The Advantages & Disadvantages of Implantable RFID Tags

By Milton Kazmeyer

RFID tags use solid-state memory with no moving parts.
i Adam Crowley/Photodisc/Getty Images

Radio-Frequency Identification is a technology that encodes data on microchips tagged to objects, so that the data can be retrieved at any time via radio waves. RFID has become a common technology in supply chains and logistics, allowing for quick and accurate inventory tracking and enhanced security features. The miniaturization of RFID technology has also led to the development of tags small enough to implant in people and animals.

Permanent Identification

One of the major advantages to implantable RFID tags is having a permanent form of identification. Information encoded into a subdermal RFID tag can never be lost or stolen, and you may only retrieve that data with a close-range scan of the area where the implant resides. This type of technology can aid in the identification of missing persons, as well as in preventing mixups in hospitals and other areas where misidentification could lead to major complications.

Privacy Concerns

The growth of RFID has led to some concerns about the potential privacy issues of the technology. Typically, smaller RFID chips contain a unique identifying number for use with a corresponding database, but a third-party scanner could pick up that number and allow someone else to use it for tracking purposes. A powerful enough RF scan pulse could read the tag from a short distance, possibly allowing someone to scan you without your knowledge; however, without the corresponding database, they would be unable to look up any personal information encoded in the system, but could still possibly use that unique identifier to monitor your movements.

Health Issues

As with any foreign object that enters the body, implantable RFID tags could pose health risks. These chips are extremely small to minimize trauma, but injection sites still may become infected, and the chips may also work their way to the surface of the skin over time. In addition, a powerful enough RFID pulse could damage the chip, possibly causing irritation or trauma to the surrounding tissue.

Pet Microchipping

While implantable RFID chips have not gained a strong foothold in human applications, one area where they have proved useful is in pet identification. Microchipping a pet involves the implantation of a tiny RFID tag, allowing veterinarians to scan and identify animals that have lost their identification tags. Microchipped pets stand a much greater chance of returning to their owners if lost, and the tags can provide veterinarians or handlers with information about an animal’s special needs, such as allergies or required medications.