I’ve been reading a lot lately on my social media feed about how the government or other shadowy organization is using the COVID-19 pandemic to ramp up its assumed goal of tracking our movements. Usually it involves something along the lines of how Bill Gates is trying to develop a vaccine for COVID-19 because he wants to use vaccination efforts to insert micro-chips into our bodies so he can get uber-rich and control the world.
For now I will ignore the obvious flaws in this theory, including the fact that Bill Gates already is uber-rich and since he controls the software that controls the world he probably doesn’t really need to go around inserting chips in everyone to achieve this goal. But I would like to spend some time considering what exactly would be involved if someone DID want to somehow chip us and control us or at least track us.
In what now seems to be another life, I was on a career-track to become a wildlife biologist. One of my first jobs was conducting snow-tracking surveys of forest carnivores in Yellowstone National Park. We went out on skis and snowshoes following specific routes and counted the number of track crossing of different animals that we encountered in the snow. I was interested in understanding more about the concept of animal movements and our methods of tracking them and what it all meant and began studying the process through computer simulation as well. Later, after working on a completely unrelated project for my Masters degree I returned to Montana for a winter and was the lead biologist on a project conducting snow-tracking surveys on a large private ranch outside Bozeman. The next winter I returned to Colorado and worked on the lynx re-introduction where my main duty was to locate lynx tracks and follow them backwards to see if they had been making kills, what kind of habitat they were using, etc. Around the same time period GPS technology was becoming available which allowed fine-scaled tracking of animal movement patterns and people were beginning to collect a lot of that kind of data. The problem was that nobody knew how to analyze that type of data and so in the fall of 2000 I started a PhD program focused on developing statistical techniques for analyzing animal movement patterns and worked on nothing else for 3 years. I never finished that PhD for unrelated reasons, but the point is that I did spend a considerable portion of my life thinking about animal movement, how to track it, how to store the data, and how to analyze it and I have some idea about what is required and the technologies that are available.
So let’s think a little bit about what would be required to develop a system of tracking people. First of all, you would need a device attached to the person. Let’s call this the mobile platform. In order for that device to collect anything useful it must also be connected to some type of sensor. The most useful sensor would detect a location but other types of sensors might collect information about movement (think FitBit), temperature, heart rate, pressure, oxygen saturation, maybe even blood chemistry. Next you would need some type of data-logger to store the information that the sensors collect. Then you need a way to remove the information from the mobile platform. This might require retrieval of the mobile platform so that the data can be downloaded, but that is time consuming and intrusive. It would be far easier to allow the mobile platform to transmit the data so that it can be read from a distance. For this, of course, we need a transmitter. We probably also need the mobile platform to have some kind of receiver so that we can send it commands and tell it what to do. This could be pre-programmed in advance, however it would be far more useful for us to be able to send commands as we need them. For instance when we are close enough to receive the data, we could send a signal to start transmitting. This way the mobile platform does not need to be transmitting continuously which would use a lot of battery. Finally if we are going to be connected to sensors and sending and receiving information we need a power supply, or battery. With all technologies requiring electrical power there are trade-offs involved. Some type of sensors (GPS for instance) require a lot of battery power, and of course the further you need to transmit the data, the more battery power that you need. In short, however, any practical tracking system would require all of the following components. 1) Mobile platform, 2) Sensors, 3) Storage, 4) Transmitter, 5) Receiver, 6) Power supply.
Now let’s consider the types of tracking systems that are currently in use. We know that we can insert a micro-chip in our pets that can be used to identify them if they are lost and return them to us. This type of micro-chip implanted under our skin is what most of us will think of when we think of being “chipped” by the government against our will or even unknowingly. But what is really involved with this technology? These chips are what are known as passive integrated transponders (PIT). They are passive because they have no way to transmit anything on their own. They need to be “read” by a scanner in close proximity. Close meaning inches or at most a couple feet. The scanner sends electromagnetic energy to the transponder and the transponder uses that energy to reflect back energy that is organized in such a way that it can be read as a number. The scanner thus simply returns a number unique to the chip. That is all. In wildlife biology they are used primarily to identify unique animals to study survival, estimate population density, etc. They are no more than a fancy form of an eartag or a tattoo. In some very limited circumstances they can be used to study movement. For instance black footed ferrets use prairie dog burrows and scanners can be placed at the entrance to burrows in order to detect use of burrows. But to really be useful you would need a scanner at every one of the burrows and that may be many thousands of scanners. They are also used to detect animal movement through road culverts where animals are forced to move through an area small enough for the tag to be read. With pets they are also used to identify an animal by returning a unique number. That number can then be used to search a database of owners in order to find the pet’s home. This same technology is used in credit-cards that use a chip. It’s a very useful technology for identifying individuals and the advantage of passive technology is that it does not require a battery and thus theoretically will last forever. The disadvantage is that you need to be very close in order to read it and thus they are worthless for “tracking” anything. You need to find whatever it is that is carrying the tag by some other means before it can be read. As a platform for tracking things on a large scale it is virtually worthless.
