You Want to Do What with RFID?: Perceptions of radio-frequency identification implants for employee identification in the workplace.
Electronic employee identification (ID) has transformed the workplace. Handheld tokens, such as contactless smartcards and wearable clip-on infrared badges, are now fundamental to security practices across the globe. Medium-to-large organizations continually stress the importance of employees carrying their staff cards at all times and displaying them for security purposes. Staff badges have been increasingly linked to physical access control in buildings, dynamic computer log-in, and even for e-payment using stored value. Most employees carry their electronic ID in a plastic sleeve attached to a lanyard, but given the card can be removed, it can be left behind, misplaced, or stolen.
Biometric systems have been used to log employee hours for payroll and for registering time and attendance since the late 1980s. However, given the cost of biometric readers, dispersing them around a large, closed campus for access control purposes is considered prohibitive. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) implants have been touted by proponents as being more secure, nontransferable, and an overall cheaper solution with the potential for multifunctionality and multiapplication growth. They also have the ability to be programmed dynamically. In 2004, in the aftermath of 9/11, VeriChip had an RFID chip approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that it believed could be used to ensure employee safety, among other uses. By 2005, the Baja Beach Club chain had introduced the VeriChip to several of its clubs, and in 2006, the small business Citywatcher.com had likewise offered implants to its employees.
Electronic RFID implants are capable of omnipresent electronic surveillance. RFID tags or transponders can be implanted into the human body to track the who, what, where, when, and how of human life . This act of embedding devices into human beings for surveillance purposes is known as uberveillance (see www.uberveillance.com) . While the tiny embedded RFID chips do not have global positioning capabilities, an RFID reader (fixed or mobile) can capture time stamps, exit and entry sequences to denote when someone is coming or going, and in which direction he or she is traveling and then make inferences on time, location, distance, and speed. For the greater part, RFID microchips in the wearable form have been used to track prison inmates, hospital patients, or visitors in various market niches.
However, their use is now being considered in a variety of human-centric military applications for soldiers (e.g., dog tags) and for the tracking of suspected terrorists and convicted pedophiles , , . Alzheimer’s sufferers, along with dementia patients, are also being considered as potential recipients of RFID microchips to aid in identification and as wander alerts , . But it is the first time that we are witnessing the deployment of RFID implants for the sole purpose of convenience, for example, for ease of access to a premises as opposed to using security measures at the location to counter the act of unauthorized access.
Recent Momentum of Implantable Devices
Between 2014–2016, international media covered numerous Internet of Things stories that make this article timely. In April 2014, GroupM’s Irwin Gotlieb said that the “Wearable is cool, but the next form of media will be implantable—devices which are implanted in the human body” . Director of engineering at Google, Ray Kurzweil, concurred that we would have “millions of blood-cell-sized computers in our bloodstream” within ten to 20 years . In June 2014, IEEE Spectrum reported that Medtronic wanted to implant sensors in everyone .
In November 2014, Peter Diamandis, well-known chief executive officer of the X PRIZE Foundation and cofounder of Singularity University, got a near-field communication (NFC) implant on the spur of the moment at the Singularity Summit in Amsterdam. He said in his own blog: “Many big companies like Apple, Samsung, and Google are working on technology to measure your biology from outside of your body. Wearable devices ranging from watches to contact lenses will track everything…footsteps, heart rate, blood glucose, blood pressure, and other critical vitals. The challenge is that they only work when you remember to wear them, and there are some things you can’t measure from the outside. The question is: when would you be ready to start incorporating technology into your body?” .
