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Gary Hargrove, coroner of Mississippi's Harrison County, began injecting radio frequency identification (RFID) chips into cadavers to cope with the mounting body count. He said the chips, supplied by a Florida company called VeriChip, helped the county identify and return storm victims to their families without mix-ups. The county also injected the chips into bodies dislodged from graves during flooding.
VeriChip specializes in human RFID systems and has marketed the technology mainly to hospitals as a way to track live patients. It's also pitching the systems to businesses as a more secure authentication technology than ID badges and cards. But human implantation is extremely controversial. Some critics worry about potential civil liberties violations. Others oppose it on religious grounds.
Do such concerns pertain when the subjects are dead? Hargrove spoke with CNET News.com recently to weigh in on that question and others.Q: What was the benefit of doing this? How was it any better than, say, a toe tag or a barcode?
Hargrove: You can use paper toe tags, which don't last very long. Once they get wet, they usually fall apart or the ink runs on them and you can't read the numbers. (VeriChip) was a better way to track it. Once you put a number to the body bag, you place this chip and you wouldn't have to open the bag. You could take a scanner and scan from outside of the bag, up around the left shoulder, and it would pick up this 16-digit number on the chip that was inserted in the body.
How did it work exactly? These chips were injected into the dead?
Hargrove: The chips were injected just under the skin. They can be in any part of the arm. We chose to do the left shoulder. That way it (would) be a consistent location for all victims that we found.
Had this been done elsewhere before or were you doing something brand new?
Hargrove: My understanding was that this was a brand new use of the VeriChip.
So how many bodies have you injected in all?
Hargrove: About 300.
Did you have help or were you doing this by yourself?
Hargrove: Most of them were done by the pathologists. This was done through DMORT, which is the U.S. Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team that came in to assist our community because of the large number of deaths. So, DMORT was in charge of handling the individuals once we made the recovery. Once they came in and began the process, the pathologists would insert the chip at that point.
What kind of information do the chips track?
Hargrove: Identifying marks, the height, weight, hair, eyes, clothing. Let's say I have five people who are unidentified. And all five of them had the chip. All five of them have a description and some family member comes along and says, "Hey, I believe you have my brother, who we found out was in the area at the time of the storm, and this is his description." If that description matches one of the five victims we have buried, well, then we can say, "Okay, in grave No. 2 is (your brother)."
And you can search the computer for this identifying information?
Hargrove: Exactly. It takes away the human error that can occur because we all make mistakes. But this is...just one more step to alleviate the possibility of an error occurring where you give the wrong person to the wrong family.
Why inject the chip? Can't you attach it to the outside of the bag?
Hargrove: No. You'd want it placed on the body so that it won't be lost in the midst of maybe moving the body or in the examination of the body. You don't want to lose that, so you inject, and
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