They Want Their ID Chips Now
By Julia Scheeres
2:00 a.m. Feb. 6, 2002 PST
Meet the Jacobs family: Jeffrey, Leslie and their son, Derek. They're a fairly typical American family, middle class and ambitious. The father is a dentist, the mother is an account executive at an interior design magazine and the 14-year-old son plays jazz and tinkers with computers in his spare time.
But one thing may soon make the Jacobses stand out: They could become the first family in the world to be implanted with microchips that contain their personal information.
The chip in question, the VeriChip, is similar to the biochips that have been used to identify pets and livestock for years.
Made by Applied Digital Solutions (ADS), the VeriChip stores six lines of text and is slightly larger than a grain of rice. It emits a 125-kHz radio frequency signal that can be picked up by a special scanner up to four feet away.
The company initially plans to market the chip in the United States as a medical device that would allow hospital workers to simply scan a patient's body in an emergency situation to access their health record.
The Jacobses, who live in Boca Raton, Florida, first heard about the microchip in a television news report.
" Derek stood up and said, 'I want to be the first kid to be implanted with the chip,' " Leslie Jacobs said. " For the next few days all he did was talk about the VeriChip. "
Derek, an eighth-grader who became a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer at age 12, fantasizes about merging humans and machines. Jeffrey Jacobs, who is severely disabled, was interested in the device for health reasons. So Leslie called up Palm Beach-based ADS and offered her family as guinea pigs once the microchip is approved for testing by the FDA.
ADS chief technology officer Keith Bolton said he was a bit wary about the family's motives at first, but the Jacobses quickly convinced him they'd be perfect subjects. Since the VeriChip was announced in December, the company has been bombarded with queries from people interested in the device, Bolton said.
" Right now we have over 2,000 kids who have e-mailed, wanting to have the chip implanted, " he said. " They think it's cool. "
Derek, for one, dreams of a day when he'll be able log onto his computers or unlock his house and turn on the lights without lifting a finger, functions that British professor Kevin Warwick was able to do in a 1998 experiment with an implanted microchip.
Derek was also inspired by Richard Seelig, the company's director of medical applications, who injected two VeriChips into himself after hearing stories of rescue workers at the World Trade Center scrawling their names and Social Security numbers onto their bodies in case they didn't make it out of the rubble alive.
" I think it's one more step in the evolution of man and technology, " said Derek, who once needed to move into the family room after his electronics equipment crowded his bedroom. " There are endless possibilities for this. "
(Currently the chip is immutable once the device is injected via a syringe, using local anesthetic. In future applications, the chip may include a GPS receiver and other advanced features, company officials said.)
Jeffrey, a 48-year-old cancer survivor, has more practical reasons for wanting the VeriChip.
" If something happens to me and there's no one that knows anything about my medical history, any paramedic or hospital worker, if they have the scanner -- which hopefully everyone will have at some point –- will be able to scan all my information, " he said. " It could save my life. "
Leslie, 46, said she was motivated by security concerns. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks hit close to home: Her family lives in South Florida, where authorities say 14 of the 19 hijackers lived. Her office is a block away from tabloid publisher American Media, where a photo editor died after contracting anthrax.
The world would be a safer place if authorities had a tamper-proof way of identifying people, she said.
" I have nothing to hide, so I wouldn't mind having the chip for verification, " Leslie Jacobs said. " I already have an ID card, so why not have a chip? "
Pilots could be chipped and scanned before they entered the cockpit, she suggested, to ensure the person sitting at the controls was indeed an airline employee. Her husband went further, suggesting that violent criminals and known terrorists should be routinely chipped as a matter of policy.
The idea of requiring people to be implanted was brought up by Applied Digital Solutions CEO Richard Sullivan in an interview with the Palm Beach Post, in which he suggested microchips be used to track foreigners visiting the United States. (The company has since downplayed his comments.)
But an X-Files-type scheme where everyone is forcibly marked and monitored by the government worries both civil libertarians and Christians, who believe new technologies such as biometrics and biochips may be the feared " Mark of the Beast " of Biblical lore that is described in Revelations 13:16:
" He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead, so that no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of his name. "
Gary Wohlscheid, the president of The Last Day Ministries –- a group espousing the belief that humanity is on the verge of an apocalyptic showdown between the forces of good and evil –- believes the VeriChip could be this mark. Although the chip is not yet small enough to be injected into the forehead or right hand at the moment, it could be in the future, he said.
" Out of all the technologies with potential to be the mark of the beast, the VeriChip has got the best possibility right now, " he said. " It's definitely not the final product, but it's a step toward it. Within three to four years, people will be required to use it. Those that reject it will be put to death. "
Wohlscheid felt so strongly about this possibility that he created a Web page to warn others of the microchip's evil potential.
To quell Christians' fears, Bolton, the Jacobses and a theologian recently appeared on the 700 Club, hosted by televangelist Pat Robertson.
Privacy expert Richard Smith scoffed at the Jacobses' plans.
" Sounds like a publicity stunt and nothing more, " he said. " Being chipped today has no value because hospitals and the police don't have the reader units. "
Although the VeriChip is awaiting FDA approval in the United States, the company recently announced a deal to market the chips to potential kidnap victims living in South America, such as corporate executives. The device could be used to identify abduction victims who are unable to communicate with their rescuers because they are unconscious, drugged or, in a worst-case scenario, dead.
The company hopes to get the FDA green light in the next couple of months. When and if that happens, the Jacobses would be among the first subjects to receive the VeriChip, company officials said.