Other types of mobile platforms used in wildlife surveys require an electronic device attached to the outside of the animal or surgically implanted. One that was common in the past and still used is a radio transmitter. Most radio transmitters are very simple. All that they do is transmit a radio signal. The frequency of the radio signal is used to uniquely identify an individual so the number of transmitters is limited to the number of individually discernible radio frequencies available. It’s possible that they can be programmed to only transmit during certain parts of the day to save battery life although the simplicity of this design allows for relatively long battery life. Sometimes they are equipped with an activity sensor that will indicate how active the mobile device is. If there is no activity for a specific period of time it is assumed that the animal has died and the transmitter will send out a different signal to indicate mortality. Radio collars are often used to get location information however the collar itself can only transmit a radio signal on a specific frequency. It does not have a location sensor, nor does it have the ability to transmit data. In order to gather a location someone must have a directional antenna and determine the direction to the animal from one spot. Then the user must move to a different spot and measure the direction to the animal from that spot. It is possible then, to determine the intersection of the two directions and thus the location of the animal. Getting an accurate location for the animal however, requires that the directions are measured accurately (difficult given the nature of radio waves), the location of the person taking the direction is measured accurately (much easier these days with GPS), and that the animal doesn’t move during the time when you are moving between locations. In the end, the accuracy of locations is generally unsuitable for fine scaled movement data and the level of effort required to get each location is prohibitive. There is also the problem of having to recapture a wild animal to remove the collar before its batteries run out, either to add new batteries or prevent the collar from harming the animal when it is no longer useful. Nevertheless in certain instances this technique can be useful and has provided a lot of information about wildlife movement. This type of platform only requires a mobile platform, transmitter, and power supply.
When Global Positioning System (GPS) technology became available, wildlife biologists saw a lot of potential to collect more accurate and finer scale movement data. GPS works by using a system of satellites in the sky to triangulate your location on earth. The satellites are doing the transmission and so the collar only needs a receiver to get the GPS data. A GPS receiver could theoretically collect data every few seconds with an accuracy of only a few meters without any effort from the researchers. This sounds wonderful, however the problem is that the GPS receiver is basically a computer that uses a fair amount of energy to calculate its position from 4 or 5 GPS satellites. That means that it requires much larger batteries than a traditional radio collar and thus were only suitable for larger animals. GPS collars also needed a way to retrieve the location from the collar and they were quite expensive. Some collars would transmit location data to a satellite that could then be re-transmitted to the user. This was great for large, wide ranging animals because you never had to worry about where they went, they could always be followed via satellite, but the cost of using the satellite system was quite high and it required a transmitter capable of reaching the satellite. Other systems would allow you to locate the animal via a traditional radio collar and then establish a radio-based data link to download the locations from the collar. This system was less expensive but still required you to keep track of the animal via labor intensive radio-tracking methods and if the animal disappeared from the study area it could be very difficult to find and retrieve the data. Another method contained a cellular modem and could transmit locations through the same cell towers that we use for phones. This worked well if you were working in an area where there was cellular signal but many projects are in remote areas where that does not exist. An even simpler system just collected GPS data and stored it on board the collar, just before the battery went dead the collar would release from the animal and send out a mortality signal and the researcher could locate the collar using radio telemetry, return it to the manufacturer and the manufacturer would then download the the data and send it to the researcher.
In 2003 I put a single GPS collar on a coyote in Indiana. This was about the smallest animal that could handle a GPS collar at that time and for an animal that size we could only have enough battery power to collect locations every 5 minutes for 2 weeks. It worked fine for our purposes, which was just to test my methods for analyzing fine scaled movement data but would be insufficient for any kind of real research and that collar cost $2500. I have not kept up with the capabilities of these collars, I am sure that they are much improved, but I am also sure that battery life and the requirement for at least one other transmitter limits them to larger animals, at least for genuine scientific research purposes.
