Covert scanning and Homeland Security

Within the next year or two, the US Department of Homeland Security could know everything about your body, clothes, and luggage with a new laser-based molecular scanner fired from 50 metres 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.

The technology is so effective that, in November 2011, its inventors were subcontracted by the company In-Q-Tel to work with Homeland Security.

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 a mobile, rack-mountable system. It fires a laser to provide molecular-level feedback at distances of up to 50 metres in just picoseconds. It 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 are walking down the hallway.

The Russians have a similar technology, the developers announcing in April 2012 that, as with the US machine, their laser sensor “can pick up on a single molecule in a million from up to 50 metres away.”

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, will you be arrested?

And, since it is extremely portable, will this technology extend beyond 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 stop lights for any trace amounts of suspicious substances?

Would all this information be recorded anywhere?


Standing Up for Science

Scientists in Canada have been engaging in protest campaigns against the Canadian government’s closure of research institutions and curtailing of researchers’ autonomy. OnSeptember 16, 2013 about 400 scientists rallied and marched in Toronto. Sixteen other demonstrations took place on the same day throughout the country, led by Ottawa-based Evidence for Democracy.

Canadian scientists are not the only researchers in the world who are experiencing constraints on free research. Neoliberal doctrines demand that science efficiently produce commercial applications, mainly through public-private partnerships with industry.

Perhaps the hardest-hit bythese changes are the scholars and scientists working in the Russian Academy of Sciences. On September 18, 2013 the Russian state Duma voted overwhelmingly for draconian “reforms” to the 289-year-old organization. When the upper chamber of parliament and President Putin adopt the bill, the 436 institutes and 45,000 research staff of Russia’s primary basic-research organization will be managed by a newly established federal agency that reports directly to Putin. Henceforth that agency will even have a say in choosing institute directors.

It is true that Russian science has declined seriously since the 1990s, mainly because of a sharp reduction of funding. Some type of reform was needed, but in this case the changes were introduced without even consulting the Academy’s leaders or members. During the Duma’s vote, a group of outraged scientists protested the unpopular changes outside in the street, proclaiming that this is not a reform but the “liquidation of science in Russia.” They protest because the new managers of the Academy are not scientists.

Source: _Nature, 19 September 2013_

Keep the Door Open

In 2012, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to work for a nuclear weapons free world, creating a new forum open for all UN member states: the Open Ended Working Group on Nuclear Disarmament (OEWG).

The OEWG brought together governments, disarmament experts, parliamentarians, and civil society representatives during its one-year mandate. Their discussions were far more dynamic than typical of other disarmament forums, such as the NPT Treaty meetings and the Conference on Disarmament. Its report will be presented to the General Assembly in October, and the participants want its mandate extended.

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2013

Peace Magazine Oct-Dec 2013, page 2. Some rights reserved.

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