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No, RFID tag for lost animals – not your new injectable ID number

This article is more than 3 years old

“Look what our government is doing behind our backs,” warns the description of a video posted on Facebook in South Africa in June 2020.

In the video, two people show a syringe and a piece of paper with four barcode stickers to the camera.

They say, in Afrikaans, that the barcodes are for “the number you will get when your ID” – South African identity number – “is changed”. All your bank cards, club cards and store cards will be scanned to the barcodes.

They then squeeze the syringe, and a thin electronic component pops out. “This is what the chip that will be injected into you looks like,” one of them says.

The other adds: “I just wanted to say this isn’t far off, it’s here with us.”

The microchip vaccine theory

In the crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic, a number of conspiracy theories have emerged claiming that radio frequency identification (RFID) microchips will be secretly injected into people along with a vaccine for the disease.

The motive isn’t clear, but most versions of the idea suggest the chips will be used for some form of social control.

Will your new ID number be injected into you? The video has been viewed more than 600,000 times in less than a month. What does it really show?

RFID chips used for lost animals

The electronic component squeezed from the syringe does contain a RFID chip. As explained by the US Department of Homeland Security, RFID “tags” contain a small amount of information that can be picked up, without physical contact, by a tag reader.

But the type of implantable chip shown in the video is actually used to tag animals – pets and livestock – to identify them if they are lost. In fact, at the 18-second mark, the word “ANIMAL” can be faintly read on the top right of the piece of paper with the barcodes.

The barcodes all bear the same number: 900115001151422. This is the identification code of the particular RFID chip in the video, which was programmed into the chip at manufacture.

As one company explains, RFID chip manufacturers are assigned a range of ID codes by the International Committee for Animal Recording (Icar). The manufacturer then programs the chips it makes with these codes.

Icar keeps a registry of which manufacturers have been assigned certain ID codes. Africa Check found that the one in the video was assigned to Beijing Raybaca Technology in June 2015.

We contacted the company, which confirmed that the chip was theirs. The exact chip appears to no longer be sold by Raybaca, but sample images on the company’s website show syringes like the one in the video, and even reveal that the piece of paper with the barcodes is actually the syringe’s packaging.

“The microchip is for pets,” Raybaca told us. They said the video was false, and that their tags weren’t manufactured for human use.

The ‘biohacking’ hobby

But that hasn’t stopped some humans from implanting themselves with RFID chips anyway.

In a 2013 talk, a man named Amal Graafstra explains that he and other “biohackers” have chosen to implant RFID tags into their hands. Graafstra shows how he can touch his hand to an RFID reader to unlock doors or log into a computer. Some (like the employees of one vending machine company) have even used the chips to make contactless credit card payments.

Graafstra also debunks some of the myths about RFID tags, such as the idea that they can be used to track people. They can’t. 

As he says, pets can’t be traced at a distance by their RFID implants. “They have to be brought to the vet that has to scan it at very close proximity.”

Raybaca warns: “Effective scanning isn’t easy!” The company says a chip reader must be held very close to a pet and moved as little as possible for the chip to be detected. The same would be true with a “chipped” person.

And biohacking is a niche hobby, not a government-backed programme. If you want your ID number replaced with an RFID chip ID, you’re out of luck. 

Even Graafstra’s company, ironically named Dangerous Things, warns that the chips it sells to biohackers have “not yet been certified by any government regulatory agency for implantation or use inside the human body”.

If you’re still worried, you can be assured that a chip won’t be implanted into you without your knowledge. About the size of a grain of rice, and requiring a relatively large needle for implantation, an RFID chip can be seen under the skin and removed like removing a splinter


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