The Future of Biochip Technology
When Gil and Bernice Abeyta went to bed in their upscale Colorado Springs, Colorado home, Christopher was sleeping in his crib three feet away. When they awoke the next day, the 7-month-old was gone. They have searched daily for 10 years but have no clue who took him or where he went. It's a personal hell, and their America isn't free."A stranger walked into the room while we slept and took him away," says Gil Abeyta, who has devoted his life to finding missing children. "At first you just couldn't believe it. Everything just went in slow motion the next two days. Eventually you face reality and just decide to spend your life fighting back, trying to find him."Dr. Daniel Man has an invention that can solve future such tragedies. He holds the only U.S. patent for a homing device that can be implanted in humans. If the device were in Christopher, communication satellites already in orbit could tell police his exact location in minutes, dead or alive."I wish something like that had been available when Christopher was born," Abeyta says. "We could probably solve all missing children cases with that kind of device."There's no debating it. Biochip technology is here and it offers to solve lots of big problems, including finding missing persons and things. But technology is not unrestrained in America, and the social and political barriers to implanting tracking devices in humans are huge.The Abeytas, in fact, seem almost alone in thinking Dr. Man's invention is cool. Some say it's "Big Brother" knocking down our doors. Others see it as Satan's high tech leash, or part of the devil's blueprint for wreaking havoc during humanity's final days. The whole subject of human tracking has become a major source of anxiety in the nation's growing Patriot movement.A tracking device invented by scientists in Boulder, Colorado is a major source of angst among Patriot and religious groups. The microchip transponder, developed and sold by Destron-Fearing Corp., is injected into dogs and cats so that animal shelters can scan lost pets and find out to whom they belong. The chips are also widely used by ranchers who want to keep track of their livestock. Spooky Connotations "A lot of this stuff has pretty spooky connotations," says Tom Slizewski, editor of Soldier of Fortune magazine. "Any technology can go too far, and our readership is very concerned with any kind of human registration or tracking issues."Slizewski says he would not feel threatened by electronic tracking devices in humans, if they were used strictly on a voluntary basis. But the fiercest critics of biochip technology say hype over missing children, or some similar emotional cause, will eventually convince parents to use electronic devices in babies who will have no say in the matter. Some even oppose placing tracking devices in livestock and pets, which is becoming common."The concern with animals is that this is just a precursor to placing chips in all humans so they can be used by a one world government to track people and exercise control over their lives," says Texe Marrs, a political science professor and author of the best-selling Dark Secrets of the New Age."There is a lot of evidence that chips are under development that can tie into the brain's neuro network, giving someone who controls the chip the ability to control the thoughts and actions of anyone who contains the chip."Marrs, a retired Air Force officer who teaches at the University of Texas, says he is convinced the Central Intelligence Agency is already implanting chips in human guinea pigs. He claims to have a small file of letters from prisoners, with life sentences, who have written him with stories about getting devices forced into their skin without consent.When listening to Marrs and other critics of biochip technology, it becomes apparent that their fears have been fueled in recent years by government actions in Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho. At Ruby Ridge, the government shot and killed family members and a friend of white separatist Randy Weaver. In Waco, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms attacked the Branch Davidian religious compound and caused the deaths of about 90 men, women and children."When your government spends three years following the every move of Randy Weaver, because he sawed off the barrel of a shotgun, then it's not hard to believe they would ask your doctor to secretly inject a tracking device into you during your next visit, telling the physician it's a matter of national security," Marrs says. "This kind of technology is causing very real fear among a lot of Americans, and we're not just talking about Bible-thumping redneck Southern Baptist preachers. People do not trust government today, and they want to keep technology out of government hands."Mark of the Beast The Destron chip and Dr. Man's device are featured prominently in a videotape called 666 - Mark of the Beast that's being passed around by local religious and Patriot groups. With a few choice phone calls, anyone can find a copy in Boulder.If missing children was the chic paranoia of the '80s, abusive government may be the '90s equivalent. In this climate, it's doubtful that even the saddest missing person reports will make biochips popular.Even the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in suburban Washington, D.C., is not celebrating recent developments in tracking technology. Ernie Allen, president of the center, says implanting chips into humans would be an