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Technology and Unintended Consequences

By some accounts, kidnapping in Mexico rose by almost 10% last year; statistics also show that reported kidnappings rose by 40% from 2004 to 2007. These are just the reported numbers. In Mexico City, officially there were 323 kidnappings in the first half of 2008, nearly reaching the total of 438 reported in 2007. However, according to ICESI, the Institute of Studies on Citizen Insecurity, the number of kidnappings probably exceeded 7,000 in 2007. The disparity in the numbers stems from the fact that many kidnappings are unreported.

To some extent the fear of police involvement is the reason that they are not reported (police involvement is not too surprising – I am aware of one kidnapping in 1998 in which a local District Attorney was implicated).

Also, many of the kidnappings do not involve the typical target, members of wealthy families. The tactic of kidnappings, or “snatch and grab” type crimes now affects the middle class, and often occur in a flash of time (sometimes just a few hours). These “Express Kidnappings” often involve the victim being forced to withdraw funds from an ATM or “simply” stripping the victim of all of their valuables.

In response to this meteoric rise in kidnappings, a Mexican company named Xega is now marketing a crystal-encased chip the size of a grain of rice that is supposedly able to track the person by GPS satellite.

Most people get the chips injected into their arms between the skin and muscle where they cannot be seen. Customers who fear they are being kidnapped press a panic button on an external device to alert Xega which then calls the police.

Despite questions of whether or not the chip actually enables tracking of a kidnap victim, it is not too unobvious that simply promoting the use of this chip could result in some very brutal unintended consequences (your imagination does not have to wander very far). A number of years ago, one of my associates considered and then rejected a very similar embedded chip for that reason.

No matter, though. At a cost of $4,000 plus a yearly fee of $2,200, Xega sees kidnapping as a growth industry and is planning to expand its services next year to Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela.

Technology has unintended consequences, and sometimes, the by-product can actually be worse than the incident itself.