Technology 12 November 2018 | 17:58

Society is turning into a huge episode of ‘Black Mirror’ again

12 November 2018 17:58

One of Britain’s biggest trade unions have voiced their concerns over plans for companies in the UK to implant microchips under their employees’ skin. No, this isn’t an article about Charlie Brooker’s latest dystopian script or an Orwell novel – this is just 2018; some people seem to be happy to sacrifice their privacy for technology that rarely benefits them in any meaningful way.

The miniscule microchips, each worth between £70 and £260, are designed to help companies improve their security. It is understood that the chips are about the size of a grain of rice, and are implanted into the flesh between the forefinger and thumb. Once chipped, employees can gain access to their office, print documents and start their company car, without a traditional pass.

These chips are created by BioTeq, a UK-based firm who describe themselves as ‘the UK’s leading human technology implant specialists’. They have already fitted a reported 150 implants to individuals in the UK. Biohax, a similar company which is based in Sweden, recently told the Sunday Telegraph that they are in talks with two British firms, with the aim of providing the service here. Both companies are in the legal and financial sector, one is thought to have hundreds of thousands of employees.

‘These companies have sensitive documents they are dealing with,’ the founder of Biohax and a former professional body piercer, Jowan Österlund, said. ‘[The chips] would allow them to set restrictions for whoever.’ But – perhaps unsurprisingly since we’re talking about employers asking their staff to have an invasive procedure – there aren’t many people who are happy about the whole thing.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the UK’s most influential business organisation who represent 190,000 businesses, has already spoken out against the proposed plans. ‘While technology is changing the way we work, this makes for distinctly uncomfortable reading,’ a CBI spokesperson said. ‘Firms should be concentrating on rather more immediate priorities and focusing on engaging their employees.’

The Trades Union Congress, who represent over 5.6 million people, are against the plans too. ‘We know workers are already concerned that some employers are using tech to control and micromanage, whittling away their staff’s right to privacy,’ Frances O’Grady, the trade union centre’s general secretary, said. ‘Microchipping would give bosses even more power and control over their workers. There are obvious risks involved, and employers must not brush them aside, or pressure staff into being chipped.’

Biohax, who are planning to open a London office in the near future, claim to have chipped 4,000 people in total – mainly in their native Sweden. They are in discussion with Statens Järnvägar, the state-owned rail provider, to explore the option of replacing train tickets with microchips.

If this idea becomes mainstream, it’s not going to be good. Sure, it would initially be optional. But with positions in many industries becoming increasingly competitive, it’s hard not to imagine people agreeing to be chipped just because they feel that not doing so could negatively impact their career prospects.

I guess we can add this to the ever-increasing list of technological advances (social media, free Wi-Fi, location tracking, facial recognition databases, etc.) that undermine our right to privacy without giving us much in return. If we don’t safeguard our privacy, we are going to completely lose it. It will be a sad state of affairs if it’s only then that we fully grasp its worth.