Through-the-Wall Surveillance Technology - Part 1
“All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.“ - Galileo Galilei
How do you feel about your right to privacy? Suppose your neighbor possessed technology capable of remotely recording detailed images of you in your home, through your walls, through your clothing? What if that technology could be used indiscriminately, without the control of laws or search warrants?
That is now possible! Surveillance tools are currently being manufactured that have the following characteristics:
- The ability to see through walls, and most common construction materials. The ability to generate detailed through-the-clothing images of individuals in the room or home under surveillance.
- The units can be operated remotely from a nearby home or apartment.
- The units can track movement, and monitor speech, heartbeat, pulse, and other bodily functions remotely.
- The units can provide precise distance measurements for targeting individuals under surveillance with weapons.
- The units are portable, silent, and can be disguised or hidden in a typical residential home or apartment.
Surveillance technology with these capabilities have been commercially available for the past ten years. However, it has only been in the last five years that details regarding it have become widely available. Why? Because the companies who manufactured this technology previously for covert purposes have rushed to remarket it for the lucrative new anti-terrorism / homeland security market that occurred after the 9/11 terrorist attack. However, these surveillance tools have been quietly marketed to law enforcement agencies since their development.
You may already be familiar with this technology, and not be aware of it. When your luggage is inspected at an airport, it may be scanned by security devices that “see” through your belongings to detect the shape of a gun, knife, or other weapon. That device may use Millimeter Wave technology. Millimeter Waves (see box below) are a form of non-ionizing radiation that can be used to create a see-through image not only of luggage, but also of a fully clothed human. In fact, the image it creates, in effect, strips you of all clothing.
Millimeter Wave X-Ray Image of a tractor trailer truck carrying auto parts. Courtesy AS&E
In the November, 2003 issue of National Geographic Magazine, a special series of articles on surveillance entitled “Watching You” commented on the “x-ray” imaging ability of millimeter wave (or backscatter x-ray) devices by stating that “privacy concerns have sent the creators back to the drawing board in search of a way to blur bodily details.” Interestingly, the author coined the phrase “Virtual Strip Search” to describe this technology. The New York Times Magazine of Jan, 4, 2004 in an essay entitled “Naked Terror” had more to say regarding millimeter wave “x-ray” technology. The author, Jