A bill that would prevent companies from forcibly "chipping" employees with RFID tags is on the desk of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger after being passed 28-9 by the state Senate. If the Governator signs the bill, California will become the third state to ban the practice, which has been used by data center companies to automate facility access. North Dakota and Wisconsin already ban the practice.
The use of implantable chips made headlines last year when two employees at a Cincinnati data center agreed to RFID implants to manage access to a secure area of the data center. Sean Darks, the CEO of CityWatcher, compared the chip implants - which are about the size of a grain of rice - to retina scans and fingerprinting. "There's a reader outside the door; you walk up to the reader, put your arm under it, and it opens the door," Darks recently told the AP. The employees volunteered for the implants, Darks said.
CityWatcher is among the clients of VeriChip, which says its RFID tags have been implanted in more than 2,000 people. While RFID tags have become commonplace in retail and transportation, their use in humans is more controversial. In addition to enabling access, RFID chips have also been proposed to store medical information for Alzheimer's patients, who may have difficulty providing key information in medical emergencies.
It won't happen in California, if State Sen. Joe Simitian has his way. "I understand why we're having a robust debate about the privacy concerns related to RFID, but at the very least, we should be able to agree that the forced implanting of under-the-skin technology into human beings is just plain wrong," said Simitian, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Privacy. "I'm deeply concerned that this isn't a given for the industry."
The California bill covers forced implants, and presumably would allow individuals to volunteer for chip implants. Critics of chipping say free will becomes harder to discern in mission-critical environments where access is a key job requirement.