Britain Considers Under-Skin Microchips for Prisoners

Calling George Orwell.

The Independent (UK) reports:

Ministers are planning to implant "machine-readable" microchips under the skin of thousands of offenders as part of an expansion of the electronic tagging scheme that would create more space in British jails. Amid concerns about the security of existing tagging systems and prison overcrowding, the Ministry of Justice is investigating the use of satellite and radio-wave technology to monitor criminals.

But, instead of being contained in bracelets worn around the ankle, the tiny chips would be surgically inserted under the skin of offenders in the community, to help enforce home curfews.The tags, labelled "spychips" by privacy campaigners, are already used around the world to keep track of dogs, cats, cattle and airport luggage, but there is no record of the technology being used to monitor offenders in the community. The chips are also being considered as a method of helping to keep order within prisons.

Civil liberties groups and probation officers in Britain are outraged. [More...]

First, there's the insertion process:

The tags, injected into the back of the arm with a hypodermic needle, consist of a toughened glass capsule holding a computer chip, a copper antenna and a "capacitor" that transmits data stored on the chip when prompted by an electromagnetic reader.

Then there's the import of the program:

Degrading offenders in this way will do nothing for their rehabilitation and nothing for our safety, as some will inevitably find a way round this new technology."

Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said the proposal would not make his members' lives easier and would degrade their clients.

Fletcher continues,

"This is the sort of daft idea that comes up from the department every now and then, but tagging people in the same way we tag our pets cannot be the way ahead. Treating people like pieces of meat does not seem to represent an improvement in the system to me."

Civil liberties groups warn, "the rest of us could be next."

Radio frequency identification (RFID) technology is unproven. The technology is actually more invasive, and carries more information about the host. The devices have been dubbed "spychips" by critics who warn that they would transmit data about the movements of other people without their knowledge.

....One company plans deeper implants that could vibrate, electroshock the implantee, broadcast a message, or serve as a microphone to transmit conversations. "Some folks might foolishly discount all of these downsides and futuristic nightmares since the tagging is proposed for criminals like rapists and murderers," [consumer privacy expert Liz] McIntyre said. "The rest of us could be next."

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  • Display: Sort:
    actually, what surprises me most, (none / 0) (#1)
    by cpinva on Sun Jan 13, 2008 at 04:19:33 AM EST
    is that someone in the US didn't think of it first, given the current administration's lax approach to the bill of rights. surely, there's a worthy halliburton subsidiary, that could be given a no-bid, multi-billion dollar contract for this program?

    Just dig the chip out (none / 0) (#2)
    by lilybart on Sun Jan 13, 2008 at 08:10:44 AM EST
    of your arm. Isn't that the easy solution?

    The value of this technology (none / 0) (#3)
    by JSN on Sun Jan 13, 2008 at 08:39:35 AM EST
    is limited because they are a passive short range device and there are other ways to identify an individual. They work OK for cattle, cats and dogs because they can't have them removed. The most obnoxious aspect of this proposal is that people are being treated like cattle, cats and dogs.  

    In addition, recent studies have tied the chips to (none / 0) (#4)
    by ReneeNY on Sun Jan 13, 2008 at 09:49:44 AM EST
    Parole (none / 0) (#5)
    by diogenes on Sun Jan 13, 2008 at 06:40:38 PM EST
    Parole is a gift of freedom given to people who have prison sentences.  If someone would prefer to be in prison rather than wear a microchip as a condition of parole, then that's their choice.  If someone has a microchip in prison, then their freedom is taken away, and they can have the microchip removed after they've done their time.
    If sex offenders had microchips, then maybe a consensus could build to get rid of some the ridiculous restrictions on where they can live.
    Microchips can help police build a case without witnesses, important in poor neighborhoods where witnesses are often intimidated into not "snitching".