New twist on fish & chips

Offenders in Great Britain soon may be compelled to receive subcutaneous radio frequency chip implants instead of ankle bracelets embedded with RFID tags, according to a story that appeared in The Independent newspaper yesterday.

Surgically inserted RFID chips, about the size of two grains of rice, have been used for years to track cats, dogs and livestock.

Ankle bracelets containing RFID tags have been routinely used to monitor offenders and other people who might wander where they're not supposed to, such as nursing home residents with Alzheimer's.

But this plan by England's Ministry of Justice seems to be the first instance of a government proposing subcutaneous implants of RFID chips as a way to monitor a population.

A report issued last year found that many criminals simply didn't wear the ankle tags issued to them.

The subcutaneous RFID tags, implanted in the back of the arm with a hypodermic needle, can store personal information about the person, such as identification, address and criminal record. The tags contain a computer chip, a copper antenna and a 'capacitor' that transmits data to an electromagnetic reader.

According to a source quoted by The Independent, 'All the options are on the table,' including tracking offenders through a satellite system, much like the ones used to locate vehicles.

U.K. officials say the plan is prompted in part by the soaring prison population, which jumped from 60,000 in 1997 to 80,000 today. The country has the highest prison population per capita in Western Europe and is planning three enormous 'superjails' in the next six years.

Admittedly, the U.K. is not blessed with the vast open spaces we have here in the United States to house prisoners. But injecting RFID chips into people to track them like sheep is dehumanizing, and I doubt very much that our English brethren, even the most drug-scarred junkies among them, will roll up their sleeves and submit to the RFID needle.

The Independent cites Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, who said, '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.'

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