By Fredrick Kunkle and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 10, 2010; B01
RICHMOND, FEB. 9 -- The House of Delegates is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a bill that would protect Virginians from attempts by employers or insurance companies to implant microchips in their bodies against their will.
It might also save humanity from the antichrist, some supporters think.
Del. Mark L. Cole (R-Fredericksburg), the bill's sponsor, said that privacy issues are the chief concern behind his attempt to criminalize the involuntary implantation of microchips. But he also said he shared concerns that the devices could someday be used as the "mark of the beast" described in the Book of Revelation.
"My understanding -- I'm not a theologian -- but there's a prophecy in the Bible that says you'll have to receive a mark, or you can neither buy nor sell things in end times," Cole said. "Some people think these computer chips might be that mark."
Cole said that the growing use of microchips could allow employers, insurers or the government to track people against their will and that implanting a foreign object into a human being could also have adverse health effects.
"I just think you should have the right to control your own body," Cole said.
The religious overtones have cast the debate into a realm that has made even some supporters uneasy and caused opponents to mock the bill for legislating the apocalypse.
Del. Robert H. Brink (D-Arlington) said on the House floor that he did not find many voters demanding microchip legislation when he was campaigning last fall: "I didn't hear anything about the danger of asteroids striking the Earth, about the threat posed by giant alligators in our cities' sewer systems or about the menace of forced implantation of microchips in human beings."
Microchips, which use radio frequency identification, have been used in pets to identify and track them. Proponents suggest that such chips could be invaluable in making people's medical records portable and secure and in helping to identify and find missing children. Others have urged they be used with Alzheimer's disease patients.
But the growing use of microchips has collided with the Book of Revelation. The biblical passage in question is in Chapter 13 and describes the rise of a satanic figure known as "the Beast": "He causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name."
David Neff, editor of the magazine Christianity Today, said that some fundamentalist Christians believe that bar codes and implanted microchips could be used by a totalitarian government to control commerce -- a sign of the coming end of the world.
"This is part of a larger attempt to constantly read current history in the light of the symbolic language of the Book of Revelation," he said.
That book has been sifted for clues to contemporary events almost since the ink on the parchment dried, and Caesar, Nero, Napoleon, Hitler and some of history's other controversial one-namers have been identified as possible antichrists. Now, it's President Obama's turn, as tea partyers and others warn of federal intrusions into the debate over health-care reform.
Now, the book is giving new life to worries about microchips.
Such fears seemed futuristic until veterinarians began implanting microchips in pets in the 1990s and especially after a Delray Beach, Fla.-based company, VeriChip, introduced an implantable FDA-approved chip in 2001 that could store a person's medical records.
A voluntary initiative by the federal government to control disease outbreaks by tracking livestock using microchips and 15-digit numbers has also whipped up fears of government intrusion in some farming communities.
"I think it's kind of a lot of things. It's everything from civil liberties to privacy rights to the mark of the beast," said Katherine Albrecht, a nationally syndicated radio host who co-wrote "Spychips," a book about corporations' use of microchips and other potentially invasive technologies.
Several states, including Wisconsin, have approved bans such as the one Virginia is proposing, and the Georgia Senate passed a similar bill last week.
Virginia Del. Charles W. Carrico Sr. (R-Grayson) said that he would probably back the bill because his rural community is leery of government intrusions. But Carrico said he also gives credence to biblical teachings on the importance of being vigilant against an antichrist.
"As a Christian, I believe there is a time that Christ will come back to receive his people home, and that's just the basis of what the Bible shows, and that there will be an antichrist that arises during that time, and those that remain, to buy or sell anything, they will have to take on this mark," Carrico said. "I don't know that it's a microchip."
As the measure moved through House committees, Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) said that lawmakers wrestled with whether the military or military contractors should be able to require that employees receive implants as a condition of employment.
"This whole end-of-days thing I just heard about through rumors," Albo said. "The fact that some people who support it are a little wacky doesn't make it a bad idea."
Others dismissed the legislation, calling it a sideshow as lawmakers grapple with a huge budget gap.
"We've got a $4 billion hole, and we're spending time on microchips," said Del. Albert C. Pollard Jr. (D-Northumberland). "At least when Nero fiddled, they got good music."