Searching for the Super Human

I had the great pleasure of being interviewed today by Ms Anja Taylor in Los Angeles today. Anja works for Wildbear Entertainment that does co-productions with all the major television channels in Australia. She was formerly a researcher and presenter on Catalyst. This interview will form a part of the documentary series: “Searching for the Super Human” that will air on ABC in Australia later this year.


Here are some of the topic Anja and I talked about:

  1. Brief discussion about the internet of things and the emergence of big data. What effect / impact this is having on society.

  2. You have mentioned “ambient intelligence” in your articles - what is it?

  3. What are “insertable chips” and what is their brief history? What types of new insertable chips are starting to emerge?

  4. Recently we have seen trials for insertable chips which can be used to open doors or pay for public transport, the trials found largely that people found them useful and painless – do you have concerns with these?

  5. What smart chips are you most concerned with?

  6. We are already being tracked with our smartphones – is this different?

  7. Our pets are now chipped as a matter of course – do you see this happening with humans? What are the implications?

  8. Can we not just opt out? Can it be done responsibly?

A special thank you to Luke for filming.

Will Australia's Encryption Law Kill Privacy in Name of Safety?

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Government leaders & law enforcement are trying to force tech companies to put backdoors in encryption in the name of public safety. There are 750,000 law enforcement employees & 1/2 million US intelligence agencies community employees who may use those backdoors, & likely many others worldwide. Strong encryption is available throughout the world. If businesses & general public are forced to use encryption with back doors, will cybercrooks will be the only ones using strong encryption; those the backdoors were intended to be used on to begin with? How will Australia’s new law requiring encryption backdoors impact data security & privacy? Who has oversight of that law? How will it impact other countries? Does any evidence prove encryption backdoors have improved safety/security? Rebecca discusses these and related issues with Dr. Katina Michael, Arizona State University director of the Centre for Engineering, Policy and Society. Katina is also a privacy and uberveillance pioneer.

Source: Katina Michael with Rebecca Herold, 5 February 2019, “Will Australia’s Encryption Law Kill Privacy in the Name of Safety?”, Data Security and Privacy: Voice of America,

Industry calls for more caution over MHR system


As the Federal Government today pushes the button to create My Health Records for every Australian who wants one, the industry has stepped out asking for more transparency around security and secondary use of the records to enable people to make more informed decisions about it. 

The industry has also voiced out about data de- and re-identification, a global approach to cybersecurity issues as healthcare digitises, information security requirements of the future and blockchain as a way to alleviate some of the challenges associated with the My Health Record system.  

On 26 November 2018, the Federal Parliament passed legislation to strengthen privacy protections in My Health Records Act 2012 without debate or division.

The new legislation means that Australians can opt in or opt out of My Health Record at any time in their lives. Records will be created for every Australian who wants one after 31 January and after then, they have a choice to delete their record permanently at any time.

The date of 31 January follows much deliberation from the Federal Government to extend the opt-out date. Australians initially had until 15 October 2018 to opt out of the national health database, or a My Health Record was to be created for them by the end of that year. 

But following the opposition calling for an extension to the opt-out period, the public outcry against the potential for the data to be shared with police and other government agencies, a leaked government document detailing the Australian Digital Health Agency’s response to concerns and a raft of changes recommended by the Senate Inquiry into My Health Record, the Federal Government pushed this date back and relaxed its stance on when Australians can opt in or opt out of the system.  

Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) President Professor Hugh Bradlow said the collection of health data across the population will result in better health outcomes as it not only shows how effective interventions are, but also allows treatments to be personalised based on the experience of thousands of other patients.

“New forms of measurement (based on artificial intelligence) will also give patients far more significant information about institutional performance, practitioner performance, the outcomes of specific interventions, etc.” he said. 

The Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia (SHPA) Chief Executive Kristin Michaels said the My Health Record debate highlighted the need for an integrated ehealth system, accessible only to health professionals and set up at the request of health organisations, for the benefit of all Australians.

"All Australians, regardless of any illness or condition, deserve to get the highest-quality care,” Michaels said. 

“More often than many would think, patients are unable to explain the medicines they are already taking and for what conditions they are already being treated, particularly after a seizure or if unconscious. Many of these patients are unaccompanied. Sometimes this lack of information leads to errors that have serious impacts on people’s lives. 

“[Hence] hospital pharmacists have long called for a shared, electronic patient data system that links up a fragmented health system and empowers patients in their own care."

The issue of security 

However, University of Melbourne Department of Computing and Information Systems Cybersecurity Senior Lecturer Associate Professor Vanessa Teague expressed her concerns around the privacy implications of secondary uses of My Health Records not being accurately explained.

