Very powerful drug-scanners coming soon

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Very powerful drug-scanners coming soon

Postby cosmicalstorm » 2012-09-30 06:09am

I would have thought it would take another decade before spectral analysis became this powerful. (Has this been posted here before, the search didn't work?)

Hidden Government Scanners Will Instantly Know Everything About You From 164 Feet Away

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. In-Q-Tel is a company founded "in February 1999 by a group of private citizens at the request of the Director of the CIA and with the support of the U.S. Congress." According to In-Q-Tel, they are the bridge between the Agency and new technology companies.

Their plan is to install this molecular-level scanning in airports and border crossings all across the United States. The official, stated goal of this arrangement is to be able to quickly identify explosives, dangerous chemicals, or bioweapons at a distance.

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.

Analyzing everything in real time
But the machine can sniff out a lot more than just explosives, chemicals and bioweapons. The company that invented it, Genia Photonics, says that its laser scanner technology is able to "penetrate clothing and many other organic materials and offers spectroscopic information, especially for materials that impact safety such as explosives and pharmacological substances." [PDF]

Formed in Montreal in 2009 by PhDs with specialties in lasers and fiber optics, Genia Photonics has 30 patents on this technology, claiming incredible biomedical and industrial applications—from identifying individual cancer cells in a real-time scan of a patient, to detecting trace amounts of harmful chemicals in sensitive manufacturing processes.

Full sizeAbove: The Genia Photonics' Picosecond Programmable Laser scanner is capable of detecting every tiny trace of any substance on your body, from specks of gunpowder to your adrenaline levels to a sugar-sized grain of cannabis to what you had for breakfast.

Meanwhile, In-Q-Tel states that "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." [PDF]

So not only can they scan everyone. They would be able to do it everywhere: the subway, a traffic light, sports events... everywhere.

How does it work?
The machine is a mobile, rack-mountable system. It fires a laser to provide molecular-level feedback at distances of up to 50 meters in just picoseconds. For all intents and purposes, that means instantly.

The small, inconspicuous machine is attached to a computer running a program that will show the information in real time, from trace amounts of cocaine on your dollar bills to gunpowder residue on your shoes. Forget trying to sneak a bottle of water past security—they will be able to tell what you had for breakfast in an instant while you're walking down the hallway.

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."

So if Genia Photonics' claims pan out, this will be an incredible leap forward in terms of speed, portability, and convenience. One with staggering implications.

Observation without limits
There has so far been no discussion about the personal rights and privacy issues involved. Which "molecular tags" will they be scanning for? Who determines them? What are the threshold levels of this scanning? If you unknowingly stepped on the butt of someone's joint and are carrying a sugar-sized grain of cannabis like that unfortunate traveler currently in jail in Dubai, will you be arrested?

And, since it's extremely portable, will this technology extend beyone the airport or border crossings and into police cars, with officers looking for people on the street with increased levels of adrenaline in their system to detain in order to prevent potential violent outbursts? And will your car be scanned at stoplights for any trace amounts of suspicious substances? Would all this information be recorded anywhere?

Above: A page from a Genia Photonics paper describing its ability to even penetrate through clothing.

There are a lot of questions with no answer yet, but it's obvious that the potential level of personal invasion of this technology goes far beyond that of body scans, wiretaps, and GPS tracking.

The end of privacy coming soon
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.

The author of this story is currently completing his PhD in renewable energy solutions, focusing on converting waste to energy in the urban environment. Even while most of this information is publicly available, he wanted to remain anonymous.

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Re: Very powerful drug-scanners coming soon

Postby General Zod » 2012-09-30 08:59am

I don't see an article link.
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Re: Very powerful drug-scanners coming soon

Postby JLTucker » 2012-09-30 11:08am

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Re: Very powerful drug-scanners coming soon

Postby Spectre_nz » 2012-09-30 11:34pm

Color me VERY sceptical. The article reads like a huge exaggeration.

You can break laser spectroscopy into two primary areas;
Ablation (ie, burn the surface, then you look at the atomic spectra of what you've vaporized with a detector of some sort. Can be emission or adsorbtion.) Only works on surface materials, and isn't very good against complex molicules as it tends to break them up into simpler pieces. Works well on rocks, salts and metals. Not so good against living things.

Adsorption - You shine light on something then look at what you've got left over. The change in spectra will be due to adsorbtion by chemical bonds. You then use this to figure out what chemcials and what bonds are present in whatever you just shone light on. Lasers are just a cunning way of shining light on something.

Looking at this thing they're touting, it’s Terahertz laser technology. Sits on the fence between microwaves and IR.
IR is an old and very popular spectral region for analysis. I’ve worked with a bunch of IR and near IR methods trying to streamline measurement of microbial culture in realtime. Some things are easy, others are not. For one, it’s very hard to get a frequency that’ll do everything you want all at once; a frequency that is good at spotlighting small molecules like ethanol or methane doesn’t work so well against larger ones like say, proteins. Or if they do, it’s in a very qualitative way, ie, it’ll tell you if there are Nitrogen-carbon bonds there, and that mostly means proteins, but not always, nor how much.
Next you get tricky molecules, like the organic acids, that can be salts or acids depending on the pH, and sometimes even undergo minor structural change depending on which state there’re in. They’re a bastard to measure in solution with IR techniques if your pH can be variable.