Another method for tracking animals is using satellite trackers. This technology is similar to and often confused with GPS collars but it is actually quite different. These transmit a signal to geosynchronous satellite rather than receiving a signal from the satellites. The mobile platform does not require a computer to calculate the location, that is done on the satellite. The satellites are directly overhead with nothing to interfere so they do not require a powerful transmitter and thus they do not require large heavy batteries and even be deployed on large birds. Unfortunately the accuracy is often only within 1km so they are not useful for fine scale movement data but they are very useful for tracking migration patterns of wide-ranging animals especially in a marine environment where other forms of location sensors would be very difficult.
It is also possible to collect location data by triangulating from our cell tower network, and indeed our phones will use that method if GPS is not available however the accuracy is usually only +/- 100m or so.
What are some other things that might be useful to collect besides location data? I am a runner and many runners today use a GPS watch to track their runs. I wear mine 24/7 and it measures my heart rate all day long, keeps track of my resting heart rate, level of stress, amount and quality of sleep I get, etc. It also has an activity sensor that can tell how many steps I take every day, how much climbing I do, even how fast I move. The watch is fairly large for a watch but not excessively so. I can turn the GPS on when I run to get location information accurate to within 5m. It will last about a week under normal use but if I keep the GPS on it will only go for 24 hours before needing to be re-charged. In order to collect this information the watch has to connect to my phone via bluetooth and transmit the data to the phone. The phone can then send that information to a central database over the cellular network. There are a lot more runners than wildlife researchers in the world and they have pushed the technology for GPS tracking far more than biologists ever could so this probably represents close to the state of the art for a mobile tracking platform. As amazing as it is with all the data it can collect, it still requires being recharged every 24 hours if it is used to collect location data at GPS level accuracy. Probably if it only collected a location every 5 minutes or so it could last a few days but thats it. And even then it cannot transmit that information to anyone without the use of an external cell phone. There is no way that such a device could track you without your knowledge and consent. It is too big and requires you to recharge it and download the data. Tracking you without your knowledge for even a month would require several pounds of batteries and a transmitter suitable at least for working on cell towers (and a data plan unless the cell service providers are in on the scheme).
So what would a secret plan to track humans for nefarious purposes require? Hopefully if you’ve read this far you are at least convinced that its not going to be possible with an implanted micro-chip. Such a chip would require not just the chip, but sensors, storage, a transmitter, and a power supply. That is not going to be given to you via a vaccine needle. The costs would also be astronomical, not just for the hardware but for the massive server farms required to store all that data. So how then would such a massive large scale tracking plan be implemented? Ideally they would train us to carry the mobile platform around on our own so they wouldn’t have to attach it to us. They would train us to re-charge it continually whenever the battery was low. If they were smart, they would even get us to pay for the privilege to help mitigate the expense. Does that get your wheels spinning? Yes, a large scale micro-chipping via vaccine operation would be technically impossible, and why would Bill Gates even try it? We already have been trained to carry our tracking devices with us at all times, recharge them when the batteries die, and even pay for the privilege.
I’m not saying that this is happening. I understand a little bit about what would be required to manage that much data and what purpose would it serve either Bill Gates or the government for that matter? I see zero benefit for anyone to do this to all people all the time and the logistical considerations for managing it are staggering. What I am saying is that if the government or Bill Gates DID want to do that it wouldn’t require a massive new secret technology delivered via vaccines, it would just require a bit of software downloaded to our phones and the technology to do it is already there. We would do it to ourselves. Fortunately government may not have a reason to track us all but private companies do it all the time and we permit them to do it because it makes our lives better. They may use that information to fine-tune advertising for our specific interests and location but we then have specialized information about things that interest us and are close by. It’s not a perfect system. Sometimes its annoying, but sometimes it’s very useful as well. And if we don’t like it we always have the option to turn it off. At least that’s what “they” want us to think.
So lets all stop worrying about Bill gates and his micro-chip vaccine. If you are really concerned about being tracked throw out your cell-phone and accept the consequences because the future is here now and there is nothing you can do to stop it.
Then go down to the nearest clinic and get yourself vaccinated. It may save your life.