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Is Microchipping a Beneficial Addition to the Work Place?

13 Nov 15:00 by Matt Bryson

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If you had the option to be able to unlock your house, open your car or get into the office just by stepping up to it, would you? It seems that many would.

In Sweden, over 4000 people have microchips placed under their skin to assist them with mundane activities such as opening their door or even buying train tickets (Independent). This week the media reported that some British organisations are also considering implanting their staff with microchips to improve security. Many people didn't expect to see this in their lifetime, however the UK company BioTeq, have confirmed they have chipped 150 individuals already (Guardian).

The basic principle of implanting a microchip into a human being isn't too dissimilar from the procedure used on pets. A small chip, about the size of a grain of rice, is inserted under the skin and includes a unique ID number to track the data placed on it. When used in Sweden, participants were able to open their doors, use their credit card and even access their gym (South China Morning Post). The benefit of this is that personal security was improved -  there was no need to carry a wallet or keys, reducing the number of valuables that were at risk of being stolen. It’s a great idea but what happens if the microchip stops working? Would people be left stranded if they couldn’t unlock their car or their front door? At the moment these type of problems haven’t been reported by the participants, but it is something that would need to be considered if they were being provided to more vulnerable people.

The initial research from Sweden has suggested most people are happy with the microchips and they haven’t encountered any major problems. So, it is no surprise that businesses in the UK are exploring the possibility. BioTeq claims that the finance and legal sectors are most interested in this technology due to security concerns. They say microchips are a safer alternative to physical ID cards as they can’t be lost, forgotten or used by other people (Telegraph). It is understandable why industries with sensitive data would want to regularly improve their processes but does inserting a device into an employee risk their safety? People working in these companies could be at risk of attack and serious injury if someone wanted to access the building badly enough. A physical ID card could be removed from someone’s person with little harm done – the same can’t be said for a microchip.

Many people also believe that this method is unnecessarily invasive when biometrics offer a similar level of security. They have similar levels of risk for individuals who use the system (violence and force can be used to make an authorised employee allow an authorised person to enter). Biometric tactics include fingerprint access, face recognition and eye iris scanners. Employers can remove these credentials from the database easily when a member of staff leaves their position or their security clearance changes. If a microchipped individual leaves their job, a second surgical operation would be needed to remove the chip. Further to this, the technology is relatively new and will go through many updates in the coming years. Some of the people who have had microchips inserted in Sweden have already needed the initial device removed and replaced as they can’t be upgraded remotely (Independent). At a cost of £70-£260 an employee, this is surely not cost-effective or ethical for many businesses? Some people may be happy with an initial relatively pain-free procedure, but the maintenance and removal of the chips involves a more serious commitment. There is the additional argument that could be raised over whether the act of micro-chipping employees, companies feel they own their staff.

The conclusion to draw from these reports is that whilst the advancement of technology is usually beneficial, this particular example may not be ready for the professional environment. The risk to employees, maintenance costs and a surgical procedure are factors that cause concern. The necessity of many technologies (smartphones and laptops for example) has become more obvious as time goes on but the invasive nature of the technology may affect the number of people willing to accept this as the norm in the workplace. It's likely many people who are amputees or have limited use of their hands will use the technology, but it may be a step too far to expect people to have them implanted for work purposes.