To demonstrate that this thinking about next-generation information technology is not isolated to the United States, in December 2014, eight Swedes held an implant party in Stockholm. BBC News reporter Jane Wakefield noted that Hannes Sjoblad, chief disruption officer and founder of BioNyfiken (of Epicenter), hoped that his implant party would spark a conversation about our possible cyborg future. He said: “The idea is to become a community that is why they get implants done together… People bond over the experience and start asking questions about what it means to be a man and machine… Curiosity is one of the biggest drivers for us humans. I come from a maker hacker culture and I just want to see what I can do with this” . In January 2015, it was reported by the BBC that a hi-tech office block in Sweden known as Epicenter was granting employees the option to take a microchip implant under the skin for physical access control to the building, among other functions . As of April 2017, there are 150 employees of 2000 in the EpiCenter complex that are microchipped. And most of these chippings take place at “implant parties” . In August 2015, Lloyds Bank announced that about 7% of U.K. consumers would adopt microchip implants in their body for making electronic payments . In September of the same year, Kaspersky Labs became intrigued with the security issues related to microchip implants and engaged Sjoblad to participate in its Asia Pacific Cyber Security Summit in Malaysia to demonstrate the implantation process .
In January 2016, Andreas Sjöström used an NFC chip implanted beneath his skin as a boarding pass on a Lufthansa aircraft to travel from Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport . He claimed it was purely for experimental purposes. In September of 2016, Shanti Korporaal launched ChipMyLife, an Australian distribution service, with husband Skeeves Stevens . She uses her implant to enter the physical premises of her building .
This is all while DangerousThings.com has been creating a recognized brand with NFC/RFID implant solutions for biohackers since 2013. Visiting the home page of Dangerous Things, one is greeted by the following messages: “We believe biohacking is the forefront of a new kind of evolution” and “RFID/NFC next-level body augmentation.” On the “About Us” page, it is noted, “We believe our bodies are our own, to do with what we want. The ‘socially acceptable’ of tomorrow will be defined by boundaries pushed today, and we’re excited to be a part of it” .
Amal Graafstra then launched the myUKI concept, a multiapplication RFID chip, which has now been rebranded as Vivokey, with integrated smartphone features , . He writes: “You can be you (and nobody else can), anywhere, all the time. You + VivoKey means your biological and digital identities can be cryptographically merged, ensuring the one true you is the only you using your devices, sending your messages, reading your e-mail, accessing your accounts, opening your doors, driving your vehicles, and spending your money” .
The transnational quantitative survey was held 4–18 April 2011 that took an average of 10 min to complete each online survey and included one optional open-ended question. Participants, who were small-business owners (N = 453) within four countries, including Australia (n = 114), India (n = 111), the United Kingdom (n = 111), and the United States (n = 117), were asked “How would you personally feel about being implanted for ease of identification with your own organization?” Relative to gender, 51.9% of participants were male; 48.1% were female. The participants ranged from 18 to 71 years of age, the mean age was 44, and the median age was 45. Eighty percent of organizations surveyed had fewer than five employees. The chi-square analysis on the quantitative data was presented at 2014 IEEE Norbert Wiener; no significant chi-square analyses were reported with respect to countries of residence and religious issues, social issues, and cultural issues .
The study employed one instrument that collected key data relative to the business profile, the currently utilized technologies for identification and access control at the organization, and the senior executives’ perceptions of RFID implants in humans for identification and access control in organizations. Twenty-five percent of the small business owners that participated in the survey said they had electronic ID access to their premises. Twenty percent of small business owner employee ID cards came equipped with a photograph, and less than 5% stated they had a security breach in the 12 months preceding the study. Of the total number of respondents, 41% provided a comment to the open-ended question. These are collated and coded below thematically. A concept map was also generated using the content analysis tool Leximancer (Figure 1).
Results: Reasons for Rejection
The following are the responses expressed for rejecting the concept.
