A Skin Deep Big Brother Proposal


Each week on the BBC a "global thinker from the worlds of philosophy, science, psychology or the arts is given a minute to put forward a radical, inspiring or controversial idea." This week's idea comes from the science fiction writer Elizabeth Moon. Her proposal is that everyone be implanted with a chip at birth that would provide a fast and inexpensive way to identify people. Ms. Moon cites a reduction in friendly fire incidents during war and crime investigations as some of the benefits of such a system.

While the proposed system is almost self evidently insane, what is especially worrying is Ms. Moon's justification for such a system. Ms. Moon argues that governments already surveille us using numerous methods. Why should our skin be a barrier of entry to government when it already wiretaps phones and installs surveillance cameras? Although Ms. Moon might not have realized it, she is providing a perfect example of why government-backed surveillance measures need to be opposed more vehemently.

A proposal such as the one discussed would only be given time by an international news organization if some level of government intrusion were not already accepted. While the U.S. does not have mandatory ID cards the government still regulates forms of identification that we use every day such as driving licenses. Every single tweet and facebook posting is stored in the Library of Congress, and other online communications are easily accessed by government agencies. 

What is constantly overlooked is how powerful a tool these sorts of proposed measures would be in the hands of a more oppressive government. In times like these, when external threats such as fundamentalist Islam seem to pose a greater threat than our government, people become more willing to sacrifice privacy for security. However, once the war on terror is over (most likely abandoned), the legislation and measures put in place by successive administrations will not disappear. It is hard to imagine governments in the future resisting the urge to use some of these intrusive tools at their disposal.

The abolition of privacy is a problem libertarians will increasingly have to deal with. Developments in fields such as nanotechnology, in particular, require some sort of response, societal or legislative. David Friedman addressed the issue in Future Imperfect (free here). Whatever the response is going to be as privacy-destroying technology develops further, we must not forget to act against the powers already at the government's disposal. 

NEXT: Survey Says NPR Listeners Least Uninformed, Fox Viewers Most, How Informed Are You?

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  1. The sad part: many people over there probably take this proposal seriously. God help us.

    1. C’mon, if you have nothing to hide…..

    2. God, get with the program. It’s for the Children!

      1. Yeah, no tracking implant, no income tax deduction. Just like Social Security numbers at birth.

    3. Well, except for the extreme creepiness of having the thing implanted in you, this isn’t such a huge step beyond mandatory ID. They can already put RFID in ID cards.

      But the only reason for either is control.

      I could imagine people doing this voluntarily too. How can you be sure your child is safe without the tracking implant? You want your children to be safe, don’t you?

      1. “You want your children to be safe, don’t you?”

        Either way, citizen, your answer to that question is entirely irrelevant. We shall dictate to whom independence may be trusted, and your child does not qualify. Implant the device voluntarily, or expect indefinite detention for disobeying governmental orders.

        Welcome to Utopia.

        1. The point was that I could see a lot of people convinced to chip their kids without any threat of coercion long before it became mandatory. Lots of people do it for pets. And what are kids these days but really expensive pets who outlive you.

          Once most kids are chipped voluntarily, its an easy step for the government to gather up all the ID numbers and make their own database.

          1. Some, maybe, but “a lot”? Enough to make it stick? Do you really believe we’re that far down the shitter already?

            1. I would say yes. And once you have a kid that has grown up with the thing you know they’ll be fine with having it done to their kids. It may take a generation or two to fully implement but I can see it.

            2. I don’t really know. Just speculating. I don’t have a lot of contact with the world of modern child rearing. But given the general impression I get of the paranoia of parents, I wouldn’t be surprised.

    4. “The sad part: many people over there probably take this proposal seriously. God help us.”

      I don’t normally like FIFY comments, but this was aking for it.

      1. It’s a country of 300,000,000 people. I’m sure an organization dedicated to chipping everybody’s going to pop out of some shithole soon enough.

        1. It’s worth noting that Elizabeth Moon is an American, so it’s not like anyone can say this is some alien idea.

          And the Beeb interviewer actually didn’t jump on on it with any enthusiastic gushing of approval, though she didn’t outright reject it either.

  2. I remember a few years back where I asked the question on some forum about governments mandating chip implants, lots of the reaction was that I was a conspiracy theorist or some kind of Christian fundamentalist fearing the end of times.

    I would bet a lot of money that a lot of these same people would now go along with this, should their mainstream politicians back this, using all the predictable excuses: for the children, better health management, crime reduction etc.

    This thing seems inevitable, as much as I wish it was not.