"The My Health Record privacy policy says: ‘It is expected that most applications which are assessed will be for the use of de-identified data. This is where your personal details are removed from the dataset and you cannot be identified.’ Unfortunately, removing obvious personal details (such as name, location, and date of birth) does not securely de-identify the data,” Teague said.  

“Both doctors and patients can be easily and confidently identified in a dataset… In the case of patients, this means that a few points of information, such as the patient's age and dates of surgeries or childbirths, is enough to identify the person and thus, retrieve all their Medicare bills and PBS [Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme] prescriptions for many years.  

“Easy and confident re-identification has been demonstrated on numerous other datasets that were shared in the mistaken belief that they were de-identified. It is probably not possible to securely de-identify detailed individual records like My Health Records without altering the data so much that its scientific value is substantially reduced.” 

[Read more: My Health Record system data breaches rise | Game changer: Creator of FHIR writes about approaching critical mass and a growing data sharing revolution]

Teague said patients may choose to opt out of secondary uses of their data but are unable to make a “genuinely informed decision” if they are inaccurately told that their detailed record cannot be identified. 

“Even more importantly, those whose identifiable MBS [Medicare Benefits Schedule]-PBS records were already published in 2016 should be notified, because the earlier release could make re-identification of their My Health Records much easier,” she said. 

Harvard Medical School International Healthcare Innovation Professor Dr John Halamka also previously criticised the system for relying on outdated technology, saying that the $2 billion My Health Record was nothing more than “digitised paper” as it uses such “out-of-date” technology that crucial patient information on test results and diseases are unable to be read or shared by computers.

University of Wollongong School of Computing and Information Technology Professor Katina Michael said health data breaches, for some, could have a huge impact. 

She used the recent example from Singapore, where 1.5 million Singapore health records were breached in a highly targeted effort on SingHealth. Among the breached health records was Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's personal records.

“What does this tell us when one of the world's most advanced cybersecurity nations suffers such a large-scale attack? Plainly, that no one's personal information is safe, no matter the measures in place,” she said. 

"If we have learnt anything over the last four months, it is that electronic health records are hackable. We need not have to look too far to see that no system is impenetrable.” 

Michael also speculated that there is the possibility of a ramp up of blockchain initiatives to beef up on My Health Record security.  

“We will likely be told in the not too distant future that we wildly underestimated our security requirements and as such, must go one step further and protect our credentials,” she said. 

According to Professor Michael, this involves the implant of a 16-digit Personal Health Record (PHR) ID number into people that also reads vital signs while embedded. This technology then alerts first responders of ailments and medications without the need for the person to provide any information. 

[Read more: Australia leads the world in personal control of electronic health records | Is the My Health Record technology out of date?]

ATSE’s Bradlow said the industry needs to be “realistic” about it as the danger of data leaking due to cyber hacking is as true as hacking any other data system. 

“Let’s remember that many [healthcare professionals] have easy access to today’s paper-based health records – an electronic record is actually a step up in privacy. Within My Health Record, we can make it the default to require a patient access code,” he said. 

“A well-designed record system which is managed by a professional security organisation and has a clear audit trail, for example, provided by blockchain, can mitigate this risk significantly."

Source: Hafizah Osman, 31 January 2019, “Industry calls for more caution over MHR system”,

Note: Thank you Hafizah Osman— interestingly I was referring to the VeriChip experiment of the PHR that Dr John Halamka trialled for a short time and wrote about in 2006 here:

Human Rights Commission raises serious concerns with new encryption laws


The Human Rights Commission has raised serious concerns about significant threats to human rights with the Federal Government's new encryption laws.

A last-minute deal between Labor and the Coalition saw the laws pass late yesterday.

But there are now calls for critical amendments to be made as soon as possible.

Duration: 2min 51sec

Broadcast: Fri 7 Dec 2018, 12:14pm

More Information


Ed Santow, Human Rights Commissioner
Professor Katina Michael, technology expert, University of Wollongong

Citation: Ed Santow and Katina Michael with Nancy Notzon, December 7, 2018, “Human Rights Commission raises serious concerns with new encryption laws”, The World Today: ABC Radio,

Data Expert Warns Encryption Laws could have Catastrophic Outcomes


A University of Wollongong data expert has labeled the government's proposed encryption laws delusional and warns they could have catastrophic consequences.

The changes would force technology companies to help police access encrypted messages.

Professor Katina Michael, from the School of Computing and Information Technology says the powers are unprecedented and have no oversight.

She is speaking to ABC reporter Kelly Fuller.

