The Tricorder Lives

The US already has long had technology that can hear and identify individuals through the sound of their breathing and the beating of their hearts, even through walls. Now they are working on next step: finding and following a person’s heartbeat wherever it may go. Called “biometrics at a distance”, “the program seeks to build sensors that can remotely identify humans from farther away and tell them apart in a crowd.”


Anyone who feels uneasy about this development should rest assured. The DARPA proposal instructions specify that “in accordance with DoD policy, human and/or animal subjects in research conducted or supported by DARPA shall be protected.”

All research involving human subjects, to include use of human biological specimens and human data, selected for funding must comply with the federal regulations for human subject protection. Further, research involving human subjects that is conducted or supported by the DoD must comply with 32 CFR 219, Protection of Human Subjects and DoD Directive 3216.02, Protection of Human Subjects and Adherence to Ethical Standards in DoD-Supported Research.

Institutions awarded funding for research involving human subjects must provide documentation of a current Assurance of Compliance with Federal regulations for human subject protection, for example a Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Human Research Protection Federal Wide Assurance. All institutions engaged in human subject research, to include subcontractors, must also have a valid Assurance. In addition, personnel involved in human subjects research must provide documentation of completing appropriate training for the protection of human subjects.

So everything is alright since everybody is protected by government regulation.  And, as Wired points out “being able to sniff out life signs at longer distances and behind thick concrete slabs could be very useful in disaster scenarios. In the aftermath of an earthquake, rescue workers could use DARPA’s longer-range biometric sensors to find survivors trapped under rubble.”


Remote biometrics is one of the hottest fields in Homeland Security. The Researchers point out that 45 million CCTV surveillance systems have now been installed worldwide. Now they’re going to be linked to databases and to analytic computers. “The current decade will be marked by the fusion of CCTV with Biometrics, and human behavioral signatures, which will create a new multibillion premium security market of CCTV-Based Remote Biometric & Behavioral Suspect Detection.”

Make way, Sherlock. Biometric sensors can do far better than your old-fashioned magnifying glass.

One idea is to industrialize the Israeli method of “behavior pattern analysis” where trained personnel watch for telltale nervousness or suspicious behavior patterns in passengers. By using remote biometrics, it will be possible to administer the equivalent of a lie detector test to every passenger in a building.

WeCU’s technology can easily be incorporated into existing airport processes, such as the stand-up computers found at fast bag drop and check-in stations. Built into the screen is a cheap but highly sensitive thermal imaging sensor, which can measure data including the temperature of the subject’s skin, heart rate, perspiration, blood pressure and changes in breathing, as well as other variables – 14 in all – most of which, says Givon, are classified. When the passenger begins to use the station, all these readings are taken almost instantly in order to establish a ‘biological baseline’.

Then, over the course of the next 30 seconds, the machine will expose the subject to a stimulus that would cause a response in someone involved with terrorism, but not anyone else.


Of course the device may also get a rise out of the good guy players in The Life who are just as intimately familiar with terrorism, except that they have come at it from the other side. But presumably the all the good guy players will have Get Out of Jail Cards, so they can get themselves off any hook, unless of course the profiling device is operated by the other side. In any case, offender profiling will have come a long way from the primitive days when it was enough to consult a Hannibal Lecter or plot patterns on a map to get inside a suspect’s mind.

Today we may be reaching the point when we can get inside the suspect’s mind directly. Indeed, any sufficiently intrusive system of offender profiling based on biometrics would so tend to dominate that it would eclipse most other forms of ‘profiling’. What will it mean when you can legally profile a person by the rate of his heartbeat or the rhythm of his breathing but not by race, religion or ethnic origin? Would any prohibitions on profiling make sense when the clues are derived from the very organism under scrutiny? Or will we eventually reach the stage when everyman ipso facto testifies against himself?

Here’s a video from 2007.

And here’s video from 4 years later.

“Beam me up, Scotty.”

“Sorry captain, I canna’ change the laws of physics.”

“Does that mean I’m stuck on 21st century earth?”

“I’m afraid it does. There’s no way back to the 23rd century as imagined in 1966 from 2011 the way it is.”


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