Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 23, 2006

New concealed weapons detection system

Filed under: Technology for HLS — by Christian Beckner on January 23, 2006

Reuters has a piece out tonight on a new device designed to detect concealed items under peoples’ clothes without “exposing” the outlines of their bodies:

A new surveillance device using radio waves to look under peoples’ clothing for concealed guns, bombs or other weapons may be coming soon to a security checkpoint near you….

At its first public demonstration on Monday in New York, the device was able to detect a mock gun and a bomb replica the company said was similar to that used by al Qaeda….

The invention was described by company officials as basically a small radio telescope that “sees” radio waves transmitted by the body. If a portion of the body is covered by something underneath clothing, no waves will transmit from that part of the body, raising a red flag to screeners.

The article mentions potential areas of applications as “government buildings, train systems, airplane systems, even private buildings or movie theaters and sports stadiums.”

I can see this technology being useful as an augmentation to existing aviation screening checkpoints, and for perimeter and entry point security at sensitive facilities such as overseas embassies and military posts. But its benefits are probably more limited if it’s used to scan crowds for weapons or explosives in a railway station, at a sports stadium, or at other public gatherings. People carry lots of small devices on their persons today: iPods, cell phones, cameras, etc. According to the company’s website, the device can recognize guns and knives by their general shapes; but even still, TSA has many times thought that an electronic device in my carry-on bag resembled a knife. I can foresee a high false alarm rate and resentment against heavy-handed security if it’s used to as a tool to conduct patdown searches in these types of open environments.

For more information, see the company’s webpage and this March 2005 press release.

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