JEFFERSON CITY — Your bosses can still make you work weekends and give you projects you loathe. But Missouri lawmakers have voted to make it a crime if they order that a microchip be implanted in your arm.
Forcing someone to get a microchip implantis already barred in California, North Dakota and Wisconsin. Legislation awaiting Gov. Matt Blunt’s signature would make it a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $1,000 for a boss who demands that a worker get an implant.
Katherine Albrecht, an expert in consumer privacy and radio frequency identification, acknowledges that microchip implants might sound like “black helicopters and tin foil hats.”
But Albrecht, the founder of AntiChips.com, and other critics argue there are tangible medical, privacy and religious worries driving attempts to pass laws banning forced implants.
“The people who oppose it don’t understand how real the threat is, and the people who are gung-ho don’t understand its power,” Albrecht said.
She has been trying to persuade state lawmakers across the country to pass legislation regulating technology that allows for tagged items to be tracked when microchips send off a radio signal to special readers. The information can then be linked to a database.
This year at least 17 states have considered bills regulating or restricting radio frequency identification, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Last year, there were 13.
Radio tracking has been used for tracing stores’ inventories, giving drivers toll-booth quick passes, linking unconscious patients to important medical information and even for uniting missing pets with their owners. But critics say the benefits pale in comparison to risks of cancer and identity theft by secretly lifting information off someone’s microchip.
The nation’s only federally approved maker of human microchip implants, Florida-based VeriChip Corp., has denied claims that its product can cause cancer. A spokesman for VeriChip did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
According to VeriChip’s Web site, the microchip is about the size of a grain of rice and enclosed in medical-grade glass. It is injected into the arm and activated when it passes near a specially designed reader.
Last fall, The Associated Press identified a series of decade-old veterinary and toxicology studies that linked chip implants to tumors in some lab mice and rats. Cancer specialists who were asked to review that data for the AP said they would not allow family members to receive implants and called for more research before widely implanting them in people.
“I really believe that anyone at this point is going to have a huge hurdle to overcome with the absolute clear-cut link to cancer,” Albrecht said. “And were it not for that, I would be extremely afraid right now, but I think it’s going to be enough of an impediment that we’re really out of the woods.”
The push for a Missouri ban on forced implants started with Rep. Jim Guest, R-King City, who has developed a reputation for focusing on libertarian issues such as opting out of the federal Real ID program. Guest initially wanted a broad prohibition on microchip implantation, but after that bill stalled, he inserted into a bill dealing with injured workers a narrower ban on forcing implants as a condition for employment.
Guest said he doesn’t know of any Missouri employers who are doing that, but said it is important for states to get in front of the issue and regulate how radio tracking technology can be used.
Albrecht said that was a good idea because there was almost no voluntary market for microchip implants, which meant there could be a push to start requiring the chips.
An Ohio video surveillance company and the Mexican attorney general’s office had employees get a chip implant for access to a secure records room. Two European nightclubs also used the microchips to link patrons to prepaid accounts.
The idea of microchip implants has led some Christians to draw comparisons to the Bible and prophecies of the end of the world.
Irwin Baxter Jr., who runs Texas-based Endtime Ministries, said his primary concern is the overlap between a traceable implant and biblical descriptions of a “666” mark required to buy and sell goods.
Baxter said that, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Americans tolerated greater privacy intrusions in the interest of security. He predicts even more acceptance for less liberty and greater pressure for using microchips after a war of biblical proportions that kills much of the world’s population.
“A day after 2 billion die, there will be an absolute call for absolute security,” he said. “Part of that will be a foolproof means of identification, and once the demand for a foolproof means of identification comes, then the logical step is” the chip under the skin.