I had the opportunity to speak with Amal Graafstra regarding his implants, views on privacy and the future of technology. Here is a transcript of the interview that took place.
Q. How long have your hands been implanted now?
Amal: Since March 2005
Have you had any issues with them over time?
No issues at all, not even at the airport
How are they a part of your everyday life and could you imagine living without them?
They are a part of my daily life because I use the implant to get into my house every single day. I walk up and wave my hand over a sensor near the door knob and the door unlocks. Living without them would be possible, just strange for a few days… I’m so used to passing my hand over the sensor on the way to grabbing the door knob, I think I would keep doing that for at least 2 days.
Any times where they have been a life saver and you have thought ‘wow thats lucky!’?
Every time my keys get locked in my car.
Any times where you have regretted them?
How many people have you implanted since you started performing the procedure?
I personally have implanted around 10 people and have overseen several more, including a few that were part of documentaries. One is called Tagged, made by a couple Canadians. My goal now is to recruit and instruct professional body piercers and body mod experts so customers can go to professionals to have their implants installed.
Have you ever implanted someone that didn’t know how to utilise their chip?
I think maybe a couple people, they were girlfriends of tech geeks who had just got their own implant and they didn’t want to be left out when RFID projects started popping up all over the house
Are you aware of the anti-chipping movement? Whats your opinion on that crowd?
I’m very aware of it. I try to engage in polite intelligent conversation, but most of them are neither polite, nor intelligent… at least about this subject. Only a very small handful of those people actually understand the technology, what it’s capable of, and what it’s not, but the majority are simply fodder… foot soldiers who don’t understand anything, but have loud voices, money to spend/donate, and are easily directed at a target.
Have you ever received vicious emails from conspiracy theorists?
The first email I received about my implants that wasn’t from friends said “Your the devil’s mouthpiece!” in huge font (note the bad grammar). I used to receive death threats from time to time… it’s really slowed down now… mostly because there are so many people getting implants and putting implant procedures up on youtube that I’m less of an obvious target… most skirmishes are fought on youtube comment threads, so it’s become particularly benign.
Whats your opinion on ‘the mark of the beast’ ? Have you heard of it?
I no longer consider myself Christian but I am familiar with “the mark”. Like RFID technology, most people don’t understand what the bible is really trying to say about the mark… it’s not the physical, actual “mark” that matters… it’s the subscription and subservience to any system that powers oppression. The “mark” is not a mark on the body, but a mark on the conscious or a mark on the soul… that a person knowingly and willingly subscribes to and supports a system of oppression and cruelty… that’s what the mark is. just think about all the things you buy or pay for that support cruel oppression every day… shoes made by kids in china, taxes that pay for bombing runs, nicely packaged grocery store meat that comes from disgusting living conditions and a cruel end for some poor animal… there are plenty of marks all around us, and we all ignore them. only when one selfishly considers themselves as being oppressed, either now or at some point in the future, only then do they speak out against “the mark” and what it might mean for them.
Do you think RFID implants could be ‘the mark’?
If you’re looking for the mark to be a physical “something”, you’re thinking too literally. People that read the bible in literal terms haven’t read it in its entirety, because literally speaking, the bible is a pile of contradictions and irrelevant tangents… even when it comes to how god is perceived. It is a book of fables, with little historical truths sprinkled in here and there. In the context of what I said above, it doesn’t really matter what you think the mark is… people have thought the mark was social security numbers, or credit cards, or telephone numbers, or library cards for crying out loud. the fact of the matter is, having a physical mark or device on or in your body is “old school” thinking… in the future you will identify yourself using biometrics that don’t even require a fingerprint or an eye scan… your biology itself will identify you. will your own right hand or forehead “be the mark” then? people looking for “the mark” are thinking small and missing the point.
Do you believe that RFID implants will one day be a core part of the cashless society?
No. biometric identification will be. this bracelet can listen to your heartbeat identify you from other people; http://www.getnymi.com/ – eventually you won’t need a bracelet… the new xbox can get your heartbeat just by looking at you;
Do you ever imagine a time where RFID implants would become mandatory?
No. biometric enrollment may be mandatory, and can be done in many ways without the person even realizing they are enrolled. people walking through the public tube stations in the UK are enrolled in a facial recognition system run by the government, and they have no idea they are now part of a nationwide facial recognition government database.
As a security researcher, do you feel comfortable with personal consumer devices, for example an iphone with a fingerprint reader, being able to obtain your biometric data given the ease at which this could be obtained by a hacker? Especially since current statistics show that android devices are extremely vulnerable?
I think biometric identification will continue to be a focus of consumer device designs. The ability to identify users and customize experiences on the fly is the holy grail for tech developers, and it’s a quest that will not be given up on by manufacturers. The only way we can deal with it will be to address data collection policies through legislation. I addressed this concept in my 2010 ISTAS talk; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kraWt1adY3k
What are some technologies that are in development right now that have an exciting potential?
The convergence of quantified self technologies with identity services like the nymi bracelet. This is the new frontier of personal data devices.
What are some the technologies that have recently been developed that you think could be dangerous for a free society? You mentioned biometric data harvesting occurring in England, is there anything else?
The question assumes technology itself could be a threat to society. People are the threat to free society. They always have been and always will be… the technology they use is irrelevant, it simply depends on how those technologies are used. Biometric data collection itself is not a threat unless it’s used against people without just cause or in oppressive ways or ways that subjugate otherwise free people. Corporations collecting fingerprint data from customers is not a threat if used for benign purposes and then disposed of.
