In 2017, thousands of citizens from Sweden were turning on coffee machines and their cars with a wave of their palm. Was this the Fifth Element? What even was this sorcery? As sci-fi as this sounds and something completely out of Doc Brown’s inventions from “Back to the Future”, the fact is the technology originated from an RFID (Radio-frequency Identification) beacon that uses electromagnetic waves encased in silicate vial and can be implanted in the body of human beings. These microchips are passive and do not require batteries or power sources to operate. The number of implants in humans which is individual-specific are ever so growing and it might seem like a dawn of the cyborg era. However, what are the impacts that these microchips have to offer?
UNDER YOUR SKIN
Embedded RFID implants are going from technology enthusiast novelty to a genuine medical tool. Imagine during a medical emergency with an unconscious patient, how can a doctor make intelligent decisions on what medication to provide without a knowledge of the patient’s history? An RFID implant can be the ultimate solution as it enables quick access to a patient’s medical history, allergies, potential drug incompatibilities to avoid adverse drug effects, eliminate diagnosis error for surgery and enable tracking of patients with Alzheimer’s and Dementia.
It is obligatory and this correlates with the common good approach, the view that highlights the specific aspect of society and emphasises compassion and respect for others, especially those who are more vulnerable. Furthermore, the concept of utilitarianism, which promotes greater good and does the least harm for most people strongly supports RFID’s application in a medical setting as anyone requiring medical attention will benefit from it.
EVERYTHING IN YOUR HANDS
The notion of functioning as a walking public transport pass can be rather lucrative to some. Imagine never having to undergo the ordeal of catching your train in a sweat, only to find that you forgot to collect your tickets from the self-service machine or to download your e-ticket before boarding. Sweden’s national railway company SJ is currently a world-leader in enabling their customers to validate their travel just by getting their microchips swiped.
Existing identification cards, passports, driving licenses all contain microchips and there would not be a massive infrastructure change as hands would be scanned instead of documents. Beach clubs in Barcelona, Spain, also adapted this technology and microchipped their VIP members. RFID implants can be connected to bank accounts and this greatly increases the convenience for their members to ensure they keep track of their purchases and even pay for their food and drinks.
The ability to make payments and grant self-access to homes, offices, and gyms by simply a wave of the hand could make the user perceived as slothful. Nevertheless, why shouldn’t we embrace these benefits that can lead to a more convenient life for humans in the future? One could argue, using ethical egoism, that an act is moral when it promotes the individual’s best long-term interests.The theory postulates that as long as there is self-interest, it will induce self-respect and thus respect for others. If each person had the desire to improve oneself, then, as a collective, these actions would be working towards a better life for everyone.
However, every coin has two sides.
FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN
The exact health and safety repercussions in humans due to these implants are still a mystery. However, there are speculations that RFID microchips could yield adverse effects on the human body through infection, radiation, and cancer. A study showed that RFID chips caused malignant tumours in some lab rats and mice. Therefore, these uncertain harms can be against the principle of Health Ethics of non-maleficence towards a person.
“EVERY STEP YOU TAKE, I’LL BE WATCHING YOU!”
The nature of RFID enables local governments and police to locate and track the citizens who carry the chip through a reader. It could even be used for employee monitoring, which is against the human right to bodily integrity, and violates the universal law of 8 hours of work. In India, the implementation of the biometric tracking system on teacher’s attendance faced strong opposition by the professors, as it seem as disregarding a highly respected profession.
Since the chip usually contains personal data for automatic identification, Mark Roberti, the founder and editor of RFID Journal, mentioned, “passive RFID transponders generally lack the capability of encrypting data that will be transmitted to a reader”; thus, identity thefts can be performed easily as access to individual’s data is wide-opened. In this era of big data, personal information encoded in the implant will generate a large potential benefit to companies for decision-making. If the payment technology is integrated into the microchip, transaction data can be analysed by companies to improve marketing strategies.
‘The Rights Approach’ derived from ‘The Duty-Based Approach’, emphasises the faith that all humans have a right to dignity. According to a report published by the ‘European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technology’ (EGE), RFID might constitute a risk to human dignity by disrespecting the autonomy and rights of individuals. Why? Imagine the day your personal history, location, and even habits are all traceable but not just by yourself; this is a violation of one’s autonomy and dignity as you are being watched and one should not be judged!
WANT VERSUS NEED?
The EGE views the implantation of electronic devices in the human body as
necessary to achieve the improvement of quality of life. This is parallel to
the duty-based ethics approach as the implants are obligated to
produce a higher standard of living. One could argue that using these chips is supererogatory rather than obligatory, meaning that it is right to use it for better living but not morally
wrong if it is not utilised. If governments pass a rule that it is mandatory for
RFID microchips implants in people, then this obligation is against the human’s freedom of choice. Having said that, we believe
that the benefits of RFID microchips are worth pursuing despite its