The DHS' new molecular scanner sees everything

Imagine a device that can instantly tell if you may have been involved in a drug deal, recently fired a gun, what you just ate, and if you're hiding anything under your clothes. Sounds like sci-fi? Don't worry, it's not – it's just the latest wonderfully intrusive project from your friends at the Department of Homeland Security.

Alright, so the whole deal sounds a little bit far-fetched, and it's hard not to lean a little towards the skeptical side of things. But if such a device were plausible (the DHS says that they'll be employing them in the field within a couple of years), it would give whoever was controlling it an unprecedented level of observation. If you thought the naked airport scanners were creepy, you ain't seen nothing yet.

The machine, which looks a little bit like an old radio, is being built by a company called Genia Photonics. Basically, it shoots a laser off into the distance and, for what is for all intents and purposes instantaneously, sends data on a molecular level back to a computer which analyzes the wavelengths and patterns to figure out what it's looking at. Not only does that mean it will be able to tell if you're trying to hide a gun, it also means that it'll know if you have any traces of drugs on your body or, if someone cared, how many hairs were on your head.

Originally, Genia was aiming for something a bit more 'positive' than playing Big Brother. They hold 30 patents based around their scanner technology, ranging from identifying cancer cells to keeping harmful chemicals out of manufacturing processes. The DHS thought it was a little too good to pass up, though.

And unlike the scanners and metal detectors you encounter in airports today, Genia Photonics' molecular scanner doesn't need you to stand still, or walk through a silly little archway. Oh no; if you want to avoid it, you're out of luck, because it's totally unobtrusive. On one hand, that could mean that you'll get in and out of security faster, since the scanner can do its job so much faster, and on a much larger scale, than anything we've got today. On the other hand, it means that it scans anything unlucky enough to step into its radius (about 164 feet).

Despite the huge benefits these scanners could offer, they end up sounding way more like something from dystopian sci-fi than some sort of life saving device. Heck, a team at George Washington University even developed a similar system that could detect drug metabolites in urine instantaneously. And while we're not so sure about how well it'll work in the field, this technology is almost here, and the privacy implications are stunning. Who knows, maybe you'll (not) see one in a bathroom near you in the near future.

Source: Gizmodo | Image via Gizmodo

Report a problem with article
Previous Story

Microsoft is "not going to leave any space uncovered to Apple"

Next Story

Dropbox doubles capacity of paid accounts

37 Comments

View more comments

statm1 said,
I think people take privacy way to far.. Who cares if they know how many hairs are on my head and if you have a gun or have handled drugs you deserve to be caught..
That's how German Jews felt before their little incident.... Their famous words "You have nothing to worry about if you've done nothing wrong"... until it was wrong to be Jewish in Germany during that time.

statm1 said,
I think people take privacy way to far.. Who cares if they know how many hairs are on my head and if you have a gun or have handled drugs you deserve to be caught..
So you deserve to get caught. How many dollar bills in the US have traces of cocaine on them again??? Huh?

I'll be waiting right here for your reply, dimwit...

Lamp0 said,

1. Everyone needs to be scanned all the time because they obviously don't know who the threats or when they are going to strike... DUH!

2. How exactly does being scanned impact your freedom? If being scanned is such a big deal then don't go.

I won't go. Then again, how do I avoid them once they are put on cop cars and street corners, stay in my house? **** off.

This is America and people are such sheep these days. If you don't have reasonable cause to justify something - you can't do it. However, people are so scared of Muhammad blowing up cars during rush hour and wondering if their jslist suit will hold up the the next VX attack.... oh wait.

This has nothing to do with "are you doing something wrong" nothing at all. It has to do with you not needing or getting to know anything about me without reason or me offering it to you. You don't get to know what I ate this morning if I don't tell you. You don't get to know when and with whom I just had sex with unless I tell you. You don't get to know anything unless there is a reason or I tell you.

statm1 said,
I think people take privacy way to far.. Who cares if they know how many hairs are on my head and if you have a gun or have handled drugs you deserve to be caught..

I appreciate your response, but it's legal to carry guns with a permit. Do you think this technology can verify if you have a permit? Also, drugs being illegal is a relatively new thing in the world, and many states are sensible enough to try and decriminalize certain ones (marijuana). Did you know George Washington had a marijuana plant that his slaves worked for him? Bet you didn't. Did you know that many of the people you watch in movies smoke marijuana, or how about top CEOs and business-men, the people who handle your finances? Stock brokers? Of course there are harder drugs out there (and potentially more dangerous), but why is the government allowed to say what substance we should/should not be allowed to put into our bodies?

Oh yeah, because marijuana was at risk of putting timber companies out of business a long time ago because, marijuana, go figure, is really good for making all sorts of non-drug things (like paper, string, and other stuff too). So timber companies lobbied the government, paid people off, and became classified with the other hard drugs. The classification alone makes it illegal and difficult for there to be any sensible study done with the drugs (many in the science communities think these drugs /should/ be studied for medical benefits). Alas, scared prescription drug companies lobby against this sort of thing because of the potential loss of profit it would mean for them - screw the people - screw you - keep it illegal so /they/ make a few more bucks and their top executives can afford yet another car, or a third mansion, and a fourth pool, or an island or something.