Another more insidious problem is the slow usurping of authority from people by technology, which is the overwhelming trust people put into what I call “the authority of the machine”… the willingness to forgo critical thinking and simply trust what the machine is telling you. When powerful authoritarian frameworks are created by governments and law enforcement, which rely heavily on the output of machines. When a machine system is made to or has been given authority, power over people, yet is vulnerable to subversion by external parties (hackers), or corruption by unscrupulous individuals operating within the authoritarian framework, it becomes very easy to recruit and redirect the full force and power of the entire framework against an individual, segment of society, or the society as a whole. The more people give authority to machines and rely more heavily on their output, the less critical thinking they perform themselves, until they are simply puppets controlled by whoever controls the machine.
How do you feel about the growing biometric databases all over the world, do you feel this is an invasion of civil liberties or are government/private companies justified in collecting biometric data on such a large scale?
People are slow to react to slow creeping threats like this, so inevitably these encroachments naturally arise until they garner enough significance to warrant attention, then hopefully people will rise up and a discussion will ensue that results in common sense provisions for privacy protection, etc. There is no legal recourse to stop these databases from being created, so they will be created… that’s just the way of things in the US. On the other hand, some European countries have laws that automatically protect their citizens from this type of database building… it all depends on the laws and how they are enforced.
It appears as though the world actually is marching towards the dystopic future depicted in 1984, with biometrics especially with your example of the XBOX Kinnect, could your skill set with RFID potentially become a survival skill in the future?
I don’t think an RFID skill set will specifically be all that useful as a survival skill in any potential dystopian future… RFID is too easy to opt out of or subvert, confuse, obfuscate, etc. I do think an ability to think critically and objectively is the most powerful tool a person can have. Knowing things is not nearly as important as being able to learn and figure out things.
What are some URL’s/resources on hacking RFID?
Oh there are plenty out there… Google is your friend Just search
“hacking rfid” and you’ll get plenty of relevant links.
Implantable RFID is one step towards becoming cyborg, you have mentioned before there is no difference between your pants pocket or your ‘skin’ pocket, but if technology was a lot more advanced, would you draw the line at upgrading your hand or arm? Or would you be excited for a “Deus Ex” style future where people can upgrade their limbs/organs for enhanced abilities?
If the day should come where an artificial limb is more capable than my natural limb or organ, then I would have no problem upgrading. The challenge of course is that it will be a very long time before there are no downsides to trading out a limb or organ for an artificial one. I can see a day very soon when an artificial arm may be stronger than my own arm, but will it have the same sensory resolution? Will I feel the wind blow across tiny artificial hairs on my artificial limb? Will I be able to sense temperature, pressure, even pain in my new limb? I think it will be a very long time before that level of artificial biotech becomes a reality, and I would not be willing to trade in all those sensory inputs for a stronger gripping force… a fulfilling existence is made of so much more than that.
Btw, I wanted your personal selections for RFID hacking, I have googled a fair few.
when I have time, I keep an eye on latest papers and conference presos… always something interesting going on.
How do you feel about someone/some corporation/some government owning your biometric data?
hmm, complex question… we submit our bio data to the government when we get things like driver’s licenses, nexus border crossing cards, etc. and if you are arrested you submit your fingerprints. this can be a powerful tool in crime fighting, but if used by an oppressive government, it’s not good. so we can go back to wild west times where police basically have to witness crimes happening to be able to bring people to justice, or we put trust in those that hold our data not to abuse it. corporations only have profits to worry about and would abuse your data in a heartbeat… but the impact on you, a private citizen,is minimal… on the other hand, a government is supposed to be worried about protecting people, only now governments are increasingly influenced by corporations… it’s a tough question. how I feel about it varies based on finding a balance between letting government agencies like local police keep the peace so I don’t have to invest in a bunker to live in and personal weaponry just to go shopping… and handing over too much control/power which could be easily abused by personnel within the system due to lack of oversight and internal controls or even an outright systemic abuse from the top down.
Do you think society will ever get to the point where your biometrics, all of your unique identifying biometrics, will be harvested at birth?
To a degree that’s happening now… your hands and feet are “printed” with ink on paper at birth, only at this point nobody but the parents are keeping that information. Your blood is drawn, tests are done, things are measured, etc. It would not be a big stretch to simply keep the data that is already gathered at birth, and maybe toss in a quick DNA sequencing to boot.
Its been mentioned in a TEDX Warwick by Kevin Warwick that microchips might be made mandatory for e-health. Do you support mandatory implantation? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8HeFNJjuj0
I don’t think he’s correct about these particular RFID chips for identification purposes within a healthcare system. Biometrics will be a far easier solution for e-health and will feel far less oppressive than having a foreign object mandatorily injected into everyone. There may be other devices that could actually monitor health and report that data, however this is completely different purpose and will not likely be mandatory… you would see riots before a successful campaign to make any kind of implantation mandatory.
Do you believe that Ray Kurzweil will be accurate with his predictions of human immortality by the year 2048?
No, because nobody has every accurately predicted anything where humanity and technology are involved… some have accurately predicted human events or technological innovation, but not both. I think a form of biological life extension is likely and accessible for a select few, however immortality in the Kurzweilian sense is where man and machine merge, in my opinion, is a ways off still… probably 2100 or so.
How do you imagine the world in 2030? What technologies exist? What sort of lifestyle do people lead? How have workplace environments changed?
We may, finally, get flying cars. If Google can make a car that drives itself and it is accepted by authorities as a safe, viable mode of transport… we may get flying cars that fly themselves in a fully automatic fashion, with no need for people to get pilot licenses. Apart from that, I don’t think much will change for the average human… people will still be starving in Africa, the Chinese poverty gap between a small percent of wealthy people and a huge number of poor people will still be there… there just isn’t much that will radically change for the average person in 17 years. There will probably be crazy advances in technology sure, but they won’t move through the social and geopolitical filter that quickly… some FDA approvals for new medical products have longer test cycles than that.