We’ve discussed before the many ways that companies have been monitoring their employees. They’re using key-logging technology to monitor workers’ keystrokes and Internet-tracking software to log the sites that employees visit. Or tracking workers using GPS technology. More workplaces are using employee badges that have microphones and sensors for tracking individuals’ movements. Now, there’s a move toward a more invasive way to track employees: By implanting microchips in workers.
Wisconsin technology company Three Square Market announced that it is “offering implanted chip technology to all of their employees. … Employees will be implanted with a RFID chip allowing them to make purchases in their break room micro market, open doors, login to computers, use the copy machine, etc.” The company continued: “The chip implant uses near-field communications (NFC); the same technology used in contactless credit cards and mobile payments. A chip is implanted between the thumb and forefinger underneath the skin within seconds.”
The company emphasizes that the implantation of radio frequency identification microchips would be on a voluntary basis and that there is not currently any tracking technology in the chips. Three Square Market CEO Todd Westby said he believes this technology would “eventually … become standardized allowing you to use this as your passport, public transit, all purchasing opportunities, etc.” That statement foreshadows my critique: There is a power dynamic with employers and employees that could be coercive if a worker is given such a choice, one that strongly affects individual privacy. Because the choice offered by the employers could easily be: “If you don’t implant a microchip in your body, then we will make it very, very hard for you to do your job.”
If the implanted RFID chip becomes so ubiquitous that it replaces numerous keys, badges or other forms of identification, then it would be burdensome for an employee to opt-out. And the choice that the employer gives the worker is meaningless.
Although Three Square Market proclaims that the chips do not allow for tracking of employees, that is an easily foreseen upgrade for the future. Employers would say: Well, why not when we already have GPS tracking on badges and key-logger software for computers?
We have already seen apps that track workers 24 hours a day, even when they’re off the clock. Once you have implanted your workforce with RFID chips, it is a small step to implant your workforce with RFID chips capable of tracking their every move, even when they are not at work.