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What arguments can be made in favour of implanting RFID chips in people – for example, the elderly – for identification or monitoring purposes?




Photo of hand with implanted RFID chip, next to RFID reader. Source: Amal Graafstra (ishmell) (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In November 2004, the US Food and Drug Administration granted the company Applied Digital Solutions a permit to test its VeriChip RFID chip on volunteers. The chip’s possible applications range from simple identity checks, for example to pass through a barrier, to storing patient information.
The use of these chips in humans is highly controversial. For one thing, health risks have not yet been completely ruled out. In animals, for example, chip implants have been linked to the development of cancers. Another reason is that the chips can be read without the “carrier” even knowing. Unauthorised persons could thus track a user’s every move and access his or her health records.
In principle, all of us should have the right to decide what information we make available to others, and none of us should be implanted with a chip against our will. So what are the advantages of these chips? Why might they need to be implanted?
A group that could stand to benefit are elderly people with certain potentially life-threatening health problems. A wristband with an integrated RFID chip would enable them to have all the necessary information about their condition with them at all times. RFID chips could also be used to keep track of patients with dementia or other conditions that affect thinking and memory.
Whatever the applications, it is crucial that users are well informed about how the chips will be used and what consequences they might have. Introducing chip implantations would also raise IT and data security issues, and these would need to be clarified in advance. Stored and transferred data would have to be encrypted to ensure their confidentiality.

Susann Beetz from the Ideas 2020-Team answered this question in collaboration with Dirk Bungard, member of staff at the office of the Federal Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information.