Citation: Katina Michael with Kelly Fuller, “Rushed Encryption Laws Herald a Watering Down in National Security”, ABC Illawarra: Radio, 6 December 2018,

Microchipping Employees and Potential Workplace Surveillance


British companies are planning to implant staff with microchips to improve security. Sputnik spoke about it to Katina Michael, professor of the Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences at the University of Wollongong.

Sputnik: Could companies sell employees' personal data to third parties?

Katina Michael: The first thing to know is that before an employer considers selling implant discrete data to a third party, they would likely use it to monitor their staff. For example, for physical access control, the way staff congregate to exchange ideas, how often they use the restroom, how fast they may be finishing and completing some tasks. It is not to say that that would occur, but quite possibly it would be used as a timestamp device. In comparison, today we commonly find facial recognition or fingerprint recognition allows employees to log their time at work.

But a company now can use this technology to introspectively look at what employees are doing. I mean, we can consider employers today gathering data on their employees by using smartphones: I know a lot of companies sign off an agreement when they do offer their employees a company-sponsored smartphone, identifying that they may well log their locations and time based on the company smartphone. Otherwise, I don't believe that a corporation would sell that information.

Sputnik: But if companies were to sell personal data to third parties, what could employees do to prevent that from happening?

Katina Michael: Employees would not be able to block the distribution of data gathered from their implantable devices, unless they've signed some legal agreement not allowing consent to occur or through local workplace surveillance laws. And so they can block the corporation from sharing that information with other companies, such as health insurance providers.

Sputnik: Could employers know if staff contacted a competitor about a job?

Katina Michael: You have to consider that the diffusion of the implants is only a couple hundred people, for example, in the UK, and many of them are not in the employment context. In one case there was an implant device granted to someone with a systematic technology need, an amputee; and when we look at these more widely in the world we could say that probably a few thousand people at most, who are hobbyists to get an implant because they are infused by technology and progress, and being able to automate certain aspects of their life.

I don't believe that, for the time being, information would be provided when one implantee meets another implantee, because of the limitations of the mutual communication and the radio frequency identification being used in that technology. These technologies don't act like smartphones; for the time being the devices are proximity devices that require you to be no more than ten centimeters away from a reader.

Citation: Katina Michael and Laurie Timmers, 2018, “Businesses to Microchip Employees 'to Monitor' Staff”, Sputnik International News,

The escalating crypto-war in Australia and what it means for us

It was a sunny day in December 2015 and 14 people lay dead in San Bernardino, California after a mass shooting at the North Park Elementary School.


I still remember the news footage taken from a helicopter hovering over a bullet-ridden black Ford Expedition, in which the perpetrators Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik had fled and were killed in, during a shootout with police.

There have been so many mass shootings in America since, including last year’s horrific killing of 58 concertgoers in Las Vegas, that the grim memory of San Bernardino has faded.

But the tragedy has had a lasting legacy in unexpected ways. In the months after the shootings, the FBI attempted to enlist the support of phone-maker Apple to gain access to Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone 5C as part of their investigation into what was being labeled a terrorist attack. The FBI wanted Apple to create a new operating system they could install on the dead shooter’s phone that would bypass security features. It would also serve to give the FBI access to iPhones in future criminal investigations too.

Apple famously refused, telling the FBI that giving in to a demand to “hack our own users” would set a precedent undermining the privacy of all iPhone users.

“While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect,” he wrote in an open letter to customers at the time.

This was just a couple of years after the Edward Snowden leaks, which revealed the extent to which government security agencies were secretly gathering masses of internet data. The big tech companies, keen to shore up trust, rushed to introduce end-to-end encryption to services like WhatsApp, Gmail and iMessage, making the argument that if their customers’ data was invisible to them, they couldn’t hand it over to the authorities.

FBI vs Apple

There were tense meetings between then-president Barack Obama and Apple chief executive Tim Cook, who didn’t resile from his position. Eventually, the FBI found a company that could break the phone’s encryption, paying them nearly US$1 million to do so. The issue died down as a technical fix broke the impasse. But politicians have continued to push the issue calling for new legislation that would force tech companies to allow law enforcement agencies access to encrypted systems.

In the wake of the San Bernardino massacre, President Trump made his feelings on the issue plain, calling for a boycott of Apple products.

“Who do they think they are?" He complained to the hosts of Fox & Friends.

Since then, he has been relatively silent on encryption, but his officials and US senators have been quietly working on the issue with a view to drafting encryption circumvention legislation that they know will face stiff resistance from the tech sector and its K Street lobbyists in Washington D.C.

Governments elsewhere have the same goal in mind as they struggle to track the online communication of suspected criminals and terrorists. An attack in London last May that saw a man drive his car into pedestrians, killing four people, opened the encryption debate in Britain.

