Humans becoming bar-coded products -- within 10 years will we all be chipped "like dogs?"
Alas, this is not as far-fetched or as futuristic as it sounds.
This Orwellian "Big Brother" Police State concept of surveillance chips being installed in human beings could soon cross over from the realm of science fiction into reality.
The state could track our every move and store our personal information, with chips implanted under our skin.
A report published this week for Britain's information commissioner, Richard Thomas, who enforces the Data Protection Act, considers the spread of surveillance technology.
The study, drawn up by a team of respected academics, says that by 2016 almost our every movement, purchase and communication could be monitored by a complex network of interlinking technologies.
However, there is a concern that we are already "sleepwalking" into a surveillance society, and Jonathan Bamford, assistant information commissioner, explained to ABC:
"There is suspicion of surveillance that erodes privacy, but not all of it is a bad thing. But some is worrying. Microchipping is not that far a jump from the current tagging of defendants. Now is the right time to think about this seriously and foster public debate."
But Big Brother actually already has you microchipped.
For Medical Purposes
In October, the Food and Drug Administration approved computer chips for humans.
With the pinch of a syringe, the microchip -- the size of a grain of rice -- is inserted under the skin in less than 20 minutes and leaves no stitches.
The chips store a code that releases patient-specific information when a scanner passes over it.
We are, however, assured that in order to protect patient privacy, the devices will only reveal vital medical information to doctors and hospitals.
Travel, Pets and Nightclubs
The contentious chip technology, called Radio Frequency Identification, is already in use in London on the underground and buses.
Travelers use an Oyster card -- prepaid travel cards swiped before boarding the underground or bus.
Users register their personal details before using the card, and then the Oyster system logs details of every journey you make, including the time and date you pass through stations.
It has been reported that people have used them to spy on their partners' whereabouts.
Overprotective pet owners have also chipped their dogs.
Meanwhile, Baja Beach Club in Barcelona, Spain, launched microchip implantation for VIP members, so they could enter VIP enclosures and pay for food or drink without documentation.
Shami Chakribarti, the director of the civil liberties and human rights group Liberty, voiced concerns to ABC about the consequences of technological developments in surveillance:
"We've now become too complacent about privacy as the U.K. has been a healthy democracy for so long. We've allowed certain traditions to become undermined as the government constantly tells us to give up our privacy for a variety of reasons. It's a salami-slicing effect, and soon the flavor of society will be totally different."
Will this make George Orwell's "1984" novel a reality?
Will a huge state-sponsored surveillance system be watching us at all times?
In the future, a quick scan would save the need to show passports or ID cards. It would be easier than carrying cash or producing medical records, and would certainly help the police if you were lost or abducted.
It also would offer a whole shopping cart of commercial uses.
Security, which remains high on the U.S. agenda, would also benefit from the chance of identifying and tracking anyone carrying this implant.
Prisons or nuclear plants could regulate entry to any secure locations.
Military personnel could utilize the technology, so that injured soldiers in the field could be quickly and accurately identified.
But is Big Brother already watching you? Surveillance is already in operation under many other guises.
The average person in the United Kingdom is caught on camera 300 times a day -- that's once every four minutes -- by 4 million CCTV cameras.
That's one for every 14 people. Smart CCTV is used in train stations to identify patterns of behavior that suggest crime or potential suicide attempts.
Phone and e-mail
Every U.K. Internet service provider has to monitor the Web sites we visit, and the government has the powers, akin to the East German Stasi-style of snooping, to look into the e-mail and Internet activities of its citizens.
If that weren't enough, our phone calls are constantly filtered for key words or word patterns.
Although it smacks of former communist regimes in Eastern Europe and Franco's Spain, the reports editors -- Kristie Ball, an Open University lecturer in organization studies, and David Murakami Wood, managing director of Surveillance and Society -- deny that human microchipping will become the norm.
Wood explained to ABC:
"It is a technological possibility, rather than a governmental possibility. I don't think there's a government in the world considering this, given that countries like the U.K. and U.S. are even struggling to introduce ID cards. What is worrying though is that people will voluntarily submit to intense forms in surveillance for amusement, for a superficial benefit like gaining entry to a VIP enclosure of a nightclub. I always assumed there was a line beyond which people would go."
The full version of the report will be published to coincide with the 28th International Conference of Data Protection (http://www.privacyconference2006.co.uk/) in London today.