Sunday, April 25, 2010

Why we keep losing privacy

An article at TalkingPointsMemo starts this way:
At the intersection of political paranoia and old-fashioned, clinical paranoia you'll find microchips.
The article concerns moves in eight states over the past few years to ban any forced subcutaneous implantation of tracking microchips in humans. Three of those states have already passed bills to do just that.

But as you can surely tell from that opening sentence, the entire attitude of the article (and most of the accompanying comments) is one of snickering derision. Besides the references to paranoia (and opening the article by referring to a woman who insists she was forcibly implanted by the DOD in her "vaginal-rectum area"), the author, one Eric Lach, calls such implants a "still-essentially-hypothetical problem" and "a problem that doesn't actually exist yet." He points to outlandish arguments raised by the opponents of chipping (such as tying microchips to the End Times) and cites a couple of the weakest arguments advanced by one concerned group while ignoring the actual cases of attempts at or proposals for widespread chipping found in that same list.

He is, in short, an oh-so reasonable, oh-so serious, oh-so sober commentator attempting - and failing - to suppress a bemused smile at the antics of the wackos.

But here's the rub: There is no question that the technology to track via microchip exists; Lach himself tacitly admits as much. In fact, it's already in widespread use: Just give a thought to your mobile phone. And there have been serious proposals to apply that technology directly to humans. Usually it's for the person's own good (of course) - such as in Alzheimer's patients or "wanderers" in nursing homes or mental hospitals. Unless it's for the public good and safety (of course) - such as for parolees or people under house arrest or truant children (who might run away) or people in prison (who might escape) or people on temporary visas (who might overstay).

Then there is the idea of implanted microchips for identification, ones that carry information about you. Just think of the benefits! You're unconscious after a car wreck, unable to identify yourself or say who to call. It's right there on the chip, accessible to the appropriate reader! And what's more, there's your entire medical history there as well for the hospital to see! Wouldn't that be wonderful? This is no fantasy: My wife, a retired nurse, tells me in response to reading this post that she attended a health fair at which there was a booth signing people up for precisely that: a subcutaneous chip that would contain your complete medical history so that if "God forbid" something terrible happened, that information would be immediately available to any medical institution with the proper reader.

What's more, that sort of technology, of ID via implanted microchip, is already in widespread use in dogs. That neither that idea nor that of tracking chips has gained a lot of traction as applied to humans does not mean the technology doesn't exist. It does, as does the desire to use it. What has stopped it so far is, pretty much, the "ick" factor. But that ick factor has been overcome many times before. This is not a looming threat, but it is a real one.

So here's the problem in a nutshell: Lach says that
[w]hen Missouri was considering its own microchip ban in 2008, State Rep. Jim Guest told the Columbia Missourian that the bill was aimed at preventing employers from mandating chips as a requisite for employment, even though no Missouri companies were then engaging in the practice.
So according to Lach, we should wait until after subcutaneous chipping is a common practice before doing anything about it. We shouldn't try to prevent a problem, we should wait until after it is already is a problem before we act.

At which point we can have an oh-so reasonable, oh-so serious, oh-so sober discussion on how utterly foolish it is to even try to "turn the clock back" and how "the technology is here to stay" and how we need to have some "regulation" or "oversight" or "controls" to "manage" implants, which will continue to be used "in appropriate circumstances" that can and will expand over time.

And that, friends, is why our privacy keeps slipping away: Because dolts like Lach and his echo chamber in comments think it's a joke until they discover that they are part of the punch line, and then it's too late.


DaisyDeadhead said...

I hate to think of what the fundies will do w/the microchip... "no one may buy or sell that does not have the mark of the beast," etc.

It really is just so creepy, though.

LarryE said...

Creepy is a good word for it.

The fundies, though, are more likely to be against chipping: Referring to the fact that some do already raise the suggestion that chipping is the mark of the beast was among the ways the author expressed his dismissive attitude.

(I still recall with a certain degree of fondness hearing some years back a serious discussion on late-night call-in radio if barscan codes were the mark of the beast.)

LarryE said...

Oh, and by the way: Good to "see" you!

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