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U.S. Military To Be Tagged With Spychips?

Ex-HHS Chief Thompson Now Peddling Spychips
By Martin H. Bosworth

If microchip maker VeriChip has its way, the armed forces will soon be trading in their dogtags for radio-frequency identifier (RFID) microchips, implanted under the skin and containing all of their medical and personal information.

The company is lobbying the Pentagon for the authority to implant RFID tags in virtually all military personnel, according to a series of articles in The Examiner, a Washington, D.C., newspaper.

VeriChip's plans are meeting opposition from veterans' groups, members of Congress, and privacy advocates, all of whom are concerned about the technology and its potential security risks.

Leading the company's charge is former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, now a lobbyist. Thompson, who sits on VeriChip's board of directors, insists that the chip is safe and that no one will be forced to have the procedure.

Thompson has boasted repeatedly that he plans to have a chip inserted in himself to demonstrate its safety. He hasn't yet done so, however.

Although Thompson and VeriChip have repeatedly claimed that RFID technology is safe and secure against potential hackers and data thieves, a recent investigation by Wired magazine editor Annalee Newitz proved otherwise.

Newitz, who has a chip embedded in her arm, demonstrated that RFID chips can be "read" by other devices at a hackers' conference in New York on July 22nd.

Newitz and colleague Jonathan Westhues showed how a laptop could be used to record the data off her RFID chip, and that a standard RFID reader would read the data off the laptop as if it were one and the same. "{The RFID chip} actually has no security devices whatsoever," Newitz said.

VeriChip contested Newitz's findings, saying it wished to review the data itself.

With Thompson calling in political favors and cashing in on his years on the public payroll, the Department of Defense isn't the only arm of the government interested in VeriChip's RFID push.

The Department of Homeland Security issued a request for information on how to find or create stronger RFID readers that could actively sense chips implanted in passports and other traveler information.

The Homeland Security request was uncovered by privacy advocates Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre, founders of anti-loyalty card organization CASPIAN and largely credited with bringing the issue of RFID chips to the mainstream.

McIntyre and Albrecht also uncovered a covert move by the Levi Strauss company to quietly test jeans implanted with spychips in the United States. The resulting public furor forced the company to back off from its plans.

Albrecht and McIntyre have repeatedly challenged the usage of RFID tagging for consumer products, claiming that it gives corporations the ability to track shoppers' buying patterns and build information profiles of them.

They have also criticized the government for embracing the usage of RFID technology without proper oversight or privacy protections.

Several members of Congress voiced similar concerns over VeriChip's potential deal with the Pentagon. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) told The Examiner that, "There are many questions that need answers" before the initative can be approved.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), chair of the House Government Reform Committee, told his staff to investigate VeriChip's proposal and examine it for any potential concerns about privacy.

VeriChip, with an initial public offering for its stock pending, is aggressively pushing as many new markets for its technology as possible. VeriChip chairman Scott Silverman ruffled feathers when he publicly suggested undocumented laborers could be implanted with RFID chips as part of President Bush's "guest worker" proposals.

Wisconsin governor Jim Doyle recently signed into law a statewide ban on implanting microchips of any sort into humans. The law, introduced by state assemblyman Marlin Schneider and passed unanimously, levies a fine of $10,000 per day on anyone who forces an individual to be implanted without their permission.

Ironically, Verichip peddler Tommy Thompson was governor of Wisconsin before his tenure as a one-term Secretary of Health and Human Services.