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Microchipping weirds me out, too, but banning goes too far

David Colborne
David Colborne
Nevada Legislature building

Should the government have the right to implant microchips in people? Should Amazon have the right to implant microchips in their employees? To get to the bottom of this question, lawmakers have heard from brothel ministers, transhumanists, public defenders, a magician, the ACLU and the Eagle Forum.

By itself, the query feels like something out of a John Birch Society conspiracy theory, or a syndicated ‘90s remake of a ‘50s pulp science fiction TV show, or a plot device from some turn-of-the-century story that is brought up during the first chapter and summarily forgotten. At an instinctive level, the answer is obvious — not just no, but hell no. Of course, the government shouldn’t have the right to install microchips in people. As for Amazon, or any other employer, even if there are people desperate enough to let their employer chip them like a straying dog for a few dollars an hour, that clearly doesn’t make it voluntary by any acceptable definition of “voluntary.” It should be soundly rejected.

That is probably what then-state Sen. Becky Harris thought, too, when she proposed SB109 last session, and perhaps what Assemblyman Skip Daly thought when he put forth AB226 this session. Both bills originally sought to prevent people from coercing other people into getting microchipped for identification — a reasonable goal. But unlike last session’s SB109, which died in committee, AB226 not only saw the legislative light of day, it passed the Assembly unanimously.

These two bills give us a perfect opportunity to witness the legislative process in action. What happens when you start with a seemingly uncontroversial position, write legislation to address that position, and push it through the Legislature?

First, let’s take a look at the bill that didn’t make it out of committee. SB109 is short enough that it can be quoted in its entirety:

Section 1. Chapter 200 of NRS is hereby amended by adding thereto a new section to read as follows:

  • An officer or employee of this State or any political subdivision thereof or any other person shall not require another person to undergo the implantation of a microchip or other permanent identification marker of any kind or nature.
  • A person who violates the provisions of this section is guilty of a category C felony and shall be punished as provided in NRS 193.130.
  • Each day or part of a day during which a violation of this section is continued or repeated constitutes a separate offense.

As far as legislation goes, this is as simple as it gets. No person shall require another person to implant a microchip. Sounds short and reasonable enough for a first draft. Perhaps it was a little too reasonable? Or perhaps the Legislature, responding to deadlines and their incentives, figured such a measure would be every bit as uncontroversial once someone actually tried forcing someone to receive an implanted microchip, so no need to address a hypothetical right that minute. Whatever the reason, SB109 became another one of the quietly ignored and barely mourned bills that routinely die swift deaths before sine die.

Let’s fast-forward two years.

Welcome… to the world of tomorrow! Here in the brave new world of 2019, the issue of forced implantation of microchips into human beings is only slightly more topical than it was in the distant past of 2017, but that didn’t stop Assemblyman Skip Daly from literally copying and pasting the text of SB109 and reintroducing it as AB226. Unlike 2017, however, when SB109 went before a Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by marijuana-focused Tick Segerblom (and, speaking as a stone-cold sober Libertarian, good on him for that), 2019’s Assembly Judiciary Committee is chaired by Steve Yeager, one of the nine Assembly members of the tech caucus.

Microchips? In our bodies? Yep, sounds like technology to me.

Now, as any diligent subscriber to The Nevada Independent’s YouTube channel can tell you, once a bill has been drafted and introduced to its originating chamber, the next step is to read it before a committee. This step is vitally important because it’s the first opportunity people (other than lawmakers) get to proofread a bill, ask questions, and ensure it does what its authors think it does.

For example, is AB226 supposed to prohibit involuntary microchipping or all microchipping? Does “other permanent identification marker of any kind or nature” include tattoos? What was the legislator’s intent when he drafted the bill?

During the initial reading of the bill before the Assembly Judiciary Committee, Assemblyman Daly made it clear that his goal was for “the first and last word on microchipping humans in Nevada to be its absolute prohibition.” Since AB226 didn’t do that, however, he immediately amended the bill to ensure that, voluntarily or otherwise, nobody in Nevada would get microchipped on his watch.

Supporting the bill and its amendment was longtime Eagle Forum lobbyist Janine Hansen, who claimed that microchips cause cancer in pets (they do not) and told horror stories of Swedes using implanted microchips to board trains, while she simultaneously demonstrated that lobbyists should also be subject to term limits. As for tattoos, Kay Landwehr, president of the House of the Rising Sun Ministries (a ministry that specializes in providing religious services to prostitutes in brothels) spoke in favor of the measure because, if it did address tattoos, it could help protect prostitutes from being involuntarily tattooed by pimps.

(I’d like to pause here for a moment and announce that I am opposed to involuntary tattooing but also opposed to tattoos being legally indistinguishable from microchips in statute.)

