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Entrepreneur Installs RFID Chips in Both Hands

Robin Arnfield / Newsfactor | January 10 2006

Carrying keys and remembering computer passwords are so last year, at least according to Amal Graafstra.

The Bellingham, Washington-based entrepreneur and his girlfriend, Jennifer Tomblin, have installed computer chips into their hands to give them access to their apartment and their computers -- without keys or passwords.

The devices implanted in Graafstra and his girlfriend are radio frequency identification (RFID) chips that are commonly used instead of barcodes to track merchandise in stores.

RFID chips also are used for payment and transportation cards. Large-scale live implants have so far been confined to pets and cattle, with only a few notable cases of humans getting the chips installed for testing purposes.

Airport Security

Implants do not cause a problem with airport security , according to Graafstra, who has a chip implanted in both hands. "I've never had either of them set off a metal detector," he wrote on his blog.

"One time I even had to submit to a handheld wand search. They asked me if I had any implants before they started, and I told them I had one in each hand. They ran the wand over me and specifically over my hands, and the thing never made a peep. It did, however, beep on one of my tiny shirt buttons, so that just goes to show the amount of metal in the implant is rather insignificant."

"If people want to pretend they're joining the Borg by implanting radios in their bodies, well good for them," said Andrew Jaquith, a senior analyst at Yankee Group. "I would point out that the State Department has been urged to back off of using RFID, ironically, on security grounds."

"RFID chips do have a security issue," said Graafstra in an interview. "But for my private purposes, they are secure enough. If they were used in a mass-market implementation, security would be an issue, but it would be easier for someone to put a rock through my window than to make the effort to clone my RFID chip."

Human Trials

In Europe, there have been several trials involving RFID implants in humans. Members of the exclusive Vaja Beach Club in Barcelona, Spain, are offered the opportunity to receive RFID chip implants as a means of gaining entry to the elite club and also to pay for drinks. The chips, which are implanted into the arms of members at the club, allow them to run up tabs without having to carry any other form of identification.

In the UK, Kevin Warwick, Professor of Cybernetics at Reading University, has had an RFID chip implanted in his arm since 1999.

"The costs of implanting and maintaining a chip in a person are extremely high," said Avivah Litan, Gartner Group's vice president and research director. "So even if the technology were accepted by the mass public, the costs are much higher than the benefits in most scenarios."

It only makes sense is niche areas, said Litan, like gaining access to top-secret systems and buildings. "And even then, there are much less intrusive mechanisms, like iris-scanning, that will win out before implanted RFID chips do."

Graafstra said that, from a privacy point of view, an RFID chip is less of an issue than a biometric system. "You can leave an RFID system by just removing your chip, whereas you cannot change your biometric data [like a fingerprint], and once it is on a database, you cannot easily remove it."

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