Tracking kids via microchip

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – For Steffany Rodroguez-Neely, life is busier than ever. The Bay Area mother-of-three has her hands full 24-hours a day. The ages of her children run the gamut from newborn to teenager. While this Lutz mom prides herself in being an attentive, active, dedicated mother, she’s also a realist. She knows an emergency can happen in a matter of seconds, even to the best of parents.

When Steffany saw the recent tragedy in Pasco County where a toddler wandered into a pond and drowned, her heart was broken. As she talks about it, she shakes her head sadly, closes her eyes and sighs. “It was awful, so sad. You know, good parents have bad things happen,” Steffany told WFLA.

She openly admits that she’s had that  “panic” moment, the one nearly every parent has experienced at one time or another. No parent is proud of it, but they all know the feeling. You turn your head for one split second in a busy grocery store or shopping mall, and your child is nowhere to be found. “It’s the longest two seconds of your life. It feels like it last forever. Your heart is racing and as a parent, you think of the worst thing possible. Every bad thing goes through your mind, where is my child, did someone take my child,” Steffany admitted. “It’s happened to me. I turned around and my little girl was not there. Turns out, she was hiding within a rack of clothes. When I didn’t see her, I panicked. It is every parents nightmare when you can’t find your child.”

Steffany explains that, as the mother of a special needs child, her level of attention and desire to protect is even greater. “My daughter is 17, but she has the mental capabilities of an eight-year-old. She is so trusting. All it would take would be a one second. Someone being nice to her, someone with a puppy. She would be gone, and we would never see her again.”

In fact, Steffany’s teenager is prone to wandering off and has. This concerned mom admits that some of her daughter’s friends are non-communicative, and they, too, wander off frequently. “We called them runners,” she says. Then, Steffany’s usually-upbeat, lighthearted demeanor becomes serious. “If it’ll save my kid, there’s no stuff that’s too extreme,” she told us. “Micro-chipping would be an extra layer of protection, if something bad does happen.”

However, Steffany is in the minority, when it comes to the Tampa Bay Moms Group in which she’s involved. “I’m definitely the odd mom out,” she told us. “But, I stand by my opinion. I think Microchipping, is a good thing.” The topic has come up from time to time within the popular group of Bay Area mothers, and Steffany’s stance on the controversial issue has been extremely unpopular, she admits. She maintains that the other moms thought she was a bit crazy, joking that they call her a “government conspiracy theorist.” But, she adds, “If a small chip the size of a grain of rice could have prevented a tragedy, I think most parents would have said, I think I would have done it.”

Other moms like Kerri Levey are appalled by the idea. Although she is good friends with Steffany, Kerri is wholeheartedly opposed to the idea of implanting a tiny informational device within her child’s body. “You’re putting a battery in your kid, you’re putting a chip in your kid. And, where does it stop,” she posed the question. “Where? It’s going too far. This is a child we’re talking about.”  When we asked Kerri if the microchip concept was a little too science-fiction for her taste, she answered, “Very much so, very much so. I just feel like it’s a little too much of other people being able to watch what’s going on.”

She, too, admits her kids have gone missing for a brief moment in public. “Sheer panic, sheer panic,” she says, as she describes the gut wrenching, sickening feeling. “Everything goes through your head.”  Her biggest fear, she says, is that someone on the outside, someone who’s not supposed to be keeping track of her child, could hack into the trackable device. “Look at all the crimes against children in Florida, the sex offenders, human trafficking. I’m afraid someone like that will somehow find out who my child is and where my child is going. It’s too much of an invasion of privacy,” she claims. “No parent is perfect. Every kid likes to play and hide. But, you said should not subject your child to this.”

Longtime engineer, Stuart Lipoff, is based out of Boston and is well known in the electronics industry. He’s seen the research on microchipping, spoken publicly on the subject and is a voracious reader on any and all information dealing with this developing science. For more than four decades, he’s been active in his field. He is convinced that microchipping not only children, but even those suffering from Alzheimer’s, could save lives. “Without question,” Lipoff told us. “I would tell people that the technology is already here, and it’s been around since the early 90s. In fact, two companies developed microchips for humans and were testing them. They were on the verge of an initial public offering, but went under. People should be aware that testing is being done right now. The military is not only testing this out, but already utilizes its properties. It’s not a matter of if it will happen, but when.”

Lipoff explains that the concept is not as “sci-fi” and foreign as most people think. He points out that the technology is actually something we come into contact with and use every day. For example, he says, most Floridians utilize a microchip every time they get into their cars. Lipoff compares the microchip to a Sunpass. A tiny implant, the size of a grain of rice, would be read by a nearby transponder, and the chip would contain vital information. So, what about the “big brother” concept?  Would people be watching every move a person makes? The answer, Lipoff tells us, is no. He points out that GPS tracking would not be possible because it can’t penetrate the skin.

However, if a child or an Alzheimer’s patient were discovered, all it would take would be swiping that person’s arm or wrist with a device deigned to read the chip. The information would be at your fingertips. “This could reunited child with his or her parents or an Alzheimer’s patients with loved ones. It could truly saved lives.”

Lipoff likens it to a barcode. “When barcodes first came out in the late 1960s, people were appalled. They were wary of them and did not understand the concept. Today, it is so commonplace, we don’t even notice it. A microchip would work much in the same way.” Lipoff maintains that the biggest hurdle would be the human factor uncomfortably nestled within the science. People are simply not ready, he says, to open up to a concept like this. He also theorizes that a “major corporation like Texas Instruments or Apple” would need to be behind a project of this nature to hone the technology for the masses. “The idea is there. Technology is there. It will take people accepting the idea and a company behind it to make it work. And, it will definitely happen.”  He advises people not to be afraid of the health risks, stating that they’re virtually are none.

For Steffany, she is content to be called the “odd mom out” for now.  Given the opportunity, she would most likely microchip her special needs child in a heartbeat. “I still have a lot of questions, but I believe in the concept. If this could save my daughter’s life, why not? If something happened to her, and I could bring her back safely to me, I would be so happy to have this. I know parents out there have had unfortunate circumstances. I feel terrible for them.  What if they had this device? It makes you think about protecting your child at all costs. I know my opinion may not be popular, but this is how I feel.”

She adds, “I always tell people as long as you’re doing what is best for your child, you’re not really wrong. A micro chip could give that parent peace of mind they don’t have otherwise.”  She stops for a moment and looks in the direction of her teenage daughter. “Overall, I think it could really help. I think it could save lives.”

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