overreaction to the problem of missing children that would not be worth the resulting public hysteria."The whole issue causes a lot of concern about 'big brother' and the general misuse of technology," Allen says. "Our judgment is that it would be an excessive reaction, and that the negative concerns far outweigh the benefits."Allen says 99 percent of missing children in America are recovered successfully. His agency quit placing photos on milk cartons in the late '80s, when it became apparent that the campaign caused unhealthy fear among parents and children."We're opposed to central registries of any kind," Allen says. "The precautions we recommend are that parents have good recent photos of their children, up-to-date medical and dental records, and good descriptive information to give police in the event a child comes up missing. Whether we are prepared to start placing electronic chips in kids is a judgment society will eventually have to make, but in our opinion that would be excessive."Christian critics of biochip technology refer immediately to a verse from the New Testament's book of Revelations that warns about an evil identification program in which a mark of the beast will be forced on people in the final days. It reads, in part, that the beast will "causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads, and that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark" (Rev. 13:16-17). The mark, scriptures say, would contain the number 666."The problem with some of these theories about biochips being the mark of the beast is that the mark is supposed to be 666, not a microchip implanted in the skin," Marrs says. "But these chips all involve the use of an extensive alpha numeric code, and it's possible that in the future these codes could all contain 666 up front, or somewhere within the code, if this is indeed part of Satan's blueprint." Dr. Man is a Jewish immigrant from Israel and has little use for the New Testament. He's shocked that a large group of Christians view his invention as evil. He was inspired to invent it by a desire to ease the threat of missing kids.Looking for Missing Kids "I got the idea while I was a resident in plastic surgery and I kept seeing on TV all these stories about missing and abducted children," Man says. "I thought if there were a way to find them, it could save a lot of people from grief and despair. So I worked with an engineer to develop something that we could implant in people to make it possible to find them anywhere on earth."The device is slightly larger than the Destron chip, which is implanted in animals. Unlike the Destron chip, Man's device cannot simply be injected with a special syringe. Instead, a small surgical incision must be made for it to be implanted. Man says the best location may be behind an ear.The device is powered by a small battery, which can be routinely charged with a device that is held outside the body near the location of the implant. When called upon to find someone with an implant, authorities would use three satellites or three specially equipped helicopters. Using a homing method known as triangulation to follow the signal of the device, the satellites or helicopters would pinpoint the implant's exact location.Man's invention was patented in 1989, and he has subsequently received patents in several other industrialized countries. Before the device becomes available for use in humans in the U.S., it will have to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. And to get further development and manufacturing off the ground, Man needs about a half million dollars in financing that has proven hard to come by.Man cannot dismiss the biggest fear of his critics - that the federal government, or a "one world government," could exploit his system and force homing devices into people who don't want them. In fact, he says, the federal government has already inquired about using his invention. Their interest, however, should seem harmless to even the most paranoid factions of the Patriot movement."I was contacted by some federal officials from the Agriculture Department who hoped the device could be useful in helping them track the activity of killer bees," Man says. "But the device is too large for that."But Man won't be surprised if he hears from federal or state prison officials. They could use his invention to track escaped inmates. And the military could find lots of ways to use his device to keep inventory of people and things.Let Your Imagination Go Although Man doesn't live by words of the New Testament, he concedes that implanting chips into humans on a massive scale involves many political and social concerns. He suspects controversy that surrounds his invention is partially responsible for the trouble he has had in securing financial support. He says the device should be used primarily by people who are in special danger of getting lost, kidnapped or held hostage.The tracking device could also be used in pets and livestock, replacing the biochips that are used now. The advantage would be that lost animals could be found as a result of the implant. Chips now being used in animals, such as the Destron-Fearing chip, are good only for identifying an animal that has been found and turned over to someone with a scanner."Your imagination can run wild with potential uses for this technology," Man says. "It could be used in Alzheimer's patients who are in jeopardy of getting lost. It could be used by pilots flying dangerous missions in Bosnia. It could be used in divorce