Admittedly, I haven’t worked with THz lasers. Reading up on them, their big drawcard is being able to penetrate some materials without damaging the structure; specific examples I can find quote them as being able to see through clothing and low-fat, low water content tissues; specifically, they appear to struggle to see through IR opaque materials.
Sounds like they’re slightly better than a surface only spectra, but can’t see through you like an X-ray.
And if they’re that close to traditional IR methods; they’ll have a hell of a time discerning much of anything in a biological organism due to the plethora of chemical variation. Sweat, sunscreen, perfume, novel tattoo ink from some small pacific island, a bizarre herbal concoction some hippy sold you that you’re using as moisturizer, or some exotic alkaloids on your hands from a tropical weed in your garden; they’ll all pile their adsorbtion togeather to further confuse the scanner.

In all likelihood, just like Near-IR methods, they’ll be able to give quantitative measurements for a small number of chemicals of interest, and, they’ll be able to say yes or no, on some very broad categories based on the bonds.
Explosives tendto have some pretty special and recognisable Carbon–nitrogen bonds, so I have no doubt this system would be very good at spotting those with ease, even inside you.
Drugs; there’s a slightly less certain maybe. On the surface; probably do-able. Inside you? I really doubt the system would be able to differentiate between narcotics and the rest of the structurally very similar bio-molecules you’re loaded with as part of being alive.
Residue on your clothing however, yeah, they could probably spot that.
Increased adrenalin? I’d be amused to know how they’d do this as ‘normal’ differs person to person. Maybe their target is a panicking criminal, or maybe they’re having a mild allergic reaction to pollen. Sucks to be on the wrong end of that scanner mix up.
That and the scanner would probably be foiled by sweaty skin or sunscreen.
It looks like a slightly more sophisticated IR scanner; able to work at longer ranges and therefore, better at just sweeping a crowd for anything out of the ordinary.
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Re: Very powerful drug-scanners coming soon

Postby Sky Captain » 2012-10-01 05:45am

Sounds like there would be potential for tons of false alarms if the scanner is as sensitive as claimed. Nearly everyone probably have some trace amounts of narcotics on clothes because that stuff is so widespread. Suppose you get caught in airport only because previous day you were sitting next to a drug addict in a city bus and while airport security runs additional searches on your luggage your plane leaves without you.

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Re: Very powerful drug-scanners coming soon

Postby TheFeniX » 2012-10-01 10:49am

If this turns out to be some kind of magic bullet, can I finally stop being forced to take my fucking shoes off at the airport?

Sky Captain wrote:Sounds like there would be potential for tons of false alarms if the scanner is as sensitive as claimed. Nearly everyone probably have some trace amounts of narcotics on clothes because that stuff is so widespread. Suppose you get caught in airport only because previous day you were sitting next to a drug addict in a city bus and while airport security runs additional searches on your luggage your plane leaves without you.
Depending on municipality, the scanner itself would likely have a hard time busting someone like this. Cops for years got by with police dogs being used on suspects without cause. At least in Texas, and a few other states, police dogs now constitute a search protected by the fourth amendment since the whole reason the police use them is that their senses are more sensitive than a person's. So, it would be a tough sell to sit on a street corner and scan every passerby, then question/detain/arrest them based on the scanner.

Now, airports exist somewhere between Hell and Limbo WRT the law, so that's likely not an issue. That said, it might at least make the scanning procedure less of a hassle and substantially less degrading. The question would be how they handle positives. If it's "question them for a bit, maybe search their bag," then it's not exactly more intrusive than it already has been. Even currently, nothing is stopping the TSA from taking you in a back room and questioning you for hours because you "just don't look right."

Coming back from a jobsite, my bag tested positive for TNT (likely the Toluene we worked around). A few simple questions about why it would test positive and a quick search of my bag to make sure I wasn't in fact going to blow anything up, cleared the situation up and I got on a plane back to the mainland.

The real issue here isn't the scanners so much as customs/TSA employees who are actually competent and/or not gigantic assholes.

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Re: Very powerful drug-scanners coming soon

Postby Tsyroc » 2012-10-01 01:33pm

Sky Captain wrote:Sounds like there would be potential for tons of false alarms if the scanner is as sensitive as claimed. Nearly everyone probably have some trace amounts of narcotics on clothes because that stuff is so widespread. Suppose you get caught in airport only because previous day you were sitting next to a drug addict in a city bus and while airport security runs additional searches on your luggage your plane leaves without you.

Or you're like me and occasionally get fentanyl, versed, morphine etc... on you in the course of a days work. I've had the concentrated IV stuff spray on me a few times and had to clean up the spilled oral liquid form of several narcotics more than a few times.

Where I work we currently have a machine that can test small samples taken from intravenous fluids, compare them to the database, and tell us if the two ingredients in the mixture are within the standard deviation for those ingredients at the specified levels. We are in the process of replacing that with a machine which we'll be able to put any IV bag or syringe directly into and have it tell us what's in it, and that machine is still a work in progress. Mostly because it needs a suitable database built. I suppose that if someone is willing to throw a lot more money into it they could come up a machine that works like the one described in OT. It could be kind of cool if they do get it working as long as they limit where and how it's used. I don't like the idea of authorities trawling with it and using that as the reason to stop someone who hasn't done anything else suspicious or isn't trying to gain access to places where the authorities restrict access.

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