Phillip Beynon’s pale-skinned right hand loomed larger than life on the projector screen at the front of the room as he waited for the injection. The area sufficiently numbed with Lidocaine, the doctor found a fleshy place between thumb and index finger and plunged a thick needle into it.
The crowd let out a collective “Ow!”
But in a second it was over and applause followed. Before a transfixed audience and several TV cameras, Beynon became “chipped” — ” the latest person to get a computer chip implanted into his body. “I can still hold a beer with it,” he quipped as he walked off stage with a cup of Elysian in hand.
The live implant demo at Wednesday night’s Dorkbot RFID presentation symbolized the attitude of these innovators in confronting the challenges and potential perils of technology head-on, or this case, hands-on.
Beynon and fellow RFID enthusiast Amal Graafstra are experimenting with the chips as keyless methods to unlock doors and sign on to their computers.
As futuristic as these do-it-yourself chip implants may seem, they’re not nearly as troubling to civil libertarians as other potential uses of the technology. Not all RFID is evil, said Doug Klunder, privacy project director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, who participated in the event. “Different applications have to be evaluated independently,” he said.
Klunder worries more about the potential surveillance of people and their movements through government-issued ID systems like passports and driver’s licenses. The chips implanted in Beynon’s and Graafstra’s hands store only a numeric code. They can only be read within a distance of a few inches.
RFID chips that the U.S. State Department plans to use in passports, by contrast, store all the personal information available within the printed passport and can be read remotely, meaning secretly. Legislation is needed to protect individuals from these potential privacy invasions, Klunder said.
After talking about his own experience with chip implants, Graafstra was asked what happens if someone attacks him to get to his chip.
He recalled the story of a Malaysian man whose fingertip was cut off by thieves to steal his luxury car. “I’d bite it out,” Graafstra said. “It’s just under the skin.”