    1. This thing seems inevitable, as much as I wish it was not.

      Inevitable, maybe. But I don’t think we’re quite there yet. I think any politician who came out in support of such a measure would be quickly voted out. The frog just hasn’t been boiling long enough yet.

      I wonder, though: which government agency would be tasked with administering such a program?

      1. And would Congressmen be allowed to have them removed when elected, or only after a set number of terms?

      2. The brand new one that they’d create just for this, of course! The Dept of Privacy Suppression.

        1. The Dept of Privacy Suppression.

          That would be an appropriate name for half the agencies and departments we already have.

          And I bet that if they didn’t create an entirely new department for such a program, like a pack of hyenas fighting over a freshly killed gazelle, there would be a lot of infighting among the ones in existence over who gets to run it.

        2. They don’t like the word suppression. They’ll just create the Dept of Public Good and roll up the FDA, USDA, and IRS into the new department.

        3. ONly, they’ll name it the Dept of Privacy Protection.

        4. No, just simply – The Department of Privacy.

          1. MiniPriv

      3. I don’t know about America, but in countries like France when the government wants to implement a national id system, they get done with minimal complaint, as for countries like China its not a question of a politician losing popularity, its simply about practical hurdles stopping this, which will get less when these technologies get cheaper with time.

      4. The Department of Agriculture — the chips would have the ability to test your blood to make sure you’re eating properly, with the penalty for violating dietary statutes being summary execution by Nancy Pelosi sex tape.

        1. …with the penalty for violating dietary statutes being summary execution by Nancy Pelosi sex tape.

          Forced to watch or actually hit with the thing?

          1. Watching would be more than enough. It’s like excruciating torture and a slow, painful death with the use of a DVD (or Blu-ray, or whatever) player. Cheap and effective.

          2. Forced to watch or actually hit with the thing?

            Hopefully just hit. I would like to believe that even in so dystopian a future as we’re contemplating here, there would still be some shred of humanity left in our overlords.

            1. Seriously. “Could you please just run me over with a truck instead?”

          3. If you show sufficient remorse they will only beat you to death with it.

            Otherwise its a loooong tape.

            1. Long train runnin’?

  3. In times like these, when external threats such as fundamentalist Islam seem to pose a greater threat than our government . . .

    It doesn’t really seem that way to me. If anything, the threat of radical Islam has been overblown and used to create a federal goverment that is more menacing than ever before.

  4. David Brin approached this issue in Sundiver with the Probationer system, though even that wasn’t this retardedly comprehensive (only people who “failed” a “violence tendency test” got chipped, and anyone chipped couldn’t enter certain areas).

    However, once the war on terror is over (most likely abandoned)

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…such naivete.

    “My fellow Earthicans, we enjoy so much freedom, it’s almost sickening. We’re free to chose which hand our sex-monitoring chip is implanted in. And if we don’t want to pay our taxes, why, we’re free to spend a week with the Pain Monster.”

  5. Years ago, I met an Israeli emigrant who had just come back from a trip visiting her parents. She mentioned that their dog got lost but they have this amazing way to recover them. Instead of dog tags, all pets are implanted with RFID chips, and any vet will scan a lost dog for free. Hence, her parents’ pooch was returned in mere hours.

    “It gave me an idea,” she said, “we should us it in Palestinians.”

    Probably the only time I was most sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

    1. The saddest part of that whole statement is that Jews themselves were tagged once.

      1. Your irony detector needs adjusting.

        1. Its been a long day, but are you sure, the hatred between Israel and Palestine is as bad as it can get, I would not be surprised if this how some people in Israel would think.

      2. Technically, just bar-coded. And got to wear colorful flair on shirtsleeves.

    2. I think that if someone said that to me and I believed they were serious, I’d slap them upside the head.


  6. First will be sex offenders (Gotta protect the chuldrinz).
    Then felons.
    Then it will become part of the booking process.
    Then a condition of going to a public school or university.
    Meanwhile parents will be pressured into implanting their children.
    Before long it becomes part of the process of getting a Social Security number.

    Six Six Seven! Neighbor of the Beast!

    1. No, 667 is for the house across the street. If you want the neighbor, it would be 664 or 668.

      1. 666b – the sublet in the basement of the Beast’s house.

  7. This is awesome. So much more durable and simple than tattooing numbers on everyone, and it works at range. Time to start rounding everyone up.

    And you could have vanity ID numbers and charge extra! Boom! No more deficit!