1) Disagree 2) Object 3) Hate it 4) Would not like it 5) Refuse 6) Not agree 7) Against 8) Yuk 9) Abhorrent 10) Absolutely vehemently opposed 11) Not happy 12) Not positive 13) No way in hell 14) What an unimaginably appalling idea 15) Horrified 16) I would leave the job 17) Totally against 18) I don’t think it would ever be appropriate to implant devices into the body for such a trivial thing 19) Never 20) Utterly unacceptable 21) I find the thought appalling 22) Absolutely not 23) Object strongly 24) I would detest it 25) Don’t like the idea 26) I would sooner stick pins in my eyeballs 27) I would definitely not allow anything to be implanted in my body for any reason, let alone for work purposes. I would not do it, if I was paid or even if I was to lose my job if I refused. 28) Absolutely not! It’s insane! 29) Negative feelings 30) Way too extreme 31) I would refuse. This should be illegal. 32) Would leave my job 33) Honestly, though I wholeheartedly embrace new technologies and the benefits that can be gained from such, this would make me uncomfortable…it’s just creepy. 34) I would not like it and not approve of it at all 35) I think it’s an awful idea 36) Not a chance 37) I wouldn’t be. I don’t believe in it. 38) I think it’s absolutely ludicrous and I would never do it 39) I would not agree to it nor would I work for someone that did 40) Would not do it under any circumstance 41) I would never support this. Ever. 42) No, no, no 43) Only if I’m drugged and kidnapped—then wake up in a motel bathtub full of ice with my kidney removed and an RFID chip implanted in the back of my hand. Then I would be okay about it. 44) Unwarranted 45) It’s difficult for me even I myself will disagree 46) I would not do it for my company 47) I would be apprehensive about it 48) Highly doubtful 49) Ridiculous.
1) Sick 2) Our shop floor employees and executives are not pets 3) This sounds hideous, and inhuman 4) This is a disgraceful suggestion. The company does not own the employees. Slavery was abolished in developed countries more than 100 years ago. How dare you even suggest such a thing? You should be ashamed. 5) I absolutely would not allow an employer to implant me like a ... dog! 6) Animals are microchipped not humans 7) Feel like an experimental animal 8) Seems very robotic 9) No way! We’re not pets. 10) Absolutely not! It’s insane!
Intrusiveness (Invasion and Violation)— Physically and Psychologically
1) We have no plans to introduce this invasive procedure 2) I would never work for an organization that would require an RFID, and I sure would never expect or request my current or future employees to be violated like that 3) Invasive both physically and psychologically 4) Invading my bodies privacy 5) Violated 6) I would be reticent, given that there are less intrusive options 7) Against it—too invasive 8) I am totally against this procedure because it is a violation of one’s body and privacy 9) It would be invasive.
Invasion of Privacy
1) Personal privacy concern 2) Feels a bit like Big Brother 3) Could be used by outside world, say police 4) I wouldn’t like it—privacy issues 5) Would feel that Big Brother is watching over me 6) I feel it would be an invasion of privacy 7) It would never happen. I think it’s a Big Brother theory and morally and culturally wrong. 8) I would not do it. I do not like that idea, too Big Brother 9) It seems too Big Brother to me 10) It will never happen—I am against this—Big Brother is here 11) I am totally against this procedure, because it is a violation of one’s body and privacy 12) Not at all want or like. Too Big Brother. 13) Do not want to be implanted with anything that gives away my identity so easily. I would want to be in control of when how where to disclose my identity. 14) Feels a bit like Big Brother 15) It would never happen. I think it’s a Big Brother theory and morally and culturally wrong.
Invasion of Human Rights
1) A total violation of human rights 2) Violation of human rights 3) I would refuse, as I would see it as an invasion of my civil liberty 4) Should not be implanted as it breaches individual rights. Religious Issues 1) I do not believe you should put things in your body that God did not supply you with 2) Don’t need it so wouldn’t do it. Also religious reasons. 3) I would not want it, I do believe in the mark of the beast in my religion, and that is getting a little too close to home for me 4) I would hate it! It goes against all that I believe in.
1) Too sophisticated for our community 2) I would hate it! It goes against all that I believe in. 3) There will be division between those who have implants for ID and those have who have the current technology for ID. 4) It would never happen. I think it’s a Big Brother theory and morally and culturally wrong.
