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« Privacy vs. Security | Main | Health Information Technology Summit »


posted by:Ian Kerr // 10:01 AM // July 29, 2005 // Surveillance and social sorting

those who have been following this blog will know of my concern about an uncritical mainstream adoption of human microchip implantation.

in this context, it has been interesting to watch the verichip go mainstream. but when the chief information officer at the
harvard cinical research institute
and one of america's best known bioethicists downplay the privacy considerations, i start to get a bit concerned...

john halamka, an emergency physician and chief info officer, has had a verichip on his shoulder (well, close enough...) for some time now. recently, he was reported as saying: "If a chip could also serve as a GPS, reporting my location, or act as an emergency transponder, requesting rescue, I would definitely upgrade". halamka has made quite a name for himself touting the chip. this week, he published on the subject in the new england journal of medicine.

bioethicist arthur caplan also expressed an interest in the verichip as a medical device. according to caplan:

"You are more likely to die or be harmed by lack of medical information about you than by people knowing too much about your medical information," he says. "In an emergency, it's important for doctors to know what your allergies and medical problems are, who your relatives are and how to reach them, your blood type, and so on."

today caplan was reported as describing those who distrust this application of rfid technology in the following way:

"The idea of putting something in your head or in your arm frightens people and stirs up privacy worries, even if they don't make a lot of sense," he says. "Americans have an almost obsessive drive to protect their personal privacy."

Q - am i "obessed" if i want us to slow down and critically evaluate the implications of implanting devices that can be used to create unique identifiers for individuals and link them to networks of various sorts prior to any decision to adopt them in sensitive areas such as the healthcare setting?

i get it when halamka says that it is easier for emergency docs to do their jobs when they don't have to rely on patients to give them vital information. but isn't it obvious that there is more at play here? wouldn't it also be easier for subway security to do their jobs on the same basis?

what do others think?!

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From an idealistic perspective integrating a technology like Verichip into a pervassive informatics system has a large number of benefits. Healthcare, commerce, and security could be revolutionized with an advanced version of RFID technology. The primary problem would be trust, who guards the guards? As such, if this technology could be made to emulate things like passports and wallets in that you have to offer the information it would be appealing.

while a position must clearly be taken either way on a technology like this I strongly urge the community and anonequity to think about controlling technologies like this as opposed to squashing them. Many of you here will likely be the tools of future policy so the questions to ask are not only should we?/should we not? but how can we?

Posted by: Rob at July 29, 2005 06:20 PM


while i certainly agree that rfid technology promises many benefits, i simply cannot agree that the question, "how can we?" should ever preceed or circumvent the question, "should we?".

it is common to hear people claim that it is "imperative" or "inevitable that we must move forward" with some new technology based on its promise. but i have never been persuaded by these kinds of arguments. tell me *why* we ought to proceed to the "how can we?" question immediately? from what premise does that conclusion follow?!

Posted by: ian at August 1, 2005 10:17 PM

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