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  (Source: 20th Century Fox)
Have even a trace of gunpowder on you from a shooting range? You may be in for a "deep frisking"

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is tasked with fighting "the war on terror", but of late it has been accused of creating more terror than it prevents, with invasive frisking of childrens' genital areas and a proclivity for mocking passengers' bodies sexually behind closed doors.  But all that may be but a teaser for what is to come, according to a piece by Gizmodo.

I. Prepare to be Scanned and Detained

The piece details new "molecular scanners" which work something like Big Brother's wildest wet dream, detecting each an every chemical substance on your body.

The scanners are being commercialized by Genia Photonics and employ terrahertz speed laser pulses.  The laser hardware is capable of detecting -- even through clothing or windows -- the slightest trace amounts of chemicals on the human body.  Genia claims the scanner is ten million times faster and one million times more sensitive than any other scanner -- such as the millimeter wave-based detectors.

Genia scanners
The DHS is eyeing new laser scanners to scan and detain "suspicious individuals" at police checkpoints in public locations. [Image Source: Genia]

Genia writes that the scanner can "penetrate clothing and many other organic materials and offers spectroscopic information, especially for materials that impact safety such as explosives and pharmacological substances."

Thanks to the speed, the DHS is reportedly looking to deploy the scanners secretly at inter-state borders, international borders, and in airports.  

The deployment raises some thorny issues, given the scanner's ability to detect such small traces of compounds.  For example, smoke a bit of marijuana in a region where it's decriminalized or legal for medical uses, and you may now be arrested by DHS officers at the state border.  Alternatively, you might go shooting at the gun range, but the trace amounts of gunpowder left on your clothing might earn you a date with "Mr. Happy Hands" of the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) or DHS.

TSA pat down
You match the profile, prepare to be frisked. [Image Source: The Denver Post]

II. DHS Eyes Plotting Scanners in Shopping Malls and Other Locations

In fact, DHS agents are eyeing the possibility of rolling the devices out all across the country, scanning everyone in any public location possible for signs of suspicion.  

In-Q-Tel, the DHS contractor who is subcontracting Genia writes, "an important benefit of Genia Photonics' implementation as compared to existing solutions is that the entire synchronized laser system is comprised in a single, robust and alignment-free unit that may be easily transported for use in many environments… This compact and robust laser has the ability to rapidly sweep wavelengths in any pattern and sequence."

A scan takes only picoseconds and can be performed at distances of up to 50 meters, making it big brother's dream device.

III. Deployment is on Pace for 2013-2014

The creators are confident they can deliver on their objectives of ubiquitous privacy intrusion.  Founded by a group of laser and fiber optic Ph.D specialists, Genia is among several Universities and firms worldwide making similar ambitious claims of laser scanners with molecule-level sensitivity.

Shooting range
A trip to the shooting range could soon make you wind up in federal custody.
[Image Source: Flickr]

In Congressional testimony the DHS revealed that deployment was only a year or two away, meaning the devices could start popping up in 2013.

From there, there's no telling how far down the dystopian things could go with molecule scanner.  The scanner can sense signs of fear -- such as adrenaline -- even through car windows or in crowded shopping malls.  The DHS has already acknowledge publicly experimenting with such "future crime" profiling efforts.  In those projects the DHS expressed a desire to detain individuals in public locations who fit certain profiles that indicate they might be ready to commit a crime.  

Will anxiety about a big deadline at work lead you to be handcuffed in front of your children at the shopping mall?  There's no official word yet on such uses, but the hints are there, and the possibilities are frightening.

Sources: Genia, In-Q-Tel

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I'll cry 'wolf' when I actually see one...
By boeush on 7/11/2012 8:27:31 PM , Rating: -1
I think all the alarm regarding trace chemicals is overblown. There is such a thing as calibration, and I'm sure reasonable thresholds can be set to minimize false positives. I mean, it's all but certain that the power of the return signal correlates directly with the quantities of the chemical in question.

For some things, even trace amounts could be informative and significant (e.g. normal people shouldn't have traces of C-4 or anthrax powder on them). For hard-core narcotics or gunpowder, it may just be a matter of configuring a higher signal threshold for alarm (and as for weed specifically, IMO it ought to be decriminalized altogether, but that's a different discussion.)

Yes, every detector technology has its problems and failure modes, of which its operators and subjects should be aware. But for instance we're probably better off with highway cops using radar and lidar guns, vs. having no such technology at hand to snag speeders and dangerous drivers (in fact, we probably should have automated detectors installed at regular intervals all over our freeways to do this sort of policing; e.g. in Germany they've had this for decades.) Analogously, it won't hurt to have an extra layer of monitoring in public places (such as transportation hubs and shopping malls) that have previously been or come up in discussion as terrorist targets.

And speaking of automated detectors on highways, I think it would be nice to have them detect excessive quantities of alcohol vapor or weed smoke inside car cabins (if indeed they can successfully scan through windshields) and particularly as concentrated around drivers. That could help cut down a lot on DUI's, consequently boosting personal safety of all the law-abiding drivers, and at the same time reducing the societal costs of all the DUI-related accidents and their consequences.

By darckhart on 7/11/2012 8:35:40 PM , Rating: 3
sorry, if you look hard enough, you'll find anything anywhere. eg, dioxin is in everything. this is absurd.

By ritualm on 7/12/2012 12:51:11 AM , Rating: 2
Just like all the people who say "we don't need privacy" and "it's okay to give up our rights for a little security".

Whenever these people get their way, we have neither privacy nor rights, the world is more dangerous than before, and they claim we were crying wolf.

I can't wait to read stories of people being falsely accused of things they had no part with.

By dark matter on 7/12/2012 2:17:53 AM , Rating: 3
When you see one wolf, it's too late. At that point, they are all around you and you have no way out.

"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be." -- Steve Ballmer

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