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Tiny human-borne monitoring device sparks privacy fears


December 20, 1999
Web posted at: 4:48 p.m. EST (2148 GMT)

By Richard Stenger
CNN Interactive Writer

WASHINGTON (CNN) - A Palm Beach, Florida-based telecommunications company has developed a miniature digital monitoring device that can be implanted in people, intended to assist in locating missing children or for monitoring the heart rate of at-risk patients.

But electronic freedom activists are concerned about exploitation of the technology, which would use global positioning system (GPS) technology to track implantees.

"It sounds dreadful. That's about as bad as it gets," Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, said Monday.

Would you have an implant device put in yourself or your children?

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Applied Digital Solutions announced last week it had acquired patent rights to develop the unique transceiver, which would be powered by muscle movements of implantees. The company plans to complete a working prototype by the end of 2000.

Planted inconspicuously just under the skin, the implantable transceiver sends and receives data and can be continuously tracked by GPS technology. The company expects applications in the fields of law enforcement, security and medicine.

According to ADS, a company with an Internet and e-commerce focus, the devise could track lost hikers, abducted children and "military, diplomatic and other essential government personnel."

It can also identify individuals for e-business security and check certain biological functions and alert a monitoring facility if it detects a medical emergency.

"We believe its potential for improving individual and e-business security and enhancing the quality of life for millions of people is virtually limitless," said ADS Chairman and CEO Richard Sullivan in a statement.

Fearing that "virtually limitless" potential, critics contend that monitoring systems wind up being used for other than the original purposes.

"Over the years we moved from fingerprinting convicts to routinely footprinting infants in hospitals," Rotenberg said.

He worries that this new surveillance technology could eventually restrict freedoms of the general public.

"I think the use of implants for tracking is crossing into a new territory," Rotenberg said. "It gets us closer to an Orwellian '1984.'"

Patent documents refer to the device as a "personal tracking and recovery system." But ADS said the device, named the Digital Angel, could also have non-human applications. For example, it could be secretly hidden on or in valuable personal belongings and works of art.

ADS said the technology could "tap into a vast global market" that is expected to eventually exceed $100 billion.

Electronic Privacy Information Center
Applied Digital Solutions
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