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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Employee implants

In 1985, Dr. Hannis Stoddard invented an injectable microchip based pet recovery system. In the last decade Hollywood picked up on the theme by injecting humans with microchips. Who knows what goes on in the secret world of the military and espionage? This week a Wisconsin company made the news when it announced that employees had been offered microchip implants to use as a method for building access and food purchases. This is something that’s happening and is going to change the workplace.

What are Microchips?

Microchips are rice-sized radio frequency identification devices that use passive Near Field Communication (NFC) technology to transmit data when held a few inches away from readers. Passive meaning that the microchips hold data that the reader recognizes but the devices cannot receive data. The devices were popularized in the 1990’s for recovery use in pets, being injected under the skin in the neck/shoulder area.

The technology was tested for office uses in 1998 when British scientist Kevin Warwick experimented with microchip implants to open doors, and switch on lights. The technology has been experimented with since that time for commercial and medical uses with little success or popularity.

In January 2015, the Swedish company Epicenter began offering voluntary implants to its employees. The chips are used as a replacement for magnetic key cards to access secure areas and for use as payment in company stores. For human use in this manner, the microchip is inserted in the fleshy area between the thumb and forefinger. Three Square Market, a Wisconsin technology company, have partnered with the same Swedish company who conducted the inserts for Epicenter and plans on using the technology in the same manner.  This is the first time the technology has been used in a broad setting tagging workers.

Microchipping issues

All new technology brings concerns of privacy and security, which begets legal debate and regulation. In this instance the technology also raises religious concerns.

According the National Conference of State Legislatures, nineteen states have some law referencing microchipping. Five of those states (California, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Wisconsin) have specific laws prohibiting the mandatory implantation of microchips. Some states currently use tag/bracelet based RFID technology to track prisoners. After some recent high profile escapes there has been legislative debate to use tracking implants on prisoners.

Mark Gasson is a British scientist who is a proponent of enhancing humans through the use of implanted technology. In 2009, Gasson inserted a microchip into his own hand and went on to demonstrate that not only could the device be hacked but could receive a computer virus. This and other experiments raise security concerns. Implanted microchips have the potential to store personal and health data. As with any data storage device, the implants would have to be protected against hacking.

Wearable technology is not new to the workplace. Watch like and other devices are used to track employees throughout their day. The November 2016 post, Employee monitoring, gave an overview of wearable tech in the workplace. The concerns raised were legality of employer access to health data as well as monitoring outside of the workplace. With implanted devices the concerns are the same except in this instance the employee cannot be separated from the monitoring device.

Another issue is of a religious concern. Christians believing that this type of technology is another step closer to the writings in the book of Revelation. The EEOC has ruled in favor of Christian employees in past cases where a company has implemented fingerprint scanning.

The few people I've spoken to have said no way. The Swedish company, Epicenter, has parties celebrating an employee's decision to be implanted. The Wisconsin company, Three Square Market, already has fifty employees agreeing to the implants.

Employers considering this or any type of employee tracking devices should do considerable research. Definitely work with an attorney to develop policies and updates to employee handbooks.
Technology is ever changing our world. Whenever any new piece of technology or approach to employee monitoring is introduced there will be legal issues. How the devices are deployed, what they are used for, how data is collected and stored, and what the data is used for will all present legal challenges.

George Orwell is probably very happy.

Read other posts regarding employee monitoring and privacy. Please feel free to share and like.
Employee monitoring November 2016

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