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Biochip Implants

BIG BROTHER could soon be watching from the 'inside.' Several international
companies are consulting scientists on ways of developing microchip implants
for their workers to measure their timekeeping and whereabouts.

The technology, which has been proven on pets and human volunteers, would
enable firms to track staff all around a building or complex. The data could
enable them to draw up estimates of workers' efficiency and productivity.

Professor Kevin Warwick of Reading University, a leading cybernetics expert,
has been approached by several firms including a leading software company with
a British subsidiary and Blackbaud Inc, the American software giant.

Warwick hit the headlines last summer when he had a silicon chip transponder
surgically implanted in his forearm. He was subsequently able to show how a
computer could monitor every move he made using detectors that were scattered
around the building in which he worked.

In his experiment, Warwick showed how the system could also benefit workers by
programming it to switch on lights, computers and heating systems as he
entered a room - and turning them off when he left.

The technology is likely to have a strong appeal to companies with high labour
costs, for which small increases in staff productivity can have a big impact
on profits. It is also relatively cheap - just a few pounds for each person,
according to Warwick.

"For a business the potential is obvious," he said. "You can tell when people
clock into work and when they leave the building. You would know at all times
exactly where they were and who they were with."

Warwick admits that people will be "shocked" by the idea of companies asking
their employees to have such implants. He said: "It is pushing at the limits
of what society will accept but it is not such a big deal. Many employees
already carry swipecards. I think this is just a step on from that."

His research follows earlier experiments by companies such as the
telecommunications firm AT&T that showed how smart cards carried by staff
could be programmed to relay a worker's position back to a central computer.
AT&T Laboratories in Cambridge has been working on its "smart badges" for two
years. They use ultrasound to tell the main computer exactly where the wearer
is, allowing their desktop computers and phone calls to "follow" them around
the building.

The company has, however, stopped short of suggesting staff should have
devices inserted into their bodies.

The first practical application of such technology is, however, not in humans
but in pets. Under the government's new "passports for pets" scheme, which
replaces the quarantine system from 2001, dogs will have a microchip implanted
beneath their skin to identify who they belong to.

Representatives from police forces in Britain and the United States have also
expressed interest in the implant technology, according to Warwick.
He believes that submitting to an implant could be made a condition, for
example, of being granted a gun licence.