Human microchip implants are an archetype in dystopian visions of society. It has become common to speculate on the future of a microchipped population, though governments and corporations have denied strenuously that their intentions are to track their flocks so thoroughly. But now it looks as if that world is beginning to unfold.
One Wisconsin company became the first known U.S. business to ask its employees to undergo implantation, and now an Arkansas lawmaker is trying to get ahead of the curve. State Rep. Stephen Meeks (R-Greenbrier) has proposed a bill to regulate the use of microchips in the workplace. While no known employers in Arkansas currently microchip their employees, Meeks hopes to set up the rules before it starts. It may be there that the problem lies, however; by regulating a microchipped workplace, Meeks’ bill is all but an admission that such a future is coming.
For Your Own Good
“Do we wait until after the snake bites and then try to come up with solutions for it?… I believe there’s great wisdom in doing it beforehand,” Meeks said regarding Arkansas House Bill 1177, which has passed through the House and is awaiting Senate approval. “The idea here is to set the ground rules before the technology comes to our state, to protect workers.
…little discussion over the creeping nature of microchip-related laws…
“This tech is coming to our state and to our nation whether we want it to or not,” Meeks, who is also the chair of the Arkansas legislature’s Committee on Advanced Communication and Information Technology, told reporters. “The question is are we going to be proactive and prepared for it, or are we going to be reactive?”
The bill has been framed as a protective measure, a position that has been repeated by an almost unquestioning local media. The Baxter Bulletin, a local newspaper, was particularly notable in its flattering portrait of the proposal, calling it “A bill that would prohibit businesses from implanting microchips into employees without their consent,” with no critique of the microchipping of employees as a reality that may concern the public; 98% of respondents to an informal social media poll by KATV said they would not allow an employer to implant them with the technology.
There has been little discussion over the creeping nature of microchip-related laws as prelude for a chipped society. “We as a body have got to be proactive to protect our citizens, and that’s what this bill does. It’s a protection bill,” insisted Rep. Jack Ladyman (R-Jonesboro) to the Arkansas House.
Other states have proposed similar bills, including Wisconsin, California, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Maryland.
“Concerning Microchip Implanting of Employees”
So, what does HB1177 say? The short proposal would mandate that:
- Employees can be microchipped by their employers, but written consent must be given.
- Employees may be physically present or contractors who work off-premises.
- An employer can be a private business, the state, or a political subdivision of the state.
- Employers must disclose what data are collected and how they are maintained.
- Employers will be responsible for the cost of implanting and removing the chip, as well as any related medical issues.
- The employee can request the removal of the chip, which must take place within 30 days.
- The employee may keep the microchip after employment is terminated, and thenceforth assumes full responsibility for it.
- A microchip cannot be required as a condition of employment.
Beyond this general picture, the document is light on details. No suggested penalties are given for employers that violate the law, but more worrying is the complete lack of restriction on what kind of information employers would be allowed to collect or how it would be used. Neither is there any mention of confidentiality – would employers be allowed to sell or pass employee data to a third party, during or after the period of employment? While the bill ostensibly seeks to prevent forcible implants, how long will it be until most or all employers want their workers to be chipped? Could that create market pressure that would de facto force prospective employees to submit to the procedure for fear of financial ruin?
One also notices that the state and its political bodies would be allowed to track workers, perhaps a precursor to government microchipping the population at large? How could this affect state employees whose politics differ from the government in place at the time? Meeks has denied that the state is currently pursuing such a program. “Right now the state has no interest in getting involved with this,” he told KATV. “The state has no interest in tracking people with this.”
It has been well established that younger people today are more mobile in their careers than previous generations, who tended to stay in one job or industry for life. Given that observation, how would employment-based microchipping operate if people – particularly contractors – stayed with a company for only a short time or worked multiple jobs? Wouldn’t it be more convenient to simply have one personal implant for life? Surely, that is the obvious next step on this avenue.
Party Like It’s 1984
Human microchip implants may seem like science fiction to most of the general public, but Meeks didn’t get this idea from nowhere. In 2017, Wisconsin vending machine company Three Square Market began embedding into the hands of its employees subcutaneous microchips, which are used instead of key cards to open doors, purchase snacks in the cafeteria, and log in to computers. A year on, around a third of the company’s employees are chipped. “You get used to it; it’s easy,” says president Patrick McMullan. “It’s just become such a part of my routine,” agrees Steve Kassekert, vice president of finance, who became annoyed when his chip malfunctioned once as he was trying to pay for a soda at one of the company’s vending machines.
The microchips were supplied by Swedish provider Biohax, which is in talks with U.K. firms to conduct staff implants, including one unnamed company with hundreds of thousands of employees, founder Jowan Osterlund told The Telegraph in November. U.K. microchip provider BioTeq also has implanted 150 people, The Guardian reports, mostly private individuals, but also some at workplaces, including a bank that is testing the technology.
Microchips are the next hot new trend in Sweden, and providers are throwing “parties” where people get injected with a tracker the size of a grain of rice. Thousands of Swedes have volunteered to have themselves microchipped, and it doesn’t even appear to be a matter of job security. Sweden’s largest train company has started allowing passengers use their chip instead of a train ticket – how convenient! “Having different cards and tokens verifying your identity to a bunch of different systems just doesn’t make sense,” Osterlund told NPR. “Using a chip means that the hyper-connected surroundings that you live in every day can be streamlined.” Another Swede said she no longer had to tell people how to spell her name; she could simply transfer the information electronically to their phones.
With people demanding ever more instant gratification, a microchip appears to be the greatest of boons – with no regard for the fundamental loss of personal power that arises only from freedom and privacy. How demanding will employers, corporations, and governments become? How invasively will our data be tracked and filed for later use? “I want to be part of the future,” said one PR worker, laughing, as her chip was implanted. What an oppressive future that may turn out to be.