The killer had apparently sent a message on the encrypted WhatsApp platform hinting at what he was about to do, moments before he ploughed into unsuspecting pedestrians. It led Theresa May to call for her security services to be given the ability to circumvent encryption systems.

Five Eyes stand together

The UK’s Investigatory Powers Act or ‘Snooper’s Charter’ introduced in 2016 gives British law enforcement agencies some powers to require network operators to remove “electronic protection” from communications and data. But it isn’t seen as strong enough to demand backdoors to encryption services, particularly for services delivered from outside the UK.

New Zealand introduced similar legislation in 2013, with the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act. That requires internet providers to make their networks interception available to government agencies armed with a warrant. But it only applies to “network operators” - it is unlikely that the law could be used to demand Apple or Microsoft retrieve encrypted data for the New Zealand Police or the GCSB.

The issue hasn’t flared up in New Zealand in recent years, but our membership of the ‘Five Eyes’ security partnership with Australia, the United Kingdom, the US and Canada could propel us towards the legal changes other countries are pursuing.

Meeting earlier this year, the Five Eyes issued a joint statement stating their preference for technology service providers to “voluntarily establish lawful access solutions to their products and services that they create or operate in our countries”.

Then came the veiled threat:

“Should governments continue to encounter impediments to lawful access to information necessary to aid the protection of the citizens of our countries, we may pursue technological, enforcement, legislative or other measures to achieve lawful access solutions.”

Backlash in Australia

Across the Tasman, the Liberal Government is pushing ahead with mandatory measures.

The so-called Assistance and Access Bill proposes three levels of assistance that tech companies and internet providers could be required to lend law enforcement agencies. At the lowest level, voluntary assistance could be offered, with the highest level of assistance seeing the country’s attorney general requiring tech companies to “build a new capability” into their systems to allow access to encrypted information.

The Bill has been slammed by Apple and other multinational tech companies as being too ambiguous and wide-ranging as well as by privacy and encryption experts.

“This is not a solution to the problem of just-in-time policing and border force security but an override on the freedoms of everyday Australians and Australian companies, or even those doing business in Australia,” says Professor Katina Michael, a technology and innovation expert at the University of Wollongong and Arizona State University.

“Privacy is a human right, and one way that right can be maintained in today's digital transactions is through encryption.”

Apple reiterated its call that breaking encryption systems will undermine security for everyone.

“This is no time to weaken encryption,” it wrote in a submission on the Bill.

“There is a profound risk of making criminals’ jobs easier, not harder. Increasingly stronger — not weaker — encryption is the best way to protect against these threats.”

The Australian Computer Society saw no reason to expedite the legislation which it described as “problematic”.

Technically, it can be done

But Dr Richard Adams, Adjunct Fellow in the School of Information Systems at Curtin University, said that while tech companies had an obligation to protect their customers’ data, they also had obligations to the “wider community”.

“The challenge is for manufacturers to meet the needs of both groups rather than adopt the best stance from a marketing/cost perspective,” he says.

With that in mind and the legislation putting the onus on the tech companies to come up with ways to grant security services access to encrypted services, it was time to consider what technical solutions could be offered to meet the government half-way.

“A simplistic solution on phone devices would be to store the data twice, once with the ‘user key’ and once with the ‘manufacturer key’ so the strength of the encryption itself would not be affected and the risk of having two ‘keys’ could be mitigated by the use of a very complex manufacturer key requiring physical access to the device,” he says.

“Obviously there would be push-back on the additional storage required and reduced battery life but the point is that from a purely technical standpoint it could be done relatively easily."

With the Five Eyes member countries all at different stages in pushing for stronger laws to deal with encrypted services, such technical efforts to assist governments will need more serious consideration.

The alternative is heavy-handed legislation that is not fit for purpose, rammed through by governments with a larger law enforcement agenda.

But Michael says we also need to consider the threat to privacy posed by the companies that are opposing efforts to circumvent encryption, which are wielding immense power themselves through their access to masses of our data.

“The complexity here is in the fact that private corporations like Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft are amassing so much personal data that citizen data rights are being equally eroded by corporations themselves who share the data with third parties,” she says.

“We need to take a step back as Australians and ask ourselves why these private corporations are fighting this government bill together?”

What to do if a border agent demands access to your device


University of Wollongong professor Katina Michael discusses what to do if a border agent demands access to your digital device. It comes after Customs NZ clarified rules in which officers can demand a 'digital strip-search'.

Citation: Katina Michael with Wendyl Nissen, October 11, 2018, “What to do if a border agent demands access to your device”, RadioNZLive: The Long Lunch