July 27, 2006

An interesting but bad idea

My puppy went in for surgery last week to get spayed. When I dropped her off, they asked me if I wanted to get her microchipped as well. I told them she'd been microchipped already when she was a baby. If she ever gets lost, all animal services has to do is pass a scanner over her, and immediately they'll know where she lives, and how to contact me. It got me thinking a little bit... how come we don't microchip humans?

I mean, obviously we have the technology. Aside from the obvious uses, such as identifying lost children and corpses (hopefully not one and the same), they could be used for simple identification. We could do away with licenses alltogether. Want to buy alcohol? Just swipe your wrist under a scanner.

Obviously the majority of the people who would object (unless there's something I'm not thinking of) would be the people who have something to hide. Criminals, illegal immigrants, or kids who want to use fake ID's. Which begs the question: do we really care about what these people want anyway? I certainly don't. In fact, I'm all for making it harder for criminals to hide.

Now, I'm not saying we should go as far as being tracked via satellite from space or anything. No cameras in our home or having our emails read. I'm talking strictly about identification, which we all have to carry anyway. But we have to carry lots of it. Our license, our medical insurance cards, our social security card, emergency contact, etc. How many times have you gone out and forgotten your license? It's happened to me a few times.

What if you were in a car accident alone, knocked unconscious and none of your identification carries some important information, like your blood type or medical allergies? What if the EMT could scan your microchip and have that information immediately, along with family members to call and notify?

You could be chipped at a young age, and when you pass your driver's test, they just update the information in the database to reflect that you are legal to drive. And again, when you turn eighteen, or twenty one, the chip will reflect that.

What about if you had to swipe your chip when buying age restricted materials, and your random chip number was attached to the purchase somehow. So when a mother goes and buys her son a bloody, violent M-rated game, and then turns around and starts bitching that the game is violent, we can go to the record and say "Hey moron, YOU bought it for him. Wake up, you stupid shit."

Like I said, unless you're trying to hide something (and there are no legitimate, legal reasons to carry a fake ID), identification is something we all already deal with. So why not make it easier and more efficient?

It's just something I was thinking about.

If you want to weigh in and discuss (maturely and intelligently, please), instead of emailing me, head over to this forum thread I made. As much as I love getting the email, I end up responding with the same thing over and over and over again, and also nobody but me reads your views. This way you can hear other people's points of view.

Unless everyone agrees with me, which would make for a pretty boring discussion. But that never happens anyway.

--Tim of CAD Comics

     It's one of those arguments that I'm not really sure I can win. What do I mean by that? Arguing against it. It's a slow inevitable tide leading towards a single, nationwide ID system. But this here takes it even further. Why not shove a chip in that can just be scanned conveniently to identify you and everything about you? Allow me to insert a shudder here.
     We'll take a minute to look at the pluses. In a lot of ways, yes, it would be more convenient to be able to be scanned and recognized in terms of identification. You'd be able to buy things like beer, porn, guns, and whatnot without a blink of wonder as to whether or not the ID was fake. Criminal, medical, and educational histories would be immediately available, and greatly increase the speed of background checks for things like jobs, prescription medication, and weaponry. But now let's step back. What are the implications of this?
     So all this information couldn't reasonably be stored on a chip inside your body. Today's technology couldn't hold that much information without being oversized thus presenting an issue of surgical insertion and acceptance by the body. Clearly, there would have to be maintained databases with all this sort of information on it. Your chip would, at best, contain an enormously long identification number of some sort that would be used to access that information on nationwide databases (The chips inside of dogs are so convenient because the only place where they would be scanned is in a pound of some sort, where the information would be immediately accessible because all pounds work on one national database; they only have an identification number on the chip). Now, medical databases are being found continually more useful as coordination increases and everyone submits their information. But as recent scandals have proven, those are hardly secure. Tens of thousands of records were stolen only months ago from a company maintaining databases of veteran soldiers medical information. The scandal was huge in that the information lost included names, addresses, and social security numbers. All of the people involved were now at risk for identity theft, and remain so to this day.
     So lets extrapolate a bit here, shall we? Pretending that we did the most simplistic thing possible, everyone would now contain their social security number in a chip somewhere under their skin. Now we all know that the social security number is incredibly important thing, due to the unprecedented amount of access it gives to someone's life. Now we're wearing it at all times. So, you're sitting in a bar. Sure, now when you want to buy that beer you just swipe your wrist under a scanner and boom, it's yours. Identification with that credit card? Bam! Wrist again. Damn that was convenient. You're feeling like crap though because your girlfriend just dumped you. You start chatting up the guy next to you, and you're having a pretty good conversation when you finally introduce yourself. He introduces himself as John, and offers you a handshake. After having a good evening talking about life you part ways. On the way home you realize your wallet is gone. Oh well, no need to worry, no one else has your wrist, so what can they do? The next few weeks are uneventful, until a policeman shows up with a warrant for your arrest. You're not sure what's going on, but you cooperate. The policeman scans your wrist, and sure enough, it's you. What happened? Identity theft. Faster and easier than ever before. That one handshake? The man had a scanner under his sleeve, and now had all the information he could have ever wanted from you. After checking a few databases, all her had to do was use your information for anything he wanted. And I imagine that if a thief were talented, or had the right connections, you could masquerade as someone else by removing your chip. Anyone else remember "Minority Report"? The eyes are a great form of identification, only if they can't be replaced. Sure, it'd be great until someone figured out how to remove, replace, or alter it.
     Now before anyone suggests it, even if another, equally long and confusing string of numbers replaced the idea of a social security number, the idea still holds. Such a number would come to work like a social security number. Or even if it didn't, the kind of information that you'd have access to would still be prodigious. Easily enough to fake being someone else. Why? The information doesn't come with the chip. It's somewhere else. The chip is just a way of getting to that information. Clearly, if it were used for anything more than just name and age, then the amount of information accessible would expand. An ID would have to simply be an ID and nothing more if you didn't want to deal with identity theft issues. And, even if you couldn't get loans with it, if you could rewrite your own chip (or replace it), they could pass as you when buying guns, alcohol, or porn. Even if they couldn't ruin you directly, they could still do enough damage to ruin your reputation, your credit, your medical information, etc. If you had a prescription for steroids someone could use your name to intercept them. The consequences would be disastrous.
     Beyond that, you have to wonder what percentage of the population would reject that (for medical reasons). There are plenty of people who I would imagine wouldn't be able to receive the chip due to medical complications. What would they do? I imagine that it'd be impossible to collar them, and allowing regular ID would defeat the whole point of the system. And even with a perfect, 100% non-rejectable system, how long could it last? Microchipping is an inexpensive investment as it should last for the life of your dog or cat (from here). Should? At most, an animal would live maybe 25 years (and that would be a very old animal). That would be at best a third of the average person's lifespan? And even then, it's a "should," not a "will." I can't imagine much of any system that would last someone's entire life inside their body.
     The only reason that I suggested that this is an argument that I can't win is because this sort of thing is because there is always a "well then maybe they will make a 100% non-rejectable, life-long implant ID that uses encryption technology that can't be broken, huh? What then!" Which, honestly, I couldn't argue against except that I wouldn't like it. This is just a list of limitations on a system. Theoretically these limitations could be overcome, and then there wouldn't be much argument against it, and though I could explain why, it's only blinding paranoia that would make me not want to do it. I guess I should probably link this in the forum thread... buh.

Posted by Kickmyassman at July 27, 2006 05:20 PM

The whole idea of microchipping humans is just... no.. we don't need it. i can't tell you why, but we just don't.

yes, yes, we already talked about this today :)

Posted by: Melissa at July 28, 2006 02:08 AM

Quite frankly, i think its a brilliant idea. Sure there could be hackers and all that, but there can be hackers for bank accounts too right? its just REALLY REALLY hard because they're so secure. at least i dont hear about it being a problem. same deal could be created here. if the government puts its top people on secure microchips for people, you can bet it'll probly work. and honestly, i seriously doubt that a chip would cause any medical problems, if implanted correctly in surgery.

Posted by: Ben at July 31, 2006 05:48 PM

Well, I don't think the type of ID this cad person described would be the greatest, but I think you're a bit too quick to foreclose on all similar options. What about fingerprinting? They're all unique, and if someone took your fingerprint (from an inkpad or whatever) they still wouldn't have the heat of a human touch that should be required for the ID to pass.

Posted by: Eric at August 2, 2006 01:11 PM

     Unlike a bank account, this system is full of insecurities. The way an RFID chip (I'm assuming this is a passive tag to increase the life to a maximum and to remove the need for a battery) works is that when a scanner (transponder) sends out a radio signal of a certain frequency (this signal would have to be universal or else it wouldn't work as an ID system), and the chip activates, sending out an identifiable signal.
     This signal could, at best, be a series of numbers and letters. Something easily identifiable and repeatable. There's no way to make the system more secure then to assume that most people wouldn't have scanners. At best, you could encrypt the numbers that the chip gave off, but then all you'd have to do is give off the encrypted numbers off another chip and it would work.
     As far as the medical thing goes, I was just saying that it's damn near impossible to have a 100% perfect procedure that wouldn't be rejected by someone. I mean, there are people allergic to sunlight, I can't imagine that there wouldn't be people with poor reactions to this. A good example is women who are allergic to silicone getting implants. Sure, it's good for 99.9% of the people who get it, but what about that .1%? What could we do for people like that? Give them tattoos? I mean, the system would sort of break down if even one person couldn't have the surgery.
     As far as the "hackers for bank accounts" thing, allow me to redirect you to a few sources:
Not as difficult as it would seem. In America, there was a robbery that ended up stealing over $5,000,000 in cash from different ATM machines. I couldn't actually find a link to it, but I believe that to date only one of the members was caught.
     As I said, I can't really win this because if something more "perfect" came along, like iris scanning (but even then think about "Minority Report" again, it's creepy to wear your identification on your sleeve), I doubt I could hold back the tide of support for it. I just don't like the idea of having something that identifies you regardless of whether or not you'd like to be identified. Yeah, we need our ID for a lot of things, deal with being responsible.

Oh, and in case you were wondering? E-passports that use the RFID technology that you're recommending has already been cracked in less than two weeks:

All I can say is I think it's a bad idea.

Posted by: kit at August 3, 2006 11:05 PM
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