nancy Techie Tues 9-2-97

The digital age has finally come to the footsoldier and now our daughters in arms will be wearing high-tech ID.

But just what kind of data will be on the tags?

Digital Dogtags!

A Whimsical DogtagIt used to be 5 lines of type, punched into a metal tag, but all that is changing! The US military will soon be issueing dogtags with computer chips that can store up to 10 megs of information about a soldier, including (but not limited to) medical alerts. This could save lives if the information is critical, but it could also encourage the invasion of privacy if used inappropriately. Another concern is the potential for security leaks and even torture if the tags are used by enemy forces to learn about the soldier.

“We have to be very concerned about how we protect the information — in who’s hands would it be, should it be encrypted, could the encryption be broken, what would happen if it ended up in the wrong hands,” says Defense Secretary William Cohen.

The military will have to determine a balance between security and utility with the new digital dogtags before they go into production late next year. By 1999 all US soldiers should be scanned in.

An overview of the uses of digital medical tags:

Today, we in the medical profession are witnesses to a growing dependence on the management of information for the appropriate and timely delivery of health care to our customers. Furthermore, we see an ever increasing trend towards the digitization of this information to better facilitate this management with the computing tools of the information age. This includes not only the storage of textual information such as the progress notes of a physician or the results of a laboratory study, but also multimedia digital information such as a chest x-ray, the sound recording of a heart murmur, or the movie recording of a diagnostic procedure such as a colonoscopy.

Due to the nature of the data that is stored, the multimedia based medical record can become very large in size. A single diagnostic chest x-ray can be eight to ten megabytes (i.e., eight-ten million pieces of computer binary data) and a single mammography series can be sixty megabytes in size. It is not uncommon for the total record of a single patient to be a gigabyte (i.e., a billion bytes) in size.

Efficient and secure access to the contents of this record is crucial if we are to take advantage of its many benefits, including decreased incidence of lost records and better tracking of medical interactions. Networking infrastructures that link different computing sites are evolving to enable larger data carrying capacities. However, there will always be instances in which a network is not available; times when the information present in one location must be transported to another via some physical means. This is the purpose of the Personal Information Carrier, a transportable storage technology.

The Department of Defense (DoD) MediTag Project, supported at the Telemedicine Technology Area Directorate in Ft. Detrick, Maryland was authorized by the Commanding General, United States Army Medical Research and Materiel Command to design Personal Information Carrier devices for use in military settings. The MediTag team is tasked to develop solutions that provide practical, reliable, and secure solutions to this mission. We utilize rapid prototyping methods to achieve cost effective designs for inclusion in a wide variety of DoD applications.

We have found that for a system to be valuable as a Personal Information Carrier, it must satisfy the following characteristics:

  • Be durable to withstand the environmental stresses placed on the device, but allowing intentional destruction of the tag under hostile conditions,
  • Have a large storage capacity to accommodate multimedia information,
  • Be able to securely store information to prevent unauthorized access, tampering, or data loss ,
  • Have a rapid data transfer rate to enable efficient information management,
  • Adhere to industry standards and be of simple design to best integrate with existing applications and devices, and
  • Be of relative low cost.

The current MediTag prototype represents what we believe to be a successful implementation of these characteristics. The system is comprised of an electronic dogtag-like device where information is stored and a reader/writer device used to integrate the tags into a computer. The tags allow data capture and delivery of a wide array of data types including X-rays, MRIs, EKGs, sound, movies, or hundreds of pages of text. These tags have the following characteristics:

The MediTag system is composed of a PCMCIA (PC) type reader capable of containing two individual memory tags. The reader is based upon the National Semiconductor PCM16C02 Configurable Multiple Function PC Card Interface Chip.

The PCM16C02 features the following:

  • PC Card bus interface
  • PC Card Standard configuration registers
  • NAND Flash interface configurable
  • Address decoding and control for 2 I/O functions
  • Logic to support two interrupt capable ISA like I/O functions on a PC card
  • Power management
  • Clock control.

The PCM16C02 chip and it’s support circuitry provides control and access to two NM29N16 NAND Flash memory chips. Associated system software drivers provide reading and writing as though addressing a system hard drive. All specifications for security and compression are provided as calls to either DLLs or VCLs. Built in security components (part of the driver software) are not provided in source, to insure system security. Hacker and reverse engineering defeating components are built-in to destroy systems attempting to use sourcer, periscope, and other disassembly programs.

The current prototype design has the following characteristics:

  • Storage capacities of 2 megabytes (uncompressed) data
  • 100% weather proof
  • Supply Voltage of 4.75V to 5.25V
  • Breakable design to allow for intentional destruction in the field under hostile conditions
  • Withstands temperature variations from 0 to 70 degrees Celsius
  • Compatible with all types of computer hardware that support the ATA PCMCIA interface standard
  • Storage of any form of digital data
  • Memory cells do not require batteries
  • Extensible: system will evolve with technology
  • Low cost component architecture

The Department of Defense has formed a Cooperative Research Agreement with DataDisk Technologies of Sterling, Virginia to explore and develop this prototype design.

The key benefits of this system include meeting our current information management requirments in a transportable environment, adapting to a wide range of application needs, and using available base technology, thus ensuring rapid development cyles.

Currently we are pursuing the integration of this technology into several applications, including the DoD Theater Medical Information Program (i.e., TMIP, a constellation of applications designed to improve medical information management on the battlefield), inpatient and outpatient medical management applications, and personnel applications that take advantage of the ability to store demographic and identifying information such as pictures, palm and finger prints, voice prints, and retinal scan information on the tags.

Future developments will include a migration from the current electronic storage technologies into optical storage technologies, where light will become the pervasive medium of information storage and transmission (i.e., optronics). Advances in this field are such that a MediTag in three to five years, based on optronic technology, could be capable of a pedabyte (a thousand terabytes or a million gigabytes) of information storage capacity and be able to tranfer that information at a terabyte (a thousand gigabytes) per second.

Project MediTag represents the exploration and development of important information technologies that will satisfy military as well as civilian information storage and transportation needs.

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