In recent years, there have been a few isolated cases where overzealous employers have discussed forcing their workers to get microchips implanted into them as a security measure.
This is a very rare practice, but has been growing in popularity, and lawmakers in Michigan recently passed a bill that would make it illegal for businesses to force their employees to get microchipped. Although the bill does leave space for workers to make that choice voluntarily, which means that microchipping workers will not be illegal in the state so long as the business allows them to opt-out if they aren’t comfortable it. This loophole has some privacy advocates concerned, because management has some very underhanded ways of forcing their employees into agreeing to things that they aren’t comfortable with.
The move comes as growing numbers of companies have explored the idea of using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) microchips as a substitute for time cards, ID badges, and security clearance devices.
The chips are being pitched as a way to streamline security systems and job perks, but privacy experts warn that they can also be used to monitor employees and to ensure that they are being productive.
“With the way technology has increased over the years and as it continues to grow, it’s important Michigan job providers balance the interests of the company with their employees’ expectations of privacy,” said Republican State Rep. Bronna Kahle, who sponsored the bill.
“While these miniature devices are on the rise, so are the calls of workers to have their privacy protected,” Kahle added.
The first reported experiment with RFID implants was conducted by a British professor of cybernetics named Kevin Warwick, who had an RFID chip implanted in his arm by his general practitioner George Boulos in 1998. In 2004, the ‘Baja Beach Clubs’ operated by Conrad Chase in Barcelona and Rotterdam offered implanted chips to identify their VIP customers.
The Food and Drug Administration in the United States approved the use of RFID chips in humans in 2004.
In 2006, Reuters reported that two hackers, Newitz and Westhues, at a conference in New York City demonstrated that they could clone the RFID signal from a human implanted RFID chip, indicating that the device was not as secure as the industry previously claimed.
In 2009, British scientist Mark Gasson had an RFID device surgically implanted into his left hand and demonstrated how a computer virus could wirelessly infect his implant and then be transmitted on to other systems.
A Swedish company, BioHax, that specializes in providing human chips, has been leading the way in workplace implementation.
The company says they have already chipped about 4,000 people, most of whom live in Sweden. However, last year, the company implanted microchips in at least 50 employees of a machine company in the United States.
BiHax. CEO Todd Westby, believes that this technology will soon be ruling our lives.
“We foresee the use of RFID technology to drive everything from making purchases in our office break room market, opening doors, use of copy machines, logging into our office computers, unlocking phones, sharing business cards, storing medical/health information, and used as payment at other RFID terminals. Eventually, this technology will become standardized allowing you to use this as your passport, public transit, all purchasing opportunities, etc,” Westby says.