RFID Implants Need Better Privacy Protection

Archived Published: 19 October 2004 ID: G00124544


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The U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a radio frequency identification (RFID) device for use in humans. But widespread adoption will have to wait until serious privacy concerns are addressed.

News Analysis


On 13 October 2004, Applied Digital announced that the FDA has approved its surgically implantable VeriChip RFID device for medical applications in the United States. VeriChip contains a microchip transponder, encoded with a unique verification number, that can be surgically implanted in a human patient. The implanted microchip can then be scanned to identify the patient and allow access to his or her medical records via the Internet.


The use of RFID implants has already given rise to significant privacy concerns. Some of the most widely publicized fears — such as the possibility that the implants could be used to track individuals in public places — are largely unfounded. Like security badges and electronic subway tokens, these devices are designed to work only across short distances. Moreover, although these devices are wireless, they communicate using only magnetic fields.

Nonetheless, security concerns — both legitimate and illegitimate — will continue to limit adoption of RFID implants for human use. (They are already widely used to identify household pets.) For example, the devices hold what amount to serial numbers, and will give this information to virtually any reader. An implanted person could therefore be involuntarily, and perhaps unknowingly, identified. Gartner believes these devices will not achieve widespread adoption until secure devices become available. Secure devices would allow access to confidential information on third-party servers only under authority of the device's user.

Recommendation: Until privacy-enabled devices are produced, use RFID implants only when the potential benefits outweigh privacy concerns.

Analytical Source: Martin Reynolds, Gartner Research

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