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Pentagon introducing high-tech dog tags

electronic military dog tag December 27, 1997
Web posted at: 7:58 p.m. EST (0058 GMT)

From Correspondent Jonathan Karl

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Through triumph and tragedy and two world wars, the military dog tag has been an American icon for generations of soldiers and sailors.

Today's armed forces wear the same basic dog tag that their great-grandparents wore. But that's about to change.

By 1999, the 1.4 million members of the active duty military will be issued a high-tech dog tag that contains a computer chip.

CNN's Jonathan Karl reports
icon 2 min. VXtreme video

The old dog tags had just five lines for information, which included spaces for name, religion and blood type. The new digital tags, however, can contain volumes of multi-media information, including medical histories, X-rays and cardiograms.

Using a hand-held devices, medics in the field can access the information, empowering them to give injured soldiers better treatment.

However, with the new technology also comes new concerns over possible dangers in making such sensitive information so readily available by hanging it on chains around the neck.

"We have to be very concerned about how we protect the information -- in who's hands would it be, should it be encrypted, could the encryption be broken, what would happen if it ended up in the wrong hands," says Defense Secretary William Cohen.

Another issue that needs to be worked out is the cost of the new tags. Several companies are bidding on the project, and one company has told the Pentagon that they could produce a device with a capacity of 20 megabytes for $10 or less.

If issues of cost and privacy can be solved, the old metal dog tags seem certain to become just another piece of military history.

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