    1. You know the law that enacts this will be named after a dead child, too. They always are…

    2. This is burned in by laser scan. Some of us were kept alive… to work… loading bodies. The disposal units ran night and day. We were that close to going out forever. But there was one man who taught us to fight, to storm the wire of the camps, to smash those metal motherfuckers into junk. He turned it around. He brought us back from the brink. His name is Connor. John Connor. Your son, hamilton, your unborn son.


      2. I always thought there was interesting fan fiction to be written about that. What happens after John Connor destroys all of the machines? Clearly, no one would want artificial intelligence anytime soon. So the survivors build a 1950s world where so much as owning an integrated circuit is the death penalty.

        1. I’m guessing Mentats, but without any spice.

          1. Could this have been the cause of the buttlerian jihad? It is Dune Terminator mashup!

          2. True story, Chilton, the auto repair book guys, were the original publishers of Dune. I guess they thought maybe mentats would make good gear heads.

  8. Vernor Vinge addressed the same issue when he stated that one of the last stages of civilization were attempts at ubiquitous law enforcement.

    Why I read Vernor Vinge and not Elizabeth Moon.

    1. Those attempts were always followed by complete Collapse.

      1. That seemed to be implied in your first post. Give us a little credit, Drake, we’re not Fox News viewers.

        1. I’ll give you some credit. I was clarifying in case Elizabeth Moon is reading.

    2. I actually listened to the Beeb broadcast where she proposed this. I had to do a double take, not just because as pointed out above the ides “is almost self evidently insane” but also because I have become so accustomed to thinking of SciFi writers as generally libertarian.

    3. Reading Vinge’s “A Deepness In the Sky” currently. Awesome, I think better than his book that won the Hugo.

  9. Next comes the obedience chip.

    “Tell them to obey me like they did the Father.”

    1. “The Father” reminded me of Equilibrium.

    2. The Church already invented this. It is called the human soul.
      “Obey ME, or your soul will burn in Hell!”

  10. So?

    Can we call this lunatic Moon woman a fascist?

    Or do we have to be polite and go on pretending?

    One of these days the niceness is going to get very, very costly.

    1. No. Fascism is a specific kind of authoritarianism. This could be applied to all kinds of authoritarianism.

    2. Keep stocking up on tar and feathers. People didn’t put up with this stuff back in the day. Heck, a two cent tax on documents got officials run out of town on a rail.

      1. Technically, using free speech to call for stamping out freedom calls for mocking and outrage and ostracism, not tar and feathers. First Amendment and all that.

  11. governments already surveille us

    I guess this is, like, totally a word now.

    1. I think it’s spelled “surveil” though.

      Unless you’re French. Or they play it at 5 AM on a trumpet to wake you up.

      1. Don’t be ridiculous. That’s a reville. A surveille is when you play the bugle while surfing.

  12. All an RFID chip does is return an ID number. You have to look that number up in a database to find out what (or who) it’s associated with. RFID chips are cheap and extremely simple, which means counterfeiting them would be a snap. In turn, that makes them useless for identification. And there’s really no other use for them, so I don’t see this ever happening.

    1. I am always telling people the same thing about biometrics. Just because you use your retinal scan instead of your SS# doesn’t mean that the system is any more reliable. Someone still has to attach the info to the specific retinal scan, the same way they do with your SS#, and thus the system is always going to be corruptible and easily fooled.

    2. Not with RFID chips, but it is probably safe to assume that future tracking chips will be more advanced and would have more security and more features to track somebody.

      1. The beauty of an RFID is it has no power source. The ID is returned from the chip using power generated by the radio frequency interrogating the chip. A sophisticated chip with security features would require a much more powerful transmitter to be pointed at the chip to get it to work. Alternatively, the chip could generate power based on your body movements. I can see the Supreme Court case now…is it unconstitutional for the chip bearer to be obligated to provide power to a government device?

        1. On the other hand – mandatory calisthenics to go along with your mandatory brocoli portion.

    3. That, plus the range of them, even with fairly high input power, is very short.

    4. RFID chips are cheap and extremely simple, which means counterfeiting them would be a snap. In turn, that makes them useless for identification. And there’s really no other use for them, so I don’t see this ever happening.

      Because we all know efficacy is a top priority when the government rolls out a new program – e.g., TSA.

      1. But this is one gimmick where we have the teh childrenz in our favor. Parents aren’t going to put a chip into little Sophia after they learn that any ol’ child molestor with a $10 scanner can find out her name and address. The TSA is no match for Big Mother.

        1. Parents send their kids to failing public schools because an all knowing and loving government says so.

          Parents let their kids rack up ridiculous amounts non-dischargeable debt to attend college because an all knowing and loving government says this is the only way to be successful.

