most of us are never going to blow anything up, and there's got to be something better than one of [those] photo IDs -- a tattoo somewhere, maybe.
``I wouldn't mind having something planted permanently in my arm that would identify me.''
But not everyone will want to become a human bar code.
''If a government ever requires a technology like this on a segment of its population, then I think it's going to be very provocative,'' said Stephen Keating, executive director of the Denver-based Privacy Foundation.
For example, airlines could encourage demand for chips by allowing people with implants to get faster security clearance. ''It can become commercially coercive,'' Keating said.
Before there is widespread acceptance, VeriChip needs to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States -- a process that could take up to 18 months. And the company may have a tough time convincing hospitals and ambulance and pharmaceutical companies, which would have to buy scanners, of the chip's medical value.
Applied Digital needs FDA approval sooner rather than later. Amid a major corporate restructuring, the company has lost more than $267 million in the past year.
The company also faces competition. A Boca Raton plastic surgeon says he has created an implantable device -- the size of a quarter -- that can monitor missing children, parolees, Alzheimer's patients and valuables.
''We hope this will be on the market within the year,'' said Dr. Daniel Man, who patented the device in 1987 and has been working on it since.
At Applied Digital's offices on Royal Palm Way, Vice President Keith Bolton demonstrates the product by waving a scanner two to three inches from the microchip, which can hold up to 128 characters. In nanoseconds, an identification number appears on the screen.
Bolton then checks a handheld electronic device, scrolling down the screen to find out the person's name, eye color and medical allergies, the name of the patient's pacemaker manufacturer, the model number, the date it was installed, and the company's phone number.
The chip, which is manufactured in Spain, will be encoded before being implanted, but the information could be updated using remote access. The company plans to charge hospitals and ambulance services a monthly fee for access to a database, Bolton said. ''The assets we've developed through this technology are so significant it's going to be the savior of the company,'' said Scott Silverman, who was appointed president of Applied last week.
The company's plans for the chip were accelerated when Dr. Richard Seelig, Applied's medical applications director, inserted two chips -- one in his right forearm, the other in his right hip -- on Sept. 16. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he thought such a device could help identify bodies of victims.
''I would want my healthcare givers to have as much information about me,'' Seelig said. ``You're gushing information, not trying to restrain access to them.''
About 2,500 people have contacted Applied Digital to ''get chipped.'' As part of a pilot study, 50 volunteers -- including Nathan Isaacson -- will be injected with the VeriChip, measuring nearly half an inch long and less than one-tenth of an inch in diameter. A doctor will apply a local anesthetic, insert the needle containing the chip, and put on an adhesive bandage.
The Jacobs family of Boca Raton can't wait to become ``the Chipsons.'' ''It's kind of like Star Trek,'' said Leslie Jacobs, an advertising executive at Florida Design magazine. Waving her hand, she added: ``Dr. Spock will go like this and know your medical history.''
Derek, 14, dislikes wearing his silver medical alert bracelet because children at school can tell that he suffers from allergies.
The VeriChip will replace the different types of identification used, the family says. And, unlike your wallet, it can't be stolen. Said Jeffrey Jacobs, who suffers from several illnesses, including Hodgkin's disease: ``I think it's going to increase privacy.''
How could ADS ever hope to make $100 billion with this new technology? By implanting it in every human being in the world. And how could that be done? At vaccination time, of course.
Let's see now. The application is buying and selling. The technology is implantable. The plans are global.
This sounds remarkably like something I read in Revelation 16-18: "And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six."
Digital Angel? Sounds more like we could be entering the age of the Digital Devil.
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