The recent abduction of 5-year-old April Jones in the Welsh town, Machynlleth, has sparked much public and media interest as the search for April continues. The abduction has lead to much debate on the social networking site, Twitter, as to whether children should have a GPS microchip implanted at birth.
The question is, will microchipping really help us keep children safe?
Brazilian millionaires are already tagging their children in an attempt to thwart kidnappers, and in the Brazilian city of Vitoria da Conquista, children up to the age of 14 have had electronic chips implanted into their school uniforms by the authorities, in an attempt to combat truancy. The students’ whereabouts are fed into a central computer when school starts, and teaching staff are informed immediately if a child is absent.
Based upon Brazil’s example, it might appear that microchipping could very well be a good idea, particularly as many people now also microchip their beloved pets. The process is quick, and the insertion is simple.
However, microchips have been known to work free of the skin in pets, which could perhaps pose a problem with a more boisterous child. In fact, many pets have still managed to go missing without a trace, despite being microchipped. Bear in mind that April Jones was left to play outside unsupervised, in the belief that the neighbourhood was safe. If microchipping were to become common place, it may lead to further false security, where parents believe that their child is safe because they are both microchipped, and living in a “safe” neighbourhood. This is all the more problematic when one considers the possibility of a microchip working free from the skin as a child is playing, and the possibility that the chip could also be removed surgically by an experienced kidnapper.
At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, if GPS microchipping were to be funded by the NHS, there is perhaps the additional concern of the information possibly being stored on a government database throughout a person’s life, and a concern as to how the information might be used by the authorities in the future, leading to an invasion of privacy.
One could argue that where there is “nothing to hide; there is nothing to fear”. Yet, at a hacker conference in 2006, Annalee Newitz and Jonathan Westhues showed that they had successfully cloned an RFID chip implanted in Newitz. A home-built antenna let the hackers steal the unique ID contained on the chip, which apparently lacks any sort of security device. If a chip can be counterfeited, this might suggest a possibility of the ID implanted under a child’s skin, being stolen by identity thieves – At least in theory.
In-body RFID chips have generated a considerable backlash of protest, and there are claims that the chips cause cancer. Citing a number of animal studies, CASPIAN’s new report, Microchip-Induced Tumors in Laboratory Rodents and Dogs: A Review of the Literature 1990–2006, suggests a causal link between implanted radio-frequency (RFID) microchip transponders, and cancer in laboratory rodents and dogs. The report claims that in almost all cases, the malignant tumors, typically sarcomas, arose at the site of the implants and grew to surround and fully encase the devices. The report also claimed that the tumors were malignant and fast-growing, often leading to the death of the afflicted animals, and claimed that the implants were “unequivocally identified as the cause” of the cancers.
The report recommends that any further microchipping of humans be immediately discontinued; and that all implanted patients be informed in writing of the research findings and offered a procedure for microchip removal.
There are also a number of additional risks that the FDA already recognises, such tissue reactions, chip migration within the body, and the possibility of the chip carrying a current from MRI magnets resulting in burns.
If I can interject my own opinion, I would suggest that the under-skin microchipping of children is over-hyped, and until more research is undertaken, should not be implemented anytime soon – if at all. Although a very young child is not legally competent to consent to the procedure, and the decision is that of the parent; is it ethical to implant a microchip, given the potential risks, and the likelihood that the child will wish for it to be removed later in their life? Furthermore, as long as there are people who wish to harm children, it is unlikely that such perpetrators will be deterred by implanted chips. It is, therefore, crucial that parents teach their children not to speak to strangers when not accompanied by a guardian, and for parents to keep a close eye on their children.