Implantable Chips

When it comes to implanting ICs in people, there are big pros and cons—and lots of unanswered questions ranging from health impacts to security.


Implanting RFID chips into people has been a subject for debate and experimentation for nearly two decades. Back in 1998, the first implantable RFID device was injected into the hand of Professor Kevin Warwick. His hand became a transponder, and he could open doors that were designed to work with smart cards. In smart buildings, he was also able to turn on lights simply by entering into the room.

In a thesis, he noted that in order for this concept to be fully functional, the device would have to be inserted closer to the brain – the spinal cord or onto the optic nerve. This would provide a better situation where a more powerful setup for transmitting and receiving specific complex sensory signals can be developed. Little did he know how close he was to some of what is happening today.


There have been other circumstances where such schemes have been attempted. One of the more popular is in Europe, where implants are less restricted. A well-known use for them is in nightclubs that allow patrons to use implanted microchips for payment of tabs. In Africa, AIDS patients are tracked via such chips, as well.

But so far there are still no wide-scale implementations of human implantable RFID. Understandably, progress with some things is slow, especially where ethics is concerned. But the technology is there – for better or worse.

The good microchip
The main reason for implanting chips in animals is obvious—and it’s not just for pets. Feed animals, zoo animals, research animals, and even outside the biological sphere in the supply chain and vehicles. All the data is in one place, easily accessible, and there is no chance that there will be a mistake on the animal’s or product’s identity.


When it comes to the human project, there is a lot more data that is a candidate for inclusion. In fact, the amount of available data is enormous – from medical to financial to personal, and more. And therein lies the conundrum.

In the medical arena, an implanted RFID can contain one’s entire medical history, available 24/7 to anyone who may require it. One needn’t even be conscious for first responders or medical teams to be able to access it.

Microchip implants have immeasurable value for certain medical conditions such a dementia, diabetes or organ conditions. Not only can they track the patient, but if they get lost or wander off, their identity and circumstances can be instantly confirmed. Another use is for sub-dermal medication delivery (such as birth control hormones).

There are uses well outside of medical, too. Law enforcement, for example, can use microchips to track offenders, both in and out of confinement. They can track parolees to make sure they adhere to parole conditions. Such chips will also aid in locating fugitives, witnesses to crimes, and missing persons. They can monitor restraining orders and set off alarms if the person enters an area with readers such a home or business. And they can be used to determine immigration, citizenship, or criminal history for job applicants.

In the financial arena, implanted chips can contain your financial data, passwords and bank accounts. The technology can be used as a payment system for purchases at any number of establishments. Personal data such as nationality, security clearances, family makeup, passport, and contact information can be included so travel is easier.

On a daily basis, a wave of your hand against your car door can unlock it and, another wave once you are in the driver’s seat will start it. The same can be said for locking and unlocking your home or gaining entry to you workplace. And, when it becomes more sophisticated, it will contain a GPS module.

For military applications, modern microchips, with the help of satellites, can track the implanted person anywhere on the globe. Implanting soldiers with chips would make identification certain in all but the most devastating of circumstances. Battlefield maps could be updated in real time, allowing for optimal deployment of resources.

The bad microchip
But there are other considerations, as well. First on the list is ethics. It is an empirical discussion about privacy and security, even religious1 beliefs. There is also the issue of forceful or unknowing implantation. Because ethics discussions can go on almost endlessly, it is not the intent of the article to dwell upon. It is just mentioned here as a component of the various elements that surround the technology. The main focus on the negative aspect deals with tangible elements.


After ethics comes physical reactions and effects. There is strong evidence that implanted chips cause cancers in and near the injection site (see the appendix). There is also evidence that microchip implantation has other physical risks, including chip migration under the skin, and electromagnetic and electrosurgical interference with devices such as defibrillators and pacemakers. As well, there is risk with some pharmaceuticals.

There is concern by some that governments can use implants to locate and persecute activists, dissidents, and political opponents. Criminals could use them to stalk and harass victims. Child or spouse abusers might use them to prevent captives from escaping or locate and abduct children.

