Volunteers to be injected with chips carrying medical histories

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The Independent US

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction nightmares: humans injected with a computer chip that can read their most intimate secrets like a supermarket barcode.

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction nightmares: humans injected with a computer chip that can read their most intimate secrets like a supermarket barcode.

But today in southern Florida it will become reality, and the eight guinea pigs undergoing the procedure are doing so entirely voluntarily.

The idea behind the so-called VeriChip, developed by a Palm Beach company called Applied Digital Solutions, is essentially benign. It will enable doctors receiving patients in an emergency to get an instant read-out of their medical history and so guide them in their treatment.

The volunteers, who will have the chip, the size of a grain of rice, stamped into their upper backs just below the surface of the skin, are mostly older people with complicated medical histories. One is an 83-year-old man in the early stages of Alzheimer's who can't be sure he will remember to tell doctors everything they need to know about him.

They also include a family, the Jacobs of Boca Raton, who decided to get "chipped" together. Jeff Jacobs is having cancer therapy, while his wife, Leslie, and teenage son Derek, a computer freak, are going along for the ride. ABC's Good Morning America will broadcast the procedure live to millions across the country.

Civil liberties advocates are concerned that a medical chip is a step down a dangerous road towards institutionalised control. Marc Rotenberg, of the Electronic Privacy Information Centre, said in an interview with The Los Angeles Times: "Who gets to decide who gets chipped? Parents will decide that their kids should be implanted, or maybe their own ageing parents. It's an easier way to manage someone, like putting a leash on a pet."

Leslie Jacobs pooh-poohed such arguments in a commentary for USA Today. "Nobody's forcing us to use the chip," she wrote. "The database will only contain information that we want to be made available, and we will control who has access to that information and under what circumstances."

The controversy has done nothing but good to Applied Digital's stock, which has quadrupled in recent weeks from around 25 cents (17p) a share to around $2 (£1.40). Although today's trial chip injections are free, the company will charge $200 for the procedure and a further $10 a month for storing the relevant data.

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