Tracking Device Implants
For Children Coming Soon

A tracking device designed to be inserted under the skin could allow parents to keep tabs on their children, help courts track offenders or make it easy to find lost hikers. But civil liberties campaigners are already worried that the device might be abused.
A prototype, dubbed the Digital Angel, is being developed by Applied Digital Solutions of Florida, which has licensed the technology from another company. "Although we're in the early developmental phase, we expect to come forward with applications in many different areas, from medical monitoring to law enforcement," says Richard Sullivan, ADS's chief executive.
The device contains a miniature global positioning system (GPS) receiver, which uses tiny differences in timing signals from satellites to calculate its position on Earth. The device can broadcast this information to a local receiver. It gets its power from a piezoelectric device that converts energy from a person's normal movements into electricity stored in a small battery.
The device, which will be the size of a small coin, would be implanted just under the skin. Most of the time it would be inactive. But a mechanical switch--or a timed series of muscular contractions--could trigger it. Even a tune would do the trick. And instead of monitoring GPS signals, the Digital Angel could be designed to monitor a person's vital signs.
It will also be possible to trigger the device remotely using a coded radio signal, Sullivan says. This would be useful in the case of a lost child or kidnap victim. And the authorities could activate the Digital Angel to track down a prisoner on the run.
Sullivan says his company will have a prototype ready by the end of 2000. But others are sceptical because the technology for a piezoelectric power supply is in its infancy. "You should never say 'never' in today's technological age. But the power management technology we have will not support something like this in the short range," says Ron Bishop, technology vice-president for SOS Wireless Telecommunications, a company in Irvine, California, that sells cellphones designed for emergency use. "I think you could make the parts small enough. But you're going to have to carry around a 12-volt car battery."
For civil liberties groups, that might be a good thing. "This kind of stuff has enormous potential for abuse by the authorities, or by anyone who can break into the information," says Emily Whitfield, a spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union. She worries that the devices could become widespread, allowing governments to monitor their citizens. And she speculates that criminals could crack the codes needed to activate and use the devices, allowing them to pinpoint, say, potential kidnap victims.


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