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Tracking Junior With a Microchip

Wired News

A Mexican company has launched a service to implant microchips in children as an anti-kidnapping device.

Solusat, the Mexican distributor of the VeriChip -- a rice-size microchip that is injected beneath the skin and transmits a 125-kilohertz radio frequency signal -- is marketing the device as an emergency ID under its new VeriKid program.

The service has even garnered the backing of Mexico's National Foundation of Investigations of Robbed and Missing Children, which has agreed to promote the service.

According to a press release announcing the collaboration, the foundation has estimated that 133,000 Mexican children have been abducted over the past five years.

Foundation officials did not respond to interview requests.

A Solusat executive said the terms of the agreement are still being hashed out.

"There are distinct projects on the table, but one form of finding (children) is by putting scanners in strategic locations where a search is being conducted for a VeriKid that has been reported missing," said Carlos Altamirano, Solusat's associate general director.

The company envisions placing walk-through scanners -- similar to metal-detector portals used in airports -- in malls, bus stations and other areas where a missing child may appear. The chip also could be used to identify children who are found unconscious, drugged, dead or too young to identify themselves.

Critics said kidnappers could circumvent the device easily.

"My big concern is that kidnappers will simply use 'high-tech' tools like knives to get rid of them," said Lauren Weinstein, creator of the Privacy Forum, an online digest related to privacy and technology issues.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center also has warned that inserting a type of LoJack into children and workers to track their movements could violate their civil liberties.

Solusat began selling VeriChip -- which is similar to the biochips used to track cattle and lost pets -- in Mexico in July; it's been sold in the United States since October 2002.

The VeriChip is injected under the skin of the upper arm or hip in an outpatient procedure. A special scanner reads the RF signal emitted by the microchip to obtain the device's ID number, which then is entered into a database to access personal data about the individual. Other potential uses of the chip, according to company officials, include scanning unconscious patients to obtain their medical records or restricting access to high-security buildings by scanning workers to verify their clearance.

In Mexico, the cost of the VeriChip and the doctor's fee for implantation is about $200, in addition to a $50 annual fee to maintain the database. The handheld scanner costs an additional $1,200, Altamirano said. The company refused to disclose the price of the portal scanners.

VeriChip manufacturer Applied Digital Solutions said it plans to roll out the VeriKid service in other countries, including the United States, in the future.

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