On 8 December 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives passed House Resolution 4919 (also known as Kevin and Avonte’s Law), a bill reauthorizing the Missing Alzheimer’s Disease Patient Alert Program — a program that, until it expired in 2013, provided federal grants to locally based agencies and organizations for the purposes of protecting and locating missing patients with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia (with an added provision supporting the same services for missing patients with developmental disabilities such as autism).
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, explained the motivation behind it as follows (in part):
“Having worked with the Alzheimer’s and Autism communities for years, I know how important this program can be in advancing the health and safety of persons who wonder as well as advancing awareness and education about the problem,” Smith said. “What is shocking is that while almost half of all children with autism wander from safety, only half of those affected families have received any guidance or training on addressing the concern and keeping their child safe, according to a study published in Pediatrics.”
Smith said the funding can be used to provide proactive educational programming to prevent wandering and assist in locating missing individuals, as well as innovative locative technology to help find those who may wander.
“According to the Alzheimer’s Association, half of Alzheimer’s patients who wander will suffer serious injury, sometimes fatal, if not found within the first 24 hours,” Smith noted. “This legislation will provide funding to law enforcement agencies and non-profits to help implement locative tracking technology programs for individuals with dementia/disability and implement a notification or communications system of alerts,” he said.
After being approved by the House, Smith’s bill was sent to the Senate, which adjourned for the year before acting on it.
There was little controversial about H.R. 4919, apart from the authorization of tracking devices to monitor patients at risk for wandering. Not without good reason, privacy concerns have always arisen when the phrase “tracking device” appears in government legislation. There are cases, however, when such concerns mushroom into full-blown paranoia. Often, as in the present case, this is due to the spread of misinformation.
An article originally published on TrueActivist.com and subsequently reposted on other web sites, including Anonymous News, described a provision of H.R. 4919 as follows (emphasis added):
Six years ago, NBC Nightly News boldly predicted that all Americans would be fitted with RFID microchips by the year 2017. Though at the time, NBC’s prediction seemed far-fetched, the House recently passed a bill that would bring a micro-chipped populace closer to reality before year’s end.
Last Thursday, the House passed HR 4919, also known as Kevin and Avonte’s Law, which would allow the US attorney general to award grants to law enforcement for the creation and operation of “locative tracking technology programs.” Though the program’s mission is to find “individuals with forms of dementia or children with developmental disabilities who have wandered from safe environments,” it provides no restriction on the tracking programs inclusion of other individuals. The bill would also require the attorney general to work with the secretary of health and human services and unnamed health organizations to establish the “best practices” for the use of tracking devices.
Those in support of the legislation maintain that such programs could prevent tragedies where those with mental or cognitive disabilities wandered into dangerous circumstances. Yet, others have called these good intentions a “Trojan horse” for the expansion of a North American police state as the bill’s language could be very broadly interpreted.
The suggestion that H.R. 4919 is simply a short step along the road from safeguarding dementia and autism patients to microchipping the entire populace and implementing a police state is based far more on alarmism than fact, however.
First, it is not the case that NBC Nightly News predicted that all Americans would have RFID microchips implanted in their bodies by 2017 (we debunked this false rumor long ago).
Second, although the wording of H.R. 4919 may raise some legitimate discussion about privacy concerns, it does not provide for “microchipping” anyone — not people with Alzheimer’s, not people with autism, not the general populace. The bill clearly restricts the type of tracking devices to be used to ones that are “non-invasive and non-permanent”:
Not later than 120 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Attorney General, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services and leading research, advocacy, self-advocacy, and service organizations, shall establish standards and best practices relating to the use of non-invasive and non-permanent tracking technology, where a guardian or parent, in consultation with the individual’s health care provider, has determined that a non-invasive and non-permanent tracking device is the least restrictive alternative, to locate individuals as described in subsection (a)(2) of section 240001 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (42 U.S.C. 14181), as added by this Act.
Another paragraph defined the terms employed in the paragraph quoted above:
The term non-invasive and non-permanent means, with regard to any technology or device, that the procedure to install the technology or device does not create an external or internal marker or implant a device or other trackable items.
(Previous iterations of the law, in effect through 2013, called for the use of simple ID bracelets.)
Third, while it’s true that the legislation calls for the U.S. Attorney General to consult with the Secretary of Health and Human services and “leading research, advocacy, self-advocacy, and service organizations” to establish best practices for the use of such tracking devices, its language, again, specifies that those devices be non-invasive and non-permanent. It also requires that the best practices include procedures to safeguard privacy, criteria for establishing in each case that a tracking device is the least restrictive alternative to prevent harm to a patient, measures for preventing abuse, protection of the civil rights and liberties of the patient, and a complaint and investigation process to address reported abuses of the program.
Lastly, the bill specifies that use of tracking devices is strictly voluntary and prohibits the federal government from establishing databases that gather information collected from such devices:
Limitations on program
Any tracking data provided by tracking devices issued under this program may not be used by a Federal entity to create a database.
Nothing in this Act may be construed to require that a parent or guardian use a tracking device to monitor the location of a child or adult under that parent or guardian’s supervision if the parent or guardian does not believe that the use of such device is necessary or in the interest of the child or adult under supervision.
Barca, Christopher. “‘Kevin and Avonte’s Law’ Passes House.”
Queens Chronicle. 15 December 2016.
Fernandes-Alcantara, Adrienne L. “Missing Adults: Background, Federal Programs, and Issues for Congress.”
Congressional Research Service. 7 May 2013.
Webb, Whitney. “House Passes Bill Allowing Government to Microchip Citizens with ‘Mental Disabilities.”
TrueActivist. 13 December 2016.
Autism Policy and Politics. “Kevin and Avonte’s Law: Back to Square One.”
14 December 2016.