In fact, the level of concern is high enough that California, along with some other states, including Wisconsin and North Dakota, have enacted statutes prohibiting the compelled or coerced implantation of a sub-dermal identification device, including RFIDs, microchips, or the “chipless” tattoo.

And, looking into the future, microchips 1/10th the diameter of a human hair can be implanted into the optical nerve of the eye. Its purpose is to collect neuro impulses from the brain that contain such sensing’s as sights, smells, sounds, and experiences of the implanted human. These captured glimpses of the human experience can be transferred and stored in a computer, and projected back to the person’s brain via the microchip to be re-experienced, or rattle one’s reality.

Other options include implanting such microchips into the nervous system and sending electromagnetic messages (encoded as signals) throughout it, affecting the person’s performance, even induce hallucinations and sounds in the brain. Such electromagnetic stimulation can alter the recipient’s brainwaves and affect the human tissue – a new way to induce torture without laying a single hand on the person. No wonder the ethics discussions are so intense.

Security issues
Next-generation implantable microchips also will have two main security vectors – infection from malevolent code, and leaking of data. There is a discussion about security issues in RFID in a previous article, “The next level of chip security” that discusses these two issues in some detail.

“There is also the issue of software in the more sophisticated chips,” says Chowdary Yanamadala, senior vice president of business development at ment at ChaoLogix. “Software is particularly vulnerable since there is little attention paid to it today. Eventually, once implantable devices become more common, this will become an issue that must be addressed, as well as at the hardware level.”

Overall, security issues in implantable chips are the same as their non-implantable cousins. But infecting or cloning them is a bit different, because the chip is in a human. The main issue is getting close enough to the person to either infect the chip with a virus or clone it without the person’s knowledge. This is much easier with chip cards or IoT devices than human implantations, but it is still very plausible.

One of the most significant issues that has serious overtones, and is a security concern of its own, is the ability of certain chips to command function within the human body, as was discussed earlier. The possibilities are many, and so are the potential risks—recall the last version of “Mission Impossible” where an implanted chip was detonated in the brain? No matter how remote such a possibility is, it is one of several “out there” scenarios, so the one area that must be secured, above all, is the purity of the supply chain. “There can be no doubt as to what came from where, and one has to insure that the components of the chip aren’t counterfeit, says Yanamadala.

Once implanted, the chip also must be secured from prying. “Any chip communication must be authenticated,” notes Yanamadala. That is particularly applicable to infecting implanted chips. “There are a couple of ways to do this. Either the messaging can be secured or the communications around it.”

Perhaps, with the potential ramifications of unsecured implanted chips, both would be called for. But the bottom line is, as with all potential vulnerability vectors, the more security the better. Science fiction aside, human Implantable chips will require the utmost in tamper proofing, regardless of the vectors for compromise.

The convergence of various scientific fields, such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, cognitive science, information technology, and robotics will have a huge impact on the implantable chips of the future. There will be a plethora of opportunities across a wide range of human and social boundaries. However, with that comes a plethora of challenges – ethical, legal, medical, and security, even theological.

Technology will make many things possible, but how that technology gets used isn’t so straightforward.

Appendix A – references that support the supposition that implantable RFID chips cause cancer

Blanchard, KT, et al. “Transponder-induced sarcoma in the heterozygous p53+/- mouse.” Toxicologic Pathology. 1999;27(5):519–527. Scanned copy available at:

Tillmann, T, et al. “Subcutaneous soft tissue tumours at the site of implanted microchips in mice.” Experimental and Toxicologic Pathology.1997;49:197–200. Scanned copy available at:

Palmer, TE, et al. “Fibrosarcomas associated with passive integrated transponder implants.” Toxicologic Pathology. 1998;26:170. Scanned copy available at:

Vascellari, M, et al. “Liposarcoma at the site of an implanted microchip in a dog.” The Veterinary Journal. 2004;168:188–190. Scanned copy available at:

Albrecht, K. “Microchip-Induced Tumors in Laboratory Rodents and Dogs: A Review of the Literature 1990-2006.” Online at:

Albrecht, K. “Microchip-Induced Tumors in Laboratory Rodents and Dogs: A Review of the Literature 1990-2006.” Online at:

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