RFID Implants: The Benefits vs. the Dangers

By:  Warren Mass
RFID Implants: The Benefits vs. the Dangers

Frank Swain, a British freelance writer, recently wrote an essay published online by the BBC Future Science website entitled: “Why I want a microchip implant.” 

Like upwards of 10 million Londoners, Swain uses his Oyster card — a credit card-sized smartcard that contains an embedded RFID chip — to pay his fare on public transit such as the Underground and buses within Greater London.

A few years ago, Swain hatched the bright idea of removing the RFID (Radio-frequency identification) chip from the card and embedding it under his skin. His reason for doing so, he writes is, “so that the machine barriers at the entrance to the Underground would fly open with a wave of my hand, as if I was some kind of technological wizard.” 

In so doing, Swain went one step beyond a trend that started back in 2008 — riders removing the RFID chip from their Oyster cards and attaching it to their watches or bracelets. Although this did not constitute fare evasion, the TfL (Transport for London) disapproved of the practice and threatened to fine anyone not carrying an undamaged card.

Swain had even lined up a former Royal Marines medic willing to implant the chip in his hand, but he could not obtain the high-grade silicone needed coat the chip and prevent an adverse reaction with his own body. And so his dream of becoming a bionic walking credit card was thwarted!

One would think that coming from the city where George Orwell once resided that Swain might be at least a little fearful of the “Big Brother” potential inherent in having such an RFID device implanted. He addressed such concerns in his essay, but apparently dismissed them as nothing much to worry about.

Swain wrote about Amal Graafstra, a self-described “adventure technologist” and founder of Dangerous Things, a Seattle company that specializes in RFID implants. Graafstra has implants in his hands that he uses to unlock his door, start his motorcycle, and log in to his computer.

While acknowledging that for many people, “the idea of implanting themselves with microchips may conjure up spectres of surveillance and totalitarian control,” Swain apparently accepts Graafsta’s dismissal of such concerns: “Every Hollywood movie has told them that implants are for tracking people. People don’t get that it's the same exact technology as the card in your wallet. When someone uses a credit card, wireless or not, they are tracked because several other corporations know who they are, when they purchased, how much they spent, and where they spent it.”

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