Police testing long-range scanner to 'frisk' for guns on the street

The New York Police Department could soon be virtually frisking residents and visitors for concealed weapons from as far as 80 feet away – without their knowledge or consent.

The NYPD is developing a scanning device in conjunction with the Defense Department that currently is capable of scanning individuals from three or four feet away, the New York Daily News reported.

The scanner operates in the terahertz range, just under the microwave range. Terahertz waves pass through non-conducting material such as clothing but are blocked by guns and knives, both of which are made of metal, a conductive material. The result is a picture highlighting the gun (or other weapon) on an individual. NYPD plans to place the scanners in vehicles to scan surrounding areas.

An added benefit is that the waves can also scan through wood and brick walls, which are both nonconductive.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, was on the fence as to whether the technology was a step forward or back for individual privacy rights, describing it as "both intriguing and worrisome," NBC New York reported.

"On the one hand, if technology like this worked as it was billed, New York City should see its stop-and-frisk rate drop by a half-million people a year. On the other hand, the ability to walk down the street free from a virtual police pat-down is a matter of privacy," she said. Most of NYPD’s physical frisks today – 88 percent – turn up nothing, according to the NYCLU

Some, however, expressed concern that the technology would lead to more unnecessary frisks. The scanner might not be able to distinguish between a weapon and a harmless metal object such as an iPod, for example. Lieberman asked the NYPD to release more information on the project and technology.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly downplayed Lieberman’s concerns, noting that the NYPD studied potential privacy concerns for three years and its lawyers “[didn’t] see constitutional issues here."

The idea of using terahertz waves to scan individuals for weapons is not new, nor is the NYPD's project the only one. Physicist Jingle Liu of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, lead author of a study published in Nature Photonics, is working on developing a terahertz scanner that could see through clothes from miles away, Wired reported in 2010.

The scanner will most likely be first used by the military to remotely detect roadside bombs, the publication reported. The main sources of funding are the Homeland Security Department and DOD. Other military projects include developing handheld versions of these scanners.

Remote frisking, however, is not the only technology being considered by the NYPD that is raising privacy concerns. The agency might also use drones to patrol the city, reported New York’s Gay City News in August 2011.

The newspaper published an e-mail to the Federal Aviation Administration purportedly from an unnamed detective in NYPD’s counterterrorism division. In the e-mail, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, the detective said the agency was investigating using drones as a law enforcement tool.

CBS New York reported that it may be inevitable that New York will be policed with drones.

“Drones aren’t that exotic anymore. Brookstone sells them,” NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said in the article. Browne did add that although the NYPD is considering the technology it hasn’t tested or deployed it yet.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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Reader Comments

Mon, Feb 6, 2012

You Liberals are brain dead. Carrying a weapon in NY is against the law. They will be placed in the areas where statistically, there has been the most crime with a firearm involved. They won't be placed in "white neighborhoods", because statistically that type of crime is not found. NYPD is working with the FEDS, to develop this technology. It's an unobtrusive search, just like a Police K9, this should pass for the safety of NY and the Officers on the street, working to arrest your fellow dumbocrats!!

Mon, Feb 6, 2012

OH, the NYC lawyers didn't have any consitutional concerns! Well then, by all means. Sheesh. Like THEY would! Lawyers that can, do. Those that can't, teach. Those that can do neither, work for the govt.

Mon, Feb 6, 2012 Microwave Specialist Texas

Kathleen, please check your facts before submittal. Terahertz is >=1000GHz(gigahertz). The cost to develop, much less to amplify for range, is astronomical & requires large power sources. Terahertz MAY change DNA at the genetic level. You mention about passing through the human body, brick, & more but such a high frequency has issues in dense environments. There are studies underway to see if it would interfere with pacemakers & other medical implants. If conclusively true, then you should ask will the police dep[artment be held liable for negligent homicide in the death of a person resulting from exposure? I dont believe an officer is always first going to ask if the person (suspect?) has medical implants before wanding (a term for exposing by RF) them. I think you need more research.

Mon, Feb 6, 2012

I can't believe this is even being discussed. Any random search of an American citizen, physical or virtual, is a violation of due process. The NYPD should have been hauled into court long ago. As a people we have become too lazy about defending our liberty.

Mon, Jan 30, 2012 bandit Albuquerque

Quote: Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly downplayed Lieberman’s concerns, noting that the NYPD studied potential privacy concerns for three years and its lawyers “[didn’t] see constitutional issues here." Of course the NYPD lawyers don't see any constitutional issues - it's their job to come up with any excuse to get around the Constitution. Most of the stop-and-frisk is done on poor black and latino folks. If rich white folks were subjected to the same policies at the same rate, the NYPD would bankrupt the city from the lawsuits. This ignores, of course, all of the planted evidence cases that are starting to become public to the non-minority communities (the minority communities have known about it for a long time). What happens when folks start wearing tin-foil undies? Must be suspicious, why else wear them? Prediction: the equivalent of radar detectors to keep track of the cops. The Supreme's ruled that IR cameras looking at houses for pot grows was unconstitutional (I was flabbergasted the Court would actually rule in the citizen's favor). This is the same technology, just a different frequency and apparently better resolution.

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