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Some Thoughts on Orwellian 'Moleculer-Level Scanners' Supposedly Coming to Airports

October 8, 2012 at 3:22 PM | by | Comments (0)

Let us present to you the latest piece of airport security technology that's getting written up by some media outlets: machines that can "scan every single molecule in our bodies."

These Picosecond Programmable Laser scanners are apparently "ten million times faster and one million times more sensitive" than current airport scanners, and are said to "stand out against the rest of the market" because of their "significant speed and unmatched accuracy."

Depending on whether you want to read to the end of this sentence, that's either (a) utter bullshit or (b) utter bullshit that sounds like it was regurgitated from a press release originally pitched by a PR consultant, but might just be the result of weird paranoia.

The story began in July as an anonymous blog post on Gizmodo, written by someone who is "currently completing his PhD in renewable energy solutions, focusing on converting waste to energy in the urban environment." We're presuming Gizmodo vetted the story on some level, but already we're not off to a great start. The student, who seems to have explicitly insisted on anonymity, opens with the kind of rhetoric usually found on overly excited anti-TSA, anti-government conspiracy theory boards:

Within the next year or two, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will instantly know everything about your body, clothes, and luggage with a new laser-based molecular scanner fired from 164 feet (50 meters) away. From traces of drugs or gun powder on your clothes to what you had for breakfast to the adrenaline level in your body - agents will be able to get any information they want without even touching you. And without you knowing it. The technology is so incredibly effective that, in November 2011, its inventors were subcontracted by In-Q-Tel to work with the US Department of Homeland Security.

The slightly hysterical emphasis on "everything" is in the original. The subsequent sentence introduces a connection to the CIA, and from there we're off to the races. A few paragraphs down we learn that these new scanners can "scan everyone" and do it in "the subway, a traffic light, sports events... everywhere." (again emphasis in the original). The government will use "cascading lasers across your body" capable of "instantly reporting and storing a detailed breakdown of your person." In sum, "U.S. government plans on recording molecular data on travelers" mean "the end of privacy."

The author insists that the technology is both deployable and in fact will be deployed imminently "in airports and border crossings all across the United States."

So while it's been more than a decade since 9/11 and our port security is still atrocious, we're less than 24 months away from an Orwellian dystopia. And that dystopia is going to be managed by the super-keen, hyper-competent bureaucrats in the Department of Homeland Security. These guys.

Ignore that it makes no sense for TSA to replace what we already know are highly effective specialized mobile scanners, and that it would take years of training before these things were deployed and we'd hear about it, and that TSA is strapped for cash already, and that the new scanners would just end up as drug-detection tools and TSA already has some of those. Let's just skip to the very end of this story.

The central claim that makes this a story is that the scanners will be deployed "within the next year or two." The link goes to this press release by the company that made the scanner, in which the DHS Under-secretary for Science and Technology told Congress that the company will be ready in 24 months to transform its existing medical scanners into something different which might then get installed into scanners that might then get bought that might then get deployed.

You begin to see the problem?

[Photo: quinn.anya / Flickr]

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