situations, where a parent is worried that the spouse who does not have legal custody will take the child."Chris Handsel can relate, and he wishes his daughter, Kaelyn, had Man's tracking device under her skin. Handsel received full custody of his daughter when she was about 18 months old, after the courts determined Kaelyn had an unhealthy relationship with her mother. Two weeks after Handsel received custody, Kaelyn's mother and her new husband kidnapped the baby and fled the country with a Jeep and a Winnebago trailer.Handsel, an electronics engineer, has made a full-time job out of searching for the girl. It's been nearly two years since he's had any new evidence leading to the trail of Kaelyn's kidnappers. He said police don't work hard on kidnapping cases that involve a non-custodial parent."If I get her back, the biggest fear will be reabduction," Handsel says. "That's the biggest fear of a child who has been abducted, and it's the biggest fear of the child. In an extreme situation, such as mine, this type of thing could be very useful. My daughter and I could definitely benefit from this, if only because it would alleviate some of the fear."But Handsel is not a full-fledged advocate of human homing devices. In fact, if not for his daughter's kidnapping, Handsel says he might react with the same type of alarm that most people do when told of microchips and homing devices being placed in the body."I agree that anything this powerful is both very useful and very dangerous," Handsel says. "If used it needs to be implemented very judiciously, and only in extreme circumstances. I could never advocate the widespread use of this. I could advocate it for a kid who has already been abducted, and is in danger of being abducted again by the same person."Although Marrs and others say the Destron chip for animals is threatening, company officials say they have no intention of advancing their product for use in humans. Similar chips for animals are sold in the U.S. by two other companies that claim to have no plans for human use of their products."We simply are not in the business of selling chips for use in humans, and we never will be," says Kevin Nieuwsma, sales manager for Destron-Fearing. "We are strictly in the business of identification of animals. That's what we know, and that's what we will stick to."Help For The Lost That's too bad, says Dale Goetz, who recently retired as a Boulder County deputy sheriff. During 24 years on the force, Goetz worked several heart-wrenching cases involving missing kids. He also thinks tracking technology could benefit hikers, skiers and anyone else who's in danger of being lost or trapped in remote places."If our animals are good enough for it, why aren't our kids?" Goetz asks. "If you have a concern that your child might be stolen or kidnapped, this may be a viable solution. Seriously, where would the Lindbergh baby be if this kind of thing were in use back then?"The fear of electronic tracking goes far beyond the placement of chips or transmitters in humans. A Christian newsletter, called Pressing Toward the Mark, informs readers monthly of all the threats posed by new technologies. A recent edition tells readers of various projects in which government and industry are conspiring to create national identification cards. Hordes of Patriot brochures warn of an emerging cashless society, in which all financial transactions can be monitored and traced by the government.The 666 - Mark of the Beast video tells viewers that soon we may all be forced to have chips implanted in our wrists. To buy groceries at the store, you will simply wave your wrist over a monitor at the checkout stand. A narrator explains that the chips will contain all personal information, and individual privacy will be a fond memory.The video also talks about cashless toll roads and new devices that will soon monitor everything you do with your car on a public road. It features the promotional film of one new device in which cars are photographed as they pass under a bar above the highway. Lasers focus camera equipment on each license plate that passes by, storing the photo in a computer. Tolls can be electronically debited from a driver's checking account.Similar technology is being used in some parts of the country to issue speeding tickets. When speeders are detected, a photo of the license plate is taken and a ticket is issued automatically through the mail.Freedom and rights of the individual are what America's all about. So when government and industry talk about tracking us with technology, it stands to reason that the initial reaction is mass hysteria from the lunatic fringe and general skepticism from moderates.But technology is never a simple issue. The jury is still out, for example, on personal computers and the Internet. Some say they will shake up the classes, redistribute wealth and reward entrepreneurs. Others say they will give big business and government unprecedented control over individuals, removing what little autonomy Americans still have. A few consider the tracking devices insignificant.Similar debates will no doubt evolve as biochip technology hits closer to home. Perhaps the government will use it against us. Maybe it will give a handful of corporations complete dominance over consumers. Maybe it will give more power to the devil.Or maybe it will do none of that. Maybe it will just help find missing pilots, lost cats and babies who are taken in the night. To some people, such as Gil and Bernice Abeyta, that would spell freedom.