By Elias Marat
Lawmakers in Michigan have passed a bill that would make it illegal for employers to force their workers to be tagged with microchips in a bid to preemptively thwart companies who seek to make it mandatory to wear the productivity-tracking devices.
The Michigan House passed the bill on Wednesday, which would make acceptance of the microchip implants voluntary, reports WJRT.
The move comes as growing numbers of companies have explored the idea of using the sub-dermal, rice-sized Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) microchips as a substitute for time cards, ID badges, and security clearance devices.
The chips can help make it a bit easier to get into the office, log into a computer, or buy food and drinks in the cafeteria.
But they can also be used to make sure workers are hustling on the job in line with management desires to maximize efficiency.
“With the way technology has increased over the years and as it continues to grow, it’s important Michigan job providers balance the interests of the company with their employees’ expectations of privacy,” said Republican State Rep. Bronna Kahle, who sponsored the bill.
While the RFID devices haven’t come into widespread usage yet, Kahle and others believe they could become the norm in states like Michigan in coming years.
“While these miniature devices are on the rise, so are the calls of workers to have their privacy protected,” Kahle said.
Microchips have long been the basis for a number of conspiracies that claim the government is planning to implant tracking chips in the populace, leading to a kind of scenario similar to the dystopian George Orwell novel, 1984.
However, the Michigan bill reflects long-brewing concerns over private industry using such high-tech methods – alongside a growing suite of surveillance technology at the workplace – to erode employee privacy.
RFID microchips have long been used by everyone from libraries to schools, governments, and the private sector to pinpoint and track the physical location of items where the tags are embedded.
And while RFIDs provide a cheap and convenient means to track inventory and safeguard raw materials from being misused, misplaced, or stolen, they have increasingly been used to track people and keep tabs on their activities – or inactivities – in the workplace.
And as states mull reopening and allowing workplaces to resume functions under the “new normal” of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, some companies such as Engineering have touted using RFID sensors as an efficient and affordable solution to upholding physical distancing standards.
RFID technology has also been used in such high-risk locales like oil rigs, where they have been used to determine whether workers have been evacuated or how evacuation scenarios are formulated.
But experts have warned that the security of information stored on the chip could also be easily compromised, with such data including the comings and goings of employees, their daily routines outside of work, as well as who somebody wearing the chip has interacted with.
And with companies like Amazon coming under increasing criticism over its use of surveillance technology and production-tracking devices to turn its workers into “human robots” working alongside actual robots, concerns remain about the dehumanizing effects such labor-saving devices can have on workers.