          Parents haven’t really shown much in the way of making good choices for their children when it comes to questioning the all knowing and loving government.

          Now you want me to believe it will be different this time?

  13. I’ll be selling clothing that shields the chip from returning a signal the day this goes live.

    1. I’ll be digging mine out with a steak knife.

    2. I’ll die the day it goes live — I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to allow anybody to implant a chip into me. That’s the sort of stuff ammo cabinets exist to prevent.

      1. Yeah, that could be the line where just starting shooting would be the rational response. Of course, mandatory chipping probably comes after confiscation of personal arms. So find a good hiding place. And live somewhere where you don’t have to register guns.

        1. Which brings up another question: Would you allow your firearms to be confiscated by agents of government?

          1. It would depend on how many guns they brought with them.

            I wouldn’t give up any guns they didn’t know about and that I could effectively hide but I’m certainly not ready to die in a shootout with BATFE agents.

            1. The proper response is get together with your friends, ambush and kill the tyrants while they are searching your neighbor’s house. Recover the Agents’ weapons, and repeat.

          2. I like to think I wouldn’t. I live in the sort of place where I could find a good spot to hide them if it came down to it (I think I’d do that if registration were proposed seriously). But I haven’t found myself in a lot of do or die type situations in life, so it’s hard to say what I’d do when the pressure is on.

    3. Do they allow you to receive mail in Guantanamo Bay?

    4. State’s will make that illegal, like with radar detectors, since the only reason for its existence will be to facilitate a crime.

  14. Little did we realize the slippery slope was actually a ski jump.

  15. Seriously? Every post apocalyptic movie I’ve ever seen references some kind of chipping implantation or bar coding.

    Fucking hell, we really don’t learn a damn thing from history.

    1. You have to know it to learn anything from it.

      1. +100.

      2. Post apocalyptic movie

        I think a better plan then the chip would be to take a group of children and teach them post apocalyptic movies as real history throughout their schooling.

        1. This week children we will be watching “The Road” starring Viggo Mortensen.

  16. I want ones that explode my jugulars after 24 hours… if I don’t bring Donald Pleasance back.

    1. “When I get back, I’m gonna kill you.”

      1. “I don’t give a fuck about your war…or your president.”

        A man after my own heart.

        1. “There was an accident. About an hour ago, a small jet went down inside New York City. The president was on board!”

          “The president of what?”

  17. Before long it becomes part of the process of getting a Social Security number.

    When I was a young’n people didn’t apply for a Social Security Number until they got their first jobs. And it was for the specific purpose of keeping track of your FICA payments rather than a universal identification number that it has become.

    You didn’t need one to open a bank account or apply for a credit card or any of the myriad things it’s come to be used for.

  18. “. . . Ms. Moon cites a reduction in friendly fire incidents during war”

    And a drastic increase in troops shot by an enemy with DF gear, ’cause either the chip will be broadcasting or the soldiers will be running around with active RFID scanners to make this work.

    Idiots who don’t know how a tech works advocating for its use in inappropriate situations.

  19. Can we take back her 2007 Robert A. Heinlein Award?

    Also has anyone read her stuff? Is it any good?

    1. On September 11, 2010, she wrote a blog entry “Citizenship” about assimilation and an Islamic group that wanted to build a memorial center at/near the site of the 9/11 attack,[7] which was “perceived by many as derogatory toward Muslims and immigrants.” [8] Because it “dismayed, angered and offended” the co-chairs and other people associated with WisCon 35, a feminist science fiction convention to be held in May 2011,[9] her invitation to be a guest of honor was rescinded by WisCon’s parent body.

      Sounds like she could be a neocon.

      1. She left the Marine Corps as a 1LT. No, plenty of folks with military experience are not authoritarians but it is also sometimes an important marker for future conduct.

        1. Also she is a writer.

          It is possible for a writer to write fiction conveying political views she does not agree with.

  20. Obviously this device should only be implanted in men, as government shouldn’t tell a woman what to do with her body.

    1. lol’d, would read again.

  21. I have a ton of former friends who would adore this if it were connected to social networking. Which is, of course, disgusting awful why I no longer associate with them.

    1. Ugh, the website doesn’t like ampersands now? **disgusting AND awful AND why…**

  22. Are you sure this isn’t in the tradition of “A Modest Proposal”? With Brits, it is sometimes hard to distinguish sarcasm.

    1. Elizabeth Moon is not British, she is American and from listening to the broadcast myself, I got the impression she was as serious as cancer.

      1. And, yes, I think my Sarcasmometer is pretty well calibrated.

  23. OK thats jsut downright scary stuff dude!

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