Back to the bill. Opposing the measure was Deputy Public Defender John Piro, who prophetically warned that, if the bill was meant to prohibit microchipping across the board, it would limit technological advancement and infringe on the freedom of Nevadans to make voluntary choices. The Washoe County public defender’s office concurred with Piro’s additional complaint that the penalty written into the bill (a class C felony charge for each day it was violated) could cause someone to face hundreds of felony charges over what would ordinarily be a single infraction.

The ACLU, on the other hand, provided provisional support for the bill, announcing that they opposed involuntary microchipping.

After a bill is read before its host committee, it then faces a work session. AB226’s work session was quite brief. Assemblyman Daly submitted his amendment, and the Assembly Judiciary Committee approved the bill as amended. After that, the bill took a brief trip through the Assembly, which voted unanimously in favor of its passage.

This is the part of the story where we find out why it is good that the Legislature has two houses and not just one. In a nutshell, it’s hard to keep track of what each committee is approving and ignoring. On the other hand, when one house of the Legislature passes a bill, it draws people’s attention in a way that a committee passage can’t. AB226 was no different.

After its passage through the Assembly, the Nevada Attorneys for Criminal Justice announced their support because, they said, corrections officers in other states were talking about using forcibly embedded microchips to track defendants accused of crimes before their trials. Opposing it, however, was the United States Transhumanist Party, which strongly urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to say no to the bill.

Wait…. what on Earth is a transhumanist?

Well, that depends on who you ask and how charitable they are. Speaking charitably, transhumanists believe death, even from old age, is morally wrong. Consequently, they seek, via scientific and political processes, to increase the likelihood that we will all live longer, if not achieve immortality outright. Scientifically, they pursue various life extension methods and technologies. Politically, they seek to raise awareness of the idea that death is potentially curable and also seek to guide public policy in a direction that does not hinder their scientific pursuits. Arguably the most popular transhumanist today, for good or ill, is Zoltan Istvan, who famously drove his Immortality Bus around the country in a bid to raise awareness of transhumanism.

I'm being charitable for two reasons. First, I was recently informed, though I don't remember signing up, that I have been a certificate-bearing member of the United States Transhumanist Party since November 2016 (their membership criteria, I'm guessing, are not particularly selective nor strenuous).

Second, they’re the ones that told me about the bill.

The reason the transhumanists are opposed to the bill is because they recognize that there are a lot of medical advances being pursued by hobbyists that, because of governmental and bureaucratic interference, are taking far too long to reach the public. For example, The Atlantic recently reported on ‘looping’, in which computer hobbyists figured out how to connect glucose sensors to older insulin pumps and reprogram the pumps to provide insulin when it’s needed. There are other applications for the technology as well, including multi-factor authentication (imagine if your credit card only worked if you specifically were the one touching it). In fact, people have already been getting chipped at DEF CON, an annual computer security-themed convention in Las Vegas, for years. If AB226 passes, the Biohacking Village portion of the event would immediately become a series of compounding felonies.

Thankfully, when AB226 was first put before the Senate Judiciary Committee, they proved to be considerably more skeptical than the Assembly. Sen. Nicole Cannizzaro immediately challenged Daly’s assertion that the Legislature could ban all microchipping, voluntary or otherwise, and then vet future applications on a case-by-case basis every two years, especially if it was illegal to even attempt voluntary microchipping. Senator Scheible, meanwhile, asked Assemblyman Daly if he vetted his bill’s language through any disability organizations to confirm that his bill wouldn’t accidentally ban emerging assistive technologies, like improved hearing aids. When he confirmed that he had not, she immediately announced that she couldn’t support the bill as written. Also opposing the bill was Anastasia Synn, a Las Vegas magician with more than a dozen implanted microchips, who uses the technology as part of her act.

Even so, several spoke in support of the measure. Sen. Ira Hansen, who has styled himself as a “small government conservative” a time or two, had the good sense to question whether the bill only applied to the government. Upon being informed by Daly that it did not, however, he forgot that a small government knows when to mind its own business, nodded appreciatively, and announced that “even Orwell had never thought of this.” The ACLU, meanwhile, which only opposed involuntary microchipping in the Assembly, escalated its support of the bill, provided the penalties are rewritten to fall upon those performing the microchipping, not those who are being microchipped. As for Janine Hansen, she made yet another appearance, demonstrating once more that the drive from Elko to Carson City isn’t quite long enough.

The truth is that there are legitimate concerns relating to privacy and bodily integrity that will need to be addressed as microchipping technology matures. Unfortunately, what started as a reasonable measure to address these concerns was turned into a blanket prohibition on a technology that nobody in the Assembly was interested in understanding, all because one assemblyman, Skip Daly, thinks he knows what belongs in your body better than you do.

Get microchipped or don’t. That’s your decision, not the government’s. Tell our senators to keep it that way.

David Colborne has been active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he has blogged intermittently on his personal blog, as well as the Libertarian Party of Nevada blog, and ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate. He serves on the Executive Committee for both his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is the father of two sons and an IT professional. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at [email protected].

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