Yeah, you got it right. Screw people, as long as the big companies are making money. Imagine of England didn't allow it's citizens to carry guns - without firearms we couldn't have won that war. Imagine if things like marijuana were not illegal, or at least, if the penalties were not so stupidly extreme. Call it a tax relief, that's what it would be. Our government hires private companies to run prisons - that is your tax dollars going to some company to keep other people in cages. They've gotten in trouble before for paying off judges to send more people to jail rather than lesser (more appropriate) penalties, because they get paid more per bed filled. I'm sure they love the fact that about half of all people in jail within the US are non-violent marijuana offenders. Having this many people in jail wastes our tax dollars, as we've seen in every other developed country in the world - keeping these people in jail is not needed. In Amsterdam you can walk into bars and buy marijuana - and smoke it right there on the spot!, it's illegal, not /not enforced/.

So next time you have an idea to post something, think about what you're posting. What kind of general statement are you making, does it even make sense? If the government starts using these, it means more tax dollars of ours going to waste. Why buy these and not fund schools, or roads, or helping people to get jobs, or paying for healthcare? There's more important things we should think about. The amount of people in the country that die due to car accidents is less than the amount that due to cigarettes. But some very big tobacco companies are lobbying to keep their industry alive, they even make billboards, and pay to have their products on TV advertisements. Yet, we'll just go along thinking that guns and drugs are the worst things, regardless of proven facts.

How ignorant are you, anyway?

And the award for the biggest tangent taken on my simple response goes to...

As I said before.. If you have a permit quit bitc**n, show them the permit, and go on your way.. Its not rocket science.....

Samething with weed.. If you have a medical card, quit bitc**n, show them, and go on your way.. AGAIN, not rocket science..... Otherwise depending on quantity, possession is still against the law. Period.. Having only skimmed your diatribe im not really interested in your pro-weed opinions. Its illegal now. The future of legal weed for everyone isn't coming anytime soon.

And where the hell did you get from what little I said that im pro-big company?

I simply meant.. if you have nothing to hide then it shouldn't matter what scan is scanning you.. People who think otherwise are either drama queens or are bored and want something to bitc* about..

Headlines 2018: Whoops, were we wrong. In fact, they make you smarter.

Headlines 2019: There are no headlines, everyone is dead after nuclear fallout. Whoops!

See, what I did there? I too can make stupid shi* up.

I'm perfectly OK with these scanning for drugs, guns and explosives at an airport. However it'll soon be deployed to scan private citizens any where they want, such as your home. Illegal wiretapping was just the beginning.

abysal said,
I'm perfectly OK with these scanning for drugs, guns and explosives at an airport. However it'll soon be deployed to scan private citizens any where they want, such as your home. Illegal wiretapping was just the beginning.

Exactly. This thing will (eventually) be used for all of the wrong reasons. How often do major high profile events occur to warrant the need of this thing to be used in everyday life? not often enough is the answer.

Just based on what I've seen on these comments, it sounds like people have seen little to none of what is actually going on as far as the TSA is concerned. I am happy to help out with that! First, I will tell you where you won't get much if any info, which is any major news network on TV/Cable as well as their sites. I suggest my blog as a good place to start. I grab articles from 9 different news sources daily, but these sources are verified to be without any corporate infuence whatsoever.

You can find my blog here: http://blog.smidesign.info

I've only been doing this since December, so there is only a little over 40 articles about the TSA at the moment. I'm sure you can find way more articles if you search google or a site that has been doing this longer than myself. The choice is up to you.

PimpHesus said,
Just based on what I've seen on these comments, it sounds like people have seen little to none of what is actually going on as far as the TSA is concerned. I am happy to help out with that! First, I will tell you where you won't get much if any info, which is any major news network on TV/Cable as well as their sites. I suggest my blog as a good place to start. I grab articles from 9 different news sources daily, but these sources are verified to be without any corporate infuence whatsoever.

You can find my blog here: http://blog.smidesign.info

I've only been doing this since December, so there is only a little over 40 articles about the TSA at the moment. I'm sure you can find way more articles if you search google or a site that has been doing this longer than myself. The choice is up to you.


Uhmmm... so you didnt really say anything here. I wont be visiting your blog site either....

este said,

Uhmmm... so you didnt really say anything here. I wont be visiting your blog site either....

Fair enough, so I will bring an interesting fact or two. Number one, TSA hires pedophiles as well as robbers. When you get 'aggressively' searched that means their gonna grab your balls hard to make you feel uncomfortable. If you sew a pocket on the inside of your shirt you can get by the naked body scanners with just about anything. These are just a few things that people don't know.

Wonder if there are any plans for medical use of these scanners - sounds like they could be a bit of a game-changer, and i'd rather it was put to that type of work.

Pygmy_Hippo said,
Wonder if there are any plans for medical use of these scanners - sounds like they could be a bit of a game-changer, and i'd rather it was put to that type of work.

Initiating scan:
Sensors picking up cancer unit just created.
Scan successful.

Commenting is disabled on this article.