As lawmakers in Indiana this year considered whether to ban employers from requiring workers to implant microchips in their bodies, the legislature’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency pointed out the measure solves a problem that, so far, hasn’t actually been a problem in the Hoosier State.
Or anywhere else.
“There are currently no known employers in the U.S. that require employees to have any device implanted or otherwise incorporated into their body as a condition of employment,” the agency’s bill analysis reported.
Indiana lawmakers decided that if any employers do decide to require workers to put chips in their body, it’s not going to be in their state. The legislature passed the bill on unanimous votes in both the House and Senate and sent it to Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) earlier this month. This week, it was awaiting his signature.
As the Times of Northwest Indiana newspaper put it, “the nonexistent threat posed by Indiana companies requiring workers to be forcibly microchipped… is on the verge of being extinguished.”
With Holcomb’s signature, Indiana would become the latest in a line of states taking a stand against the possibility that employers might decide human microchipping should be required as a condition of employment.
Backers of the measures say they’re making a logical pro-active move. You don’t have to have seen too many science fiction movies to imagine how devices embedded into the human body that can store data and communicate with other devices could be used by a Big Brother Boss.
And as the unanimous House and Senate votes in Indiana might indicate, there hasn’t been an overwhelming outcry of opposition to measures that prohibit the mandatory implantation of chips by employers or anyone else. Even the head of the largest supplier of implantable chips agrees that employers shouldn’t be able to require them.
There is some worry, however, that lawmakers, who sometimes have trouble seeing positive use cases for new technologies - but no trouble envisioning the most far-fetched negatives - may be inhibiting the growth of a technology that some people want and that could have some life-changing benefits.
The prospect, for example, that an unconscious person found without ID could one day not only be easily identified, but also get faster, better treatment because of embedded medical records. Chip advocates fear that possibility might not be realized because of concerns that employers could use chips for more nefarious purposes, from tracking what employees do, even off the clock, to gaining access to workers’ private data.
“They can’t see the compelling applications yet,” says Amal Graafstra, founder and CEO of the company that sells the most implantable chips, Seattle-based VivoKey Technologies, of some lawmakers’ approach to the devices. “They only look at the possible negatives and they blow it out of proportion.”
To be clear, many of the people interested in using implanted microchips – mostly a small group of technophiles who identify as “biohackers” – see them as personally useful on a more practical, everyday basis, not just as a lifesaving virtual identity card.
As the technology progresses, Graafstra said, the devices are increasingly able to be used to conveniently link someone’s digital identity to their biological identity. Think of it as all the life tools you carry around, either in your head, such as a password, or in your pockets, such as a debit card or a key, simply moved into a rice grain-sized chip in your hand. While visionaries may think of a world where wandering dementia patients might never go unidentified, many biohacking enthusiasts simply like the idea of never losing their debit card because it’s under their skin.
The technology isn’t good enough to do some of the most worrisome things, which Graafstra said are mostly the province of science fiction that, no matter how unlikely, incite people’s fears.
“The Hollywood movie tropes are the biggest issue,” he said. “You’re not able to track someone or fire a missile at them...for many reasons, including physics.”
They’re also no more dangerous than other things people have put in their bodies, from pacemakers to tooth fillings. And they’re likely much safer than some, such as silicone breast implants, Graafstra argues. And, he notes, people have been putting identity chips in their dogs and cats for years.
A company in Sweden has made chips available to customers, who can use them as virtual train tickets and gym membership cards. They also have an Internet of Things application, with the chips able to turn on lights in homes. More than 4,000 Swedes have implanted chips.
In the United States, a vending machine software company in Wisconsin called Three Square Market has gotten a lot of press because it has provided microchips to its employees, though it doesn’t require them. The chips are used for everyday practical issues that might in other workplaces be handled with an ID card or a key fob. The implanted chips unlock doors at the company and allow workers to log in to their computers. They can also buy snacks from vending machines with a wave of the hand.
The company’s CEO told The Washington Post in 2018 that just under half of the company’s 196 employees had the chips.
The press coverage of Three Square Market caught the attention of Nevada Assemblyman Skip Daly (D). His response was what VivoKey’s Amal Graafstra and other biohackers and backers of the technology worry about. Daly sought to ban all microchip implants.
“My goal with this measure is to have the first and last word on microchipping in Nevada,” Daly said when the bill came before the Assembly Judiciary committee in 2019. “That’s a rabbit hole I don’t think we should go down.”
According to Graafstra, the biohacking community “kind of rose up,” when Daly’s bill started getting attention. Eventually it was amended to only ban forced implantation.
“That’s great – we don’t think it should be a mandate either,” Graafstra said.
Many policymakers, however, aren’t really all that familiar with the technology – and they don’t seem that interested in learning before acting, he said. His company is the largest provider of implantable chips, but lawmakers never reach out to him to talk about the tech or its potential applications, he said.
“We see this replayed over and over – they talk to almost nobody involved,” Graafstra said. “They say, ’we just kind of Googled a few things, and we thought we ought to ban it.’”
If Indiana’s governor signs its bill, the state would join Nevada, along with Arkansas, Missouri, and Montana as states that prohibit employers from requiring chip implants, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Laws passed in California, Maryland, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Utah prohibit the required implantation of a microchip in any person, not just employees.
The issue goes back to a time when the implants were even less common than they are today. A bill to make it illegal to implant them without permission was filed in Georgia as far back as 2007, and in 2010, lawmakers there were pointing out that the bill was solving a problem that didn’t yet exist.
Now that chipping is more common, it’s likely to be the subject of legislation in more states, even without an actual problem yet to solve.
Indiana Rep. Alan Morrison (R), who sponsored the bill awaiting the governor’s signature, says that’s OK.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong,” he told The Associated Press earlier this year, “with us being a little out in front of something.”
For a free, sample report showing the current status of all the bills mentioned in this story click here.
-- By SNCJ Correspondent Dave Royse
Growing Number of States Banning Human Microchipping
At least three states have introduced legislation this session that would prohibit employers from implanting microchips in their employees, and one has proposed banning the microchipping of people more broadly, according to LexisNexis State Net’s legislative tracking system. Four states have already banned employee microchipping, while seven have enacted more general human microchipping bans, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Source: National Conference of State Legislatures, LexisNexis State Net