Microchipping Humans: Is Big Brother Getting Under Our Skins?

05-02-2015 | By Paul Whytock

All of us humans are used to the idea of our pet cat having a microchip stabbed into them, but what are microchips used for in humans? How about turning the tables and asking owners how they'd feel about being chipped!

For a deeper understanding of how we reached this point, exploring the history of the microchip provides valuable context.

My guess is that whereas they think it perfectly OK to inject a tiny RFID microchip implant into their nomadic Labradors and wayward Whippets, it becomes an entirely different matter when they are the target of human-implanted microchips. And how would they feel if it was their employer putting pressure on them to be chipped?

The Evolving Landscape of Human Microchipping

Human microchipping, once a speculative topic, is now gaining ground in practical applications across various industries. From forward-thinking tech companies in Sweden to innovative initiatives in the United States, the adoption of microchip implants in humans is becoming more than just a theoretical discussion. This shift prompts a crucial question: what broader implications does this technology carry for society and individual privacy?

These microchips, typically the size of a small grain of rice, are being integrated into our lives in ways previously imagined only in science fiction. The convenience offered by such technology is undeniable – from simplifying access control in workplaces to potentially life-saving applications in medical emergencies. However, as we navigate this new terrain, the balance between technological advancement and personal privacy emerges as a pivotal point of consideration.

As we witness the gradual integration of microchipping in everyday life, it's essential to critically assess both its benefits and potential risks. The conversation around microchips is no longer about 'if' but 'how' they will reshape our interaction with technology, security, and even our own bodies.

Swedish Company Pioneers Employee Microchip Implants

It occupies a very high-tech building, and 'chipped' employees could just touch doors to gain entry and operate office equipment. The pitch from the company bosses is it would increase building and personnel security. But does it really, or is it just a gimmick?

These human microchip tracking devices are about the size of a grain of rice and are basically constructed from just a few components, such as RFID integrated circuits and capacitors. These are embedded in a bioglass glass capsule coated in a polypropylene substance to prevent the device from moving around the body. However, migration of a chip through body tissue is not guaranteed and, on the downside, bonding the chip in place in the tissue under the skin could make future removal tricky.

To understand what goes into these devices, read more about what microchips are made of.

Before getting into the subject of just how secure these chips make buildings and their occupants, let's look at some of the available technology that could get under your skin.

Micro-chipping miniature transponders

These are, in effect, miniature transponders, and they come in a variety of specifications. There are low-frequency 125Khz devices that are pretty basic and have no programmable memory or security features. These are programmed during manufacture, and that's it. Higher up the scale, there are 13.5Mhz transponders that have programmable memories and 32-bit password protection security. Some also have integrated Near Field Communications (NFC) technology that can work with mobile phones. Pretty sophisticated stuff.

The process from silicon crystals to integrated circuits in microchip manufacturing is quite fascinating.

We expect our pets to be pretty patient about having one of these jabbed into them; how about us humans? Does it hurt? Not much, apparently. Can it be seen? Well, that depends on where the chip is positioned. For those with little subcutaneous layers under the skin of their hand, it could be visible but only slightly. They take about 40-60 days to settle under the skin and could itch during that period, and heavy scratching is discouraged as that could dislodge the chip. They are pretty durable and will withstand most knocks, but extreme pressure, like falling on your hand right at the chip's site, has been known to shatter them. How about medical tests when you are chipped? They are inert and do not upset MRI machines or heat up or explode anywhere near airport security scanners or induction ovens.

Dr Mark Gasson has an RFID microchip implanted in his left hand by a surgeon (March 16 2009).jpg 

Paul Hughes, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Other examples of microchipping being used in humans today 

Microchipping has become increasingly popular for medical purposes, particularly for patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes or epilepsy. The implanted microchip stores medical information which healthcare professionals can access in case of emergencies.

Additionally, microchips are being used in the security industry for access control and authentication purposes. Some high-security facilities require employees to have a microchip implanted for entry to certain areas, while prisons in the United States use microchips to monitor inmate movements and prevent escapes.

