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 machine is ten million times faster””and one million times more sensitive””than any currently available system. That means that it can be used systematically on everyone passing through airport security, not just suspect or randomly sampled people.
The technology is not new, it’s just millions times faster and more convenient than ever before. Back in 2008, a team at George Washington University developed a similar laser spectrometer using a different process. It could sense drug metabolites in urine in less than a second, trace amounts of explosive residue on a dollar bill, and even certain chemical changes happening in a plant leaf.
And the Russians also have a similar technology: announced last April, their “laser sensor can pick up on a single molecule in a million from up to 50 meters away.”
According to the undersecretary for science and technology of the Department of Homeland Security, this scanning technology will be ready within one to two years, which means you might start seeing them in airports as soon as 2013.
In other words, these portable, incredibly precise molecular-level scanning devices will be cascading lasers across your body as you walk from the bathroom to the soda machine at the airport and instantly reporting and storing a detailed breakdown of your person, in search of certain “molecular tags”.
Going well beyond eavesdropping, it seems quite possible that U.S. government plans on recording molecular data on travelers without their consent, or even knowledge that it’s possible””a scary thought. While the medical uses could revolutionize the way doctors diagnose illness, and any technology that could replace an aggressive pat-down is tempting, there’s a potential dark side to this implementation, and we need to shine some light on it before it’s implemented.