Publication Details

This article was originally published as: Michael, K & Michael, MG, Microchipping people: the rise of the electrophorus, Quadrant, March 2005, 49(3), 22-33. The original journal is available here.


Automatic identification (auto-ID) is the process of identifying a living or nonliving thing without direct human intervention. Before auto-ID only manual identification techniques existed, such as tattoos and fingerprints, which did not allow for the automatic capture of data. Many researchers credit the vision of a cashless society to the capabilities of auto-ID. Since the 1960s automatic identification has proliferated especially for mass-market applications such as electronic banking and citizen ID. Together with increases in computer processing power, storage equipment and networking capabilities, miniaturization and mobility have heightened the significance of auto-ID to e-business, especially mobile commerce. Citizens are now carrying multiple devices with multiple IDs, including ATM cards, credit cards, private and public health insurance cards, retail loyalty cards, school student cards, library cards, gymnasium cards, licenses to drive automobiles, passports to travel by air and ship, voting cards, and other. More sophisticated auto-ID devices like smart card and radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and transponders that house unique lifetime identifiers (ULI) or biometric templates are increasingly being considered for business-to-consumer (B2C) and government-to-citizen (G2C) transactions. For example, the United States is enforcing the use of biometrics on passports due to the increasing threats of terrorism, and Britain has openly announced that it is considering implanting illegal immigrants with RFID transponders. Internationally, countries are also taking measures to decrease the multi-million dollar costs of fraudulent claims made to social security by updating their citizen identification systems with more secure end-user devices.