1) Maybe there is an issue with occupational health and safety 2) Health implications: 1) Do we know everything about side effects? 2) Maintenance, isn’t repairing/replacing/upgrading a lot more impractical? 3) I would be against it. There are too many health issues that are still unaddressed when it comes to implanting a foreign object in one’s body. 4) Would not allow it. Health risks due to chronic disease. I have severe rheumatoid arthritis. 5) I would worry about possible health issues 6) It could cause health issues—it is not for everyone 7) I do not feel anything for this implant of RFID because it can harm the human body.
1) Wouldn’t want another scar on body 2) Personally, I won’t entertain because of the marks left on the skin. Inconvenience 1) I would feel extremely uncomfortable with this 2) Feel that it is an imposition 3) I do not think I would be too pleased about it 4) Be bothered and uncomfortable 5) Very much complicated.
1) Strongly against: there is no need for it 2) I am not against this type of device, but I would not use it simply for business security 3) Unnecessary 4) Small enterprises/offices do not need it 5) Not needed 6) Not relevant 7) Company is too small 8) I don’t see the need for it within our small organization 9) As we are only a small firm, we are familiar with all our employees 10) Not worthwhile for such a small business but would refuse 11) Not relevant for my small organization 12) There’s no need. We are too small 13) It is not needed when I am an investor only with equities 14) As the employees in my firm are part-time based, the firm is not interested in implanting the chips 15) It’s good, but the need for such high security measures is something unnecessary—again this creates more problems from the staff.
1) Presently I am not ready for the same, as it will be quite expensive for organization of my size 2) Not interested as this involves cost.
Reasons for Acceptance
The following are the responses expressed for accepting the concept.
Positive Feelings—Smart Idea
1) It is a smart idea 2) Very necessary 3) I think it would be a good idea 4) Never opted for that idea but surely would like to try it 5) It will be good 6) God’s gift 7) It would be good 8) Very good 9) Good innovation 10) Good 11) I think don’t have a problem in implantation 12) Very much 13) I am open to the idea of getting an implant 14) It is good technology 15) It’s good 16) It is good 17) It’s ok with me 18) So much 19) It’s new concept for me as well, but I like the concept 20) Welcome.
1) Wouldn’t bother me 2) Would have no issue with the technology 3) Indifferent 4) Fine 5) I feel okay 6) Nothing special 7) No issues 8) I do not think any harm in this 9) Neutral 10) No hassle 11) Don’t care 12) No issue 13) Normal.
1) Simple use and low cost 2) Very easy to identify employers 3) I feel it is better option to prescribe the identification method 4) I would feel absolutely in business 24×7 5) It would make it much more convenient to never lose or forget one’s ID.
1) Feel secure 2) As an owner or being in long-term association with the company will make me feel secure about my work and position 3) It is very secure and is very useful in our organization 4) It is safe and secure 5) This creates security with regard to business.
The Cool Factor—Innovativeness
1) Cool 2) Proud 3) As I am the owner/sole proprietor of the organization, I am very proud to be associated in such business 4) It is good to start a new technology.
1) Great, I don’t have to carry a tag showing my identity to all Conditional Acceptance The following are the responses expressed for conditionally accepting the concept.
1) Would submit if it meant losing my job otherwise. Power or Influence 1) If it is necessary, I would do it 2) If top official finds something required to upgrade the identification and security in the organization, they might implement the changes. Business Need 1) If we felt we needed it, then no problem.
The following are the responses expressed by those who were undecided about the concept. Awareness 1) I wouldn’t mind, but I would want more information like is it safe? How is it administered? How is it removed? Where would it be put? Will it leave a scar? Are there any other complications (my personal security, tracking, global positioning system, and so on)? 2) Uncomfortable about it until I understood it completely and had seen it demonstrated and tested for any side effects and so on 3) I would prefer to implant but would like know in depth about the viability 4) No clue 5) No idea 6) Don’t know 7) Undecided.
Overall Value—Benefits versus Sacrifices
1) It is very useful, but at the time, it is also risky.
