Why chip-tagging kids is a bad idea

In the wake of the recent disappearance, as yet unresolved, of Madeleine McCann on the Algarve in Portugal, nobody who listens to the British media could have missed the flood of smug mums and drive-by dads castigating the McCann family for leaving their daughter unsupervised for half-an-hour at a time while they ate just yards away (more here). On the Vanessa Feltz show the other day, however, a crazy idea which was first mooted a few years ago was resurrected: that of implanting chips into kids’ bodies so that their location can be detected any time and anywhere. Feltz dug up the inventor who had first proposed such technology a few years ago, but had dropped it due to the controversy it caused. Now, it’s back, with this nutty inventor having received enquiries from numerous countries, and what better time to discuss it than when a little girl has gone missing?

I was unable to call in because I was either driving or working all the time, but really wanted to, because there seemed to be a misconception that those of us who might be called geeks really wanted this sort of technology inside us, as if we wanted to become living and breathing cyborgs of some sort. In fact, a lot of geeks are staunch libertarians, and do not want the state or some corporate interest controlling their computers, much less themselves.

However, that’s not my main objection to the implantation of Radio Frequency ID chips being used on people. My main objection is that, besides occasionally being of use in tracking missing children, it could just as easily be used to trap children and young people in abusive situations, such as when that situation is their home, or a “care” home or boarding school. Such technology could easily allow the police, who are unlikely to ask questions about why the person had run away, to find the person easily and drag them back to the place they had fled, quite possibly for good reason.

And quite apart from this, the chip will remain inside the body for life, or until the person decides to have himself or herself cut open for its removal, and will be usable either for all that time or until it breaks down. In other words, it will still be usable when the child in whose body it was implanted grows up, and no doubt the state will find other uses for it, as will employers. You could even find yourself scanned when entering certain countries, so that they can keep track on your movements and make sure you are going nowhere you are not supposed to - such as to the house of somebody they don’t want you talking to.

I did not hear either of my objections; the overwhelming majority were supportive and said they would like something of the sort for their children. I heard two objectors, although there may have been more; one of them said that it could lead to parents becoming complacent, thinking that their children could always be found because of the chips. At the end of the programme, Feltz told us that 70% of those who had participated in a phone-in poll were against the chip implant idea, which surprised me given the climate of opinion among the talkers. Perhaps, if I were a parent, I would like some means of always locating my children; I certainly, however, would not like such a thing implanted in me.

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