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Microchipping employees – the future is now

April 12, 2017

By Anthony Kaylin, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

As we first reported in last week’s Quick Hits, what seems to be a page from an Isaac Asimov or Robert Heinlein sci-fi novel, a Swedish startup, Epicenteris, is implanting chips in their employees hands.  These microchips, the size of a grain of rice, function as swipe cards to open doors, operate printers, or buy smoothies with a wave of the hand.  It is not required of every employee, but is done on a voluntary basis.  The chips are injected — using pre-loaded syringes — into the fleshy area of the hand, just next to the thumb.

What was originally a good idea for tracking pets and packages, is now slowly gaining widespread acceptance in the employer community. “The biggest benefit I think is convenience,” said Patrick Mesterton, co-founder and CEO of Epicenter. As a demonstration, he unlocks a door by merely waving his hand near it. “It basically replaces a lot of things you have, other communication devices, whether it be credit cards or keys.”   Epicenteris is home to 100 companies and about 2,000 workers.  Currently 150 employees have had implants.  They even have parties to promote implants.

A Belgium company, NewFusion, a digital marketing and tech firm, also is moving into the new age by allowing workers to opt for a microchip implant in their hands to gain access to the company’s HQ and computer systems.  They also have the option of a chipped ring if they don’t want an implant. 

The idea of implanting chips in humans has long fascinated writers, but British scientist Kevin Warwick in 1998 first experimented with these implants to open doors, switch on lights, and cause verbal output within a building.  The implant was taken out after nine days.  Another British scientist Mark Gasson had an advanced glass capsule RFID device surgically implanted into his left hand in 2009.  He then proved that the chip could be hacked by a computer virus.

There are a number of concerns, especially hacking.  Ben Libberton, a microbiologist at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute, says hackers could conceivably gain huge swathes of information from embedded microchips. “The data that you could possibly get from a chip that is embedded in your body is a lot different from the data that you can get from a smartphone,” he says. “Conceptually you could get data about your health, you could get data about your whereabouts, how often you’re working, how long you’re working, how often you are taking breaks, and things like that.”

Further, employers could be seen as big brother, mapping all activities of employees.  Privacy will be a trade-off.  “People ask me, ‘Are you chipped?’ and I say, ‘Yes, why not,’” said Fredric Kaijser, 47, the chief experience officer at Epicenter. “And they all get excited about privacy issues and what that means and so forth. And for me it’s just a matter of I like to try new things and just see it as more of an enabler and what that would bring into the future.”

GPS tracking is not possible at this time, but could be in the future.  Also, there are some potential health concerns.  Chips could have magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) incompatibility.  It could cause severe burns if a patient has one and is getting an MRI.  There could also be adverse tissue reaction and possible migration of the implanted transponder. 

Further, some employees may find the chips to be a religious violation.  In a nod to the EEOC’s victory against Consol Energy Inc.’s Christian mine worker’s objection to a hand scanning system, the implant may also be feared as a mark of the beast.  In Australia, a start-up company is implanting people who want the convenience at home.  The owner of the company has had some messages from ultra-conservative Christians on Facebook telling the owner that she’s going to hell, but otherwise the response to the implants have been positive.

For employers wanting to take the plunge, at least in the U.S., they should work with their attorneys to develop policies and waivers for the use of these implants.  

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