The results presented previously have been codified into similar themes. By far, there were more perceived reasons to reject implants as electronic employee ID than to accept them. What we saw from the codification exercise was that those participants who responded to the open-ended question had a clear-cut perceived reason as to why they would accept or reject being implanted for employee ID. That reason may have been expressed in a feeling rather than an identifiable reason, but nonetheless, the respondents were absolute in their response. Only a small number of respondents, 12 in total, were truly undecided in the maybe category or would conditionally accept the concept. This indicates, more than anything else, that microchipping people in the workforce is a divisive issue: Either an individual is vehemently opposed to the idea of being microchipped for employee ID or he or she is willing to accept the implant with some certainty. Out of the 186 responses received from the total number of respondents (N = 453), only 48 people perceived they would accept an implant for employee ID purposes in the workplace. About 13 of those 48 people were indifferent to the type of technology instituted with respect to employee ID, stating they would not be bothered, were neutral about, or it was no hassle whether it was an implantable device.
Table 1 provides a presentation of the words that came up frequently in the content analysis of the open-ended question, “How would you personally feel about being implanted for ease of identification with your own organization?” The terms most frequently recorded by the transnational participants in describing their response to implants in the workplace included: feel, issues, body, absolutely, happen, Big Brother, work, security, idea, implant, employees, need, technology, uncomfortable, believe, and leave. This demonstrates that, holistically, respondents were aware of the potential to implant people for identification purposes but felt there were many issues, that is, barriers to acceptance, namely those issues related to surveillance (i.e., Big Brother).
The question itself caused some people to feel uncomfortable and to consider leaving if mandatory implantation was enforced. It is important to state, however, that most proponents of implantables (e.g., Retherford of Citywatcher.com) do not believe that implantables in the workplace will ever be imposed but will be presented as one of several options and that, over time, the convenience will overcome any doubts or fears end users might be harboring personally . Concept Map The relationship between terms found frequently in the participant responses is presented in the concept map found in Figure 1. The most frequently used terms are represented by larger nodes, for example, body, absolutely, feel, and issues, and their proximate colocation with other terms indicate a contextual power relationship. Reading this concept map, we can deduce that, even if RFID implants were introduced for security purposes in the workplace, employee sentiment would generally be one of feeling uncomfortable. And whether this was due to Big Brother, or other beliefs (e.g., religious, cultural, or societal), the absolute response would be to go so far as leaving that job and workplace.
This article presented and analyzed the results of a transnational study that surveyed small business owners, asking the question: “How would you personally feel about being implanted for ease of identification with your own organization?” Perceived reasons for rejecting an employee ID implant vastly outnumbered the perceived reasons for accepting an employee ID implant. Interestingly, only a small number of respondents were undecided or provided conditional acceptance, indicating that the question is very divisive and that people hold absolute personal feelings toward the piercing of their skin with a foreign device (e.g., a microchip). We can deduce more broadly from these results that a new digital divide is potentially forming between that smaller group who is either indifferent or feels that implanting people for ID is a smart idea. Given the study was conducted in April 2011, we also need to continue the quantitative and qualitative investigation with follow-up surveys that have been conducted in 2012 and 2013. For now, much media hype persists in one-off experiments that show people adopting implants mostly for physical access to assets (e.g., cars) or buildings simply as a replacement for keys or cards. Yet, these experiments are beginning to demonstrate how humans can be human-plus through body modifications, and may well be influencing citizens to experiment with new technologies in unprecedented ways.
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Implants, Radiofrequency identification, Consumer electronics, Privacy, Organizations, Access control, personnel, RFID, radio-frequency identification implants, electronic employee identification, contactless smartcards, wearable clip-on infrared badges, medium-to-large organizations, physical access control, electronic ID
Citation: Katina Michael, Anas Aloudat, M.G. Michael, Christine Perakslis, 2017, "You Want to Do What with RFID?: Perceptions of radio-frequency identification implants for employee identification in the workplace", IEEE Consumer Electronics Magazine, Vol. 6, No. 3, July 2017, pp. 111 - 117, 14 June 2017, DOI: 10.1109/MCE.2017.2684978