An American company is marketing an implantable identity microchip.

Applied Digital Solutions' (ADS) VeriChip is about the size of a grain of rice and is linked to a database. The database contains the client's file and whatever information the user wants to include.

Microchips have been used in animals for years but were not approved for use in people until recently. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave the green light in late October.

The chip, costing $200 U.S., is a miniature, radio frequency identification device (RFID) that has the potential to be used in a variety of ways such as security, financial or credit card use.

The chip is usually implanted in the upper right arm of at the back of your triceps.

"It's a very simple procedure," Matthew Cossolotto of ADS told CBC Radio. "It's an insertion, like a needle...it's quick and painless."

Each VeriChip has a unique verification number. A scanner passed over the chip catches the radio frequency signal transmitting that number.

ADS officials say the chip has number of uses:

  • Replacing the security tags that control access to dangerous areas
  • Reducing financial fraud by using the chip to withdraw money from ATMs: accounts can't be accessed unless a person is physically present.
  • Gaining access to your computer
  • Supplying identification and health records when you are unable to, such as a medical emergency

Company hopes to add GPS capabilities to the chip

Cossolotto says using it at ATM machines will mean extra security for users.

"Let's say you use the chip for your ATM. There will be ways to make sure only you have access. You could continue to use your existing card and PIN and the VeriChip. That way the chip alone won't be enough to access your account."

Cossolotto says ADS has received hundreds queries from people who think it might be "cool" or those who want to have sole access to their home security system. Others want it for family members in case of an accident.

'(Chips) are a form of electronic leashes'
He says the chip is useless without a PIN (personal identification number).

The company is hoping to add GPS (Global Positioning System) capabilities to the chip. It would allow people to be tracked wherever they are through the GPS, which transmits data through satellites.

Cossolotto says people living in some South American countries are clamouring for the chip because of the high risk of being kidnapped.

Some groups have expressed concern about the chips.

"(ID chips) are a form of electronic leashes, a form of digital control," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

"What happens if an employer makes it a condition of employment for a person to be implanted with the chip? It could easily become a condition of release for parolees or a requirement for welfare."

Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists has said technology is outpacing policy. He says society isn't ready to put this type of technology into use yet because "the wisdom and prudence that is needed" isn't there.

ADS says seven health-care facilities, located in Arizona, Texas, Florida and Virginia, have signed up to distribute the chip.