London (CNSNews.com) – It sounds like the stuff of eschatological literature, but the idea of companies forcibly implanting their employees with microchips is making waves in Britain – although the government says it doubts the practice would be legal.
In recent years, companies marketing microchip implants have touted them as a convenient shortcut to many routine tasks. Employing the same technology used in contactless credit cards, the tiny device is generally implanted in a worker’s hand and can be used for such things as opening doors or turning on devices.
But groups in Britain ranging from the Confederation of Business Industry to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) have spoken out against the prospect of companies forcing implants on employees, a step that could facilitate constant monitoring.
TUC secretary-general Francis O’Grady said in a statement this week new technologies should not be allowed to compromise a worker’s right to privacy. Employers should negotiate with their workforce about monitoring policies, he said.
“Unions can negotiate agreements that safeguard workers’ privacy while still making sure the job gets done,” O’Grady said. “But the law needs to be strengthened too, so that workers are better protected against excessive and intrusive surveillance.”
In recent years, Sweden has reportedly become the center of micro-chip use. Although numbers are hard to come by, “implant parties” – where friends group up to have microchips implanted – are reportedly taking place, and the national rail service now offers a microchip reservation service.
Biohax, a Swedish company that specializes in inserting a microchip – about the size of a grain of rice – under the skin, said recently it was business talks with several large British firms.
Last month a Scottish National Party lawmaker asked the government in an written parliamentary question whether it would take steps to ban the microchipping of employees by their employers.
Responding, government minister Kelly Tolhurst wrote that several legal issues would be raised if an employer “required or encouraged” microchip implantation in its workers.
“While I am not aware of any cases being brought to test the legal position, it seems unlikely that such an invasive approach to security or monitoring would be found to be justifiable,” she wrote.
Tolhurst, who is parliamentary undersecretary for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, added that “it is likely to be difficult” for a company to show that such a practice complied with privacy laws or health and safety requirements.
In a second answer to a related question, the government said it has not been asked to assess the efficacy of proposals to microchip employees.
Parliament and the government have in recent years debated and passed laws on microchipping dogs and horses. Next month the House of Commons is scheduled to consider a bill that would make the microchipping of certain breeds of cats mandatory.
However no bill currently before either house of parliament deals with the issue of microchips in humans.
Early this year a research paper produced for the European Union said there were no specific European laws, legal precedents or regulations dealing with microchipping of employees.
However, it said that even voluntary microchip use could be challenged on data protection grounds.
Earlier this month, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations said undergoing unnecessary surgery for microchip implantation was both unethical and unnecessary.
Institute spokeswoman Jenni Field said employees would have to go through minor surgery every few years just to keep pace with technological advances.
“At a time when discussions at the highest levels of business are focused on developing new models in engaging and empowering the workforce, these proposals are a step in the wrong direction,” she said.