Jul 9, 2024 Article

The Rise of Preemptive Bans on Human Microchip Implants

U.S. states are increasingly enacting legislation to preemptively ban employers from forcing workers to be “microchipped,” which entails having a subdermal chip surgically inserted between one’s thumb and index finger. Internationally, more than 50,000 people have elected to receive microchip implants to serve as their swipe keys, credit cards, and means to instantaneously share social media information. This technology is especially popular in Sweden, where chip implants are more widely accepted to use for gym access, e-tickets on transit systems, and to store emergency contact information.

These implants are just one of the many types of emerging technologies in the Internet of Things (IoT), an expanding digital realm of wirelessly connected Internet-enabled devices. There are two main types of microchips: radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips and near field communication (NFC) chips. RFID chips are identifying transponders that generally carry a unique identification number and can be tagged with user data such as health records, social media profiles, and financial information. In contrast, NFC chips use electromagnetic radio fields to wirelessly communicate to nearby digital readers, like smartphones and contactless credit cards.

But why are U.S. lawmakers turning their attention to banning this technology, if there is no recorded instance of employers forcing employees to be microchipped in the United States? According to Mississippi State Senator Kevin Blackwell (R), who proposed a state bill to preemptively ban human microchip implants in 2024, although no employers in his state are utilizing this technology, this technology poses a risk to employees’ rights. He said: “Technology today is advancing at a rapid pace and as a legislator we need to be aware of the use and misuse of this [microchip implant] technology.”

Legislation in the United States

Currently 13 U.S. states have passed statutes banning mandatory human microchips: Arkansas, California, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah, Wisconsin, Indiana, Alabama, and most recently Mississippi. The Wyoming State House also considered a preemptive ban in 2023, but the bill was ultimately defeated for not clearly adhering to federal regulations on animal microchipping. As reported by Cowboy State Daily, Representative Cyrus Western (R-Sheridan) explained: “Right now, we have no way of knowing whether we are in compliance or out of compliance with any of the federal regs that do monitor this technology.” Lawmakers also expressed concern about the need for this legislation, which, as mentioned above, has not yet been forced on workers in Wyoming or anywhere else in the United States.

In contrast to other states, Nevada’s law (AB266) is arguably the most restrictive on microchip implants and permanent identification markers because it prohibits people from voluntarily electing to receive these markers in Nevada, in addition to protecting any person from being required to receive them. This dual protection is unique to that state. While not a total ban, the legislation “prohibits an officer or employee of this State or any political subdivision thereof or any other person from: (1) requiring another person to undergo the implantation of a microchip or other permanent identification marker of any kind or nature; (2) establishing a program that authorizes a person to voluntarily elect to undergo the implantation of such a microchip or permanent identification marker; or (3) participating in a program established by another person, if the program authorizes a person to voluntarily elect to undergo the implantation of such a microchip or permanent identification marker.”

In the past few years, a few other states have passed legislation on this issue. For example, in 2023, Alabama lawmakers enacted legislation to prohibit employers from mandating microchip implants. Under this law, a microchip is defined as “a device subcutaneously implanted in an individual that is passively or actively capable of transmitting personal information to another device using radio frequency identification.” Employers are required to ensure that their business practices and labor force policies comply with this preemptive ban. Of the 13 U.S. states that have enacted legislation to pre-emptively ban this technology, Alabama’s law carries one of the strongest penalties—if the law were violated, it would constitute a Class D felony.

Most recently in February 2024, Mississippi State Senator Kevin Blackwell (R) proposed Senate Bill 2088 to protect employees from forced human microchip implants. The bill prohibited employers from coercing, or threatening, employees from being microchipped. The bill also required employers to cover the cost of removing the microchip.

Privacy, Data Security, and Health Safety Concerns

While microchips offer alluring benefits of convenience and speed, they also carry privacy and security concerns. Some technologists are worried that hackers targeting IoT vulnerabilities in sensors and network architecture may try to hack chip implants. According to microbiologist Ben Libberton of Sweden's Karolinska Institute, chip implants can reveal a lot of personal information, like “data about your health . . . data about your whereabouts, how often you’re working, how long you’re working, if you’re taking toilet breaks and things like that.” Another general security concern with NFC technology is that it could allow third parties to eavesdrop on device communication, corrupt data, or wage interception attacks, says NFC.org.

Additionally, there are health concerns associated with implanted microchips. According to a 2020 study from the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, RFID implants may cause adverse tissue reaction and lead to incompatibility with some magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology.

As the impact and influence of chip implants increases in the United States, it will lead to more discussions about the overall safety and security of this technology. Now is the time to raise ethical and legal questions for state legislatures to consider, such as third-party liability for cybersecurity, cybercrime risks, and individual privacy and data ownership rights.

Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs is an independent and nonpartisan nonprofit. The views expressed within this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of Carnegie Council.

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