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The steady advent of technology is leading to more and more controversy, and ethical questions about its use and implementation, especially with regard to issues of privacy. A recent legal case involving an Australian biohacker who tampered with both his Opal card and his body is a perfect case study in the ethics of how technology affects our everyday lives.

Meow-Meow's Innocent Deed

No, the story has nothing to do with cats. Meow-Ludo Disco Gamma Meow-Meow is the legal name of the Australian self-identified biohacker and literal cyborg who was convicted of an unlikely crime. He had the Near-field communication chip (NFC) from an Opal card (a smartcard ticket that people can reload and pay with for travel on public transport in different parts of Australia) cut out, enveloped in bio-compatible plastic, and implanted in his left hand by a professional piercer. This didn't serve for some kind of an evil, sci-fi level master plan for world domination, but the trivial convenience of being able to tap on and off of ferries, buses, and trains around New South West (NSW) by simply waving his hand over the readers. However, innocent as his modifications might have been, NSW transport and state authorities weren't pleased.

Posted by Meow-Ludo Meow-Meow on Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Law Didn't See It His Way

In August last year, Meow-Meow was fined by transit officers for traveling without a ticket even though he had $14.07 left on his chip, according to Gizmodo. A few months later, Transport for NSW canceled his card altogether as their policies don't seem to recognize gray areas, even in a case as bizarre as this one.

"Transport for NSW does not comment on individual cases," a spokesperson told Gizmodo. "Opal cards may be canceled where these are not being used in accordance with the terms of use."

"Transport for NSW does not support the tampering or damaging of Opal Cards, which would be a breach of the terms of use," Transport for NSW said in another comment.

"Customers that are caught tampering with their Opal card may have their card canceled."

In a local Sydney court, Meow-Meow pleaded guilty to the charges of traveling without a valid ticket and was fined the equivalent of $169 dollars. But as it usually goes with technology involved, the matter goes beyond mere triviality.

a whole slew of bus passes

The Bigger Picture

Many people saw this as yet another manifestation of the recurring conflict between rigid, outdated laws and our increasing reliance on technology.

"I paid my fare. I tapped on just like anyone else," Meow-Meow told Gizmodo. "The law hasn't caught up with the technology. That's all this case was."

Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist at the University of Toronto, certainly agrees with Meow-Meow's general outlook.

"Implants of all kinds of uses and forms are emerging. Society is going to need to evolve with that," he told Gizmodo. "The laws don't accommodate for this now, but the laws are going to have to become a lot more flexible. These things are coming."

With the rapid growth of biohacking and implanted technology, it's very likely that we'll start witnessing more and more cases of the sort, and they'll inevitably be about something bigger than public transport.

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