How would you react if your employer approached you to say they would implant you with an RFID chip so that you no longer needed something like an employee ID card anymore?

Rather than being a feature straight out of a George Orwell book, this is, in fact, slowly becoming a potential reality for the workplace. This month, US vending machine technology company, Three Square Market, is due to start implanting its employees with tiny chips using Near-Field Communication (NFC).

Scary though this sounds, initially, the company’s system is designed to allow employees to unlock doors, log into computers and access various other office tools, such as vending machines and photocopiers. All at the swipe of their hand.

What are these implants?

An RFID implant essentially works as a passive RFID transponder inside a protective silicone casing which has been inserted just under the skin on the user’s hand. It’s a device no bigger than a grain of rice, and virtually invisible under the skin.

They work much in the way a normal RFID tag works, in that they send out signals bearing the user’s basic personal information on them. The user’s personal information is stored on an external data storage cloud, and can contain information such as personal identification details, contact details, medical history and allergy information.

These signals are then picked up by the nearest RFID reader. It’s the kind of system that can be used for unlocking building or car doors, or even bringing up basic medical information, for instance. At the moment, these RFID implants are still relatively in their infancy, featuring weak signals and not a lot of memory. And for those who might be scared this development marks the beginnings of a more invasive Big Brother world, RFID implants still aren’t at the stage of tracking movements.

Why RFID implants are a good idea?

RFID implants have been designed to carry the kind of information we would normally hold in our purse or in our wallet, giving an outline of our personal details. It makes it easier to verify that a person is who they say they are.

So far, prototype versions of RFID implants used in the workplace have been on a relatively small scale, for making snack-room payments.

But there are many potential uses for them, and that would help increase our functionality as we go through our daily activities. Benefits include accessing homes or offices, making payments at check-outs, switching lights on or off, or even opening or locking car doors.

Other benefits mean:

  • Smart wallets : RFID chips are already in the cards we use at banks, on public transport, to access buildings and borrow library books. But with RFID implants, we no longer have to worry about losing them or forgetting them at home – and they cannot be stolen either.


  • Easy ID purposes : Like the cards we use, passports, IDS and driver’s licenses now also contain chips. But having an RFID implant means, not only you don’t forget your IDs, but it would mean a minimal infrastructure transition between hard IDs and arm scans. Instead, it will be a simple matter of walking past a reader.


  • Access control : Some Europeans clubs are already using microchips with their VIP clients to allow them to skip the queues and quickly enter. Food and drink consumed are tracked and payments can be made, with the client’s bank account automatically debited of the amount. Access to buildings can also be controlled using the data synced onto the RFID implant.


  • Easy access to medical data : If a user is ever incapacitated and in need of urgent medical attention, healthcare professionals can simply scan the implant and access the medical records they need. In this instance, the chip actually holds a unique access code that the healthcare professional can use to access all the patient’s information. These implants are particularly relevant for sufferers of diseases such as diabetes or Alzheimer’s disease.


  • Automatic device control : Internet of Things (IoT) devices are already being used to automatically start up devices such as cars, open doors, and switch on or alter thermostats, all from the comfort of the sofa. This can also happen using RFID implants which can be connected up to each device.


  • Weapon control : In countries where guns and firearms are more accessible, you can still create a certain degree of security around them via your RFID implant. In this case, only the registered owner will be able to fire their weapon, which is useful should it ever fall into the wrong hands.

What are the potential issues?

RFID implant technology is still not in wide use, and so we aren’t quite sure of just what using these chips may mean.

As with any technology of this kind, there is always a risk that they could be hacked or infected with a virus, and the information stolen. Whilst the amount of information that can be stored on the chips remains relatively small, there’s also the potential risk of unscrupulous supervisors noseying in on information.

Issues surrounding RFID implants may include:

  • Potential health risks : RFID chips may not stay in the same place, instead, migrating to different locations in the body. This could be problematic and make them hard to scan. Additionally, there could be the potential risk of a tissue reaction, infections or even compatibility issues with medical equipment. If a patient needs an MRI scan, this throws up the extra issue of their being unable to have one due to the metal content in the implants.


  • Will we really be free? : As with other RFID chips, RFID implants store all information relating to its human wearer. This means that we may find our freedom of choice and of movement curtailed – because there will be the evidence to show up if we haven’t scanned onto public transport, or we are late to work. It also begs the question if we are required to always pay via the RFID implant, or we can still use cash.


  • How safe are implants, really? : Whereas RFID implants certainly have their uses, how safe is that information we’ve stored on them? Hackers are getting more and more sophisticated when it comes to breaking into technologies, and RFID implants could make people prime targets. If the information on the implants are also writable, this could spell even bigger trouble, meaning your personal information could be either corrupted, copied or wiped completely.


  • Who’s the ultimate beneficiary : Just as RFID implants and easy access to everything is a marriage of convenience, you do have to wonder who may be the biggest beneficiary of all this. On the one hand, you no longer have to worry about forgetting important items, such as bank cards or house/work keys at home. On the other hand, it does also mean you are much easier to track, with your movements, transactions, and even personal preferences much easier to track. Think of the potential for passive frisking that governments or security services could undertake without you even being aware of this happening. Bare in mind that RFID chips can be scanned from several feet away, with potentially anyone being able to access your information so long as they have the right technology with them.

RFID tracking has made our lives so much simpler, whether it’s tracking assets and products as they move around to making sure we have the very best healthcare. Even our pets can be inserted with RFID chips that ensure, not only that they can travel with us, but that their health checks and vaccinations are up-to-date.

Having said this, there are still many questions that need to be answered before humans themselves become implant wearers themselves.