Posted on Sun, Mar. 10, 2002 - 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
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
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
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
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
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,
''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
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
''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
''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
Derek, 14, dislikes wearing his silver medical alert
bracelet because children at school can tell that he suffers
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.''