Apart from these industries, microchipping has found some unusual applications in humans. In 2017, a tech company in Wisconsin hosted a "chip party" where employees had microchips implanted in their hand for easy access to the office building, snacks from vending machines, and even unlocking their computer without needing a password.

Microchips: Convenience vs. Privacy

The allure of microchips lies in their promise of unparalleled convenience – imagine unlocking doors or making payments with a mere wave of your hand. However, as pointed out in this analysis, this convenience could come at the cost of our privacy. The risk of unauthorised data access and the potential for constant surveillance are concerns that cannot be overlooked.

For a detailed exploration of these risks, consider reading about the dangers of microchip implants.

On one hand, the integration of microchips can streamline many aspects of daily life. Simple tasks like accessing secure locations, logging into computers, or even boarding public transport could become effortless. In medical emergencies, a microchip could provide critical health information swiftly, potentially saving lives. Yet, these benefits must be weighed against significant privacy concerns. The same technology that offers convenience can also be used to track movements, monitor activities, and gather personal data without consent.

Moreover, the security of these devices is paramount. As we've seen in various technological domains, no system is impervious to hacking. The information stored on a microchip could be vulnerable to cyber attacks, leading to identity theft, financial fraud, or unauthorised tracking. The ethical implications of such technology, especially when used by employers or governments, add another layer of complexity. Where do we draw the line between beneficial oversight and invasive surveillance?

In conclusion, while the benefits of microchip implants are undeniable, they come with a caveat. As we embrace this technology, it's crucial to develop robust privacy protections and ethical guidelines to ensure that the convenience of microchips doesn't compromise our fundamental rights to privacy and autonomy.

So is human microchipping a good idea?

Ultimately I don't think we should be mandatory microchipping humans; it comes down to individual choice. It definitely should not be something employers insist upon. Admittedly they could be useful, even life-saving. Take a road accident scenario, and the victim is chipped with all their medical information, blood group, medication they take and existing medical problems. All vital practical information for paramedics.

But I'm really not sure about building security. Let's take a bank or research centre that requires top-level entry security. It will take much more protection than employees with an entry door chip in their hand. After all, the bad guys only need to chop off an employee's hand and present that against the building's entry keypad, and they're in.

And what about hacking and personal privacy? Could it be the thin end of yet another Big Brother wedge? Let's face it, smartwatches are already seen as an easy hack into personal details, and a human microchip could present similar opportunities.

Final Thoughts: A Balanced Approach

While the technology behind microchipping humans is undeniably impressive, it's imperative to tread this path with caution. As we embrace the conveniences of modern technology, let's not forget the value of our privacy and personal freedom. The decision to adopt such technology should always remain a matter of personal choice, not compulsion.

It's essential to foster a dialogue between technologists, ethicists, policymakers, and the public to navigate the complexities of microchipping. This technology should not be advanced in isolation but rather developed in tandem with robust legal frameworks and ethical guidelines that safeguard individual rights. The potential of microchips to transform our lives is enormous, from healthcare to security, but this transformation must be guided by a commitment to uphold our societal values and norms.

Furthermore, ongoing research and development in the field of microchip technology must prioritise security and privacy. Innovations in encryption and secure data transmission can help mitigate risks, ensuring that the benefits of microchips do not come at the expense of vulnerabilities. As we stand at the cusp of this technological revolution, our approach should be one of cautious optimism, embracing the possibilities while vigilantly guarding against potential abuses.

In conclusion, the journey towards integrating microchipping into our lives is as much about technological advancement as it is about ethical and societal evolution. By striking a balance between innovation and responsibility, we can harness the power of microchips to enhance our lives, while steadfastly protecting the rights and freedoms that define us as individuals.


By Paul Whytock

Paul Whytock is Technology Correspondent for Electropages. He has reported extensively on the electronics industry in Europe, the United States and the Far East for over thirty years. Prior to entering journalism, he worked as a design engineer with Ford Motor Company at locations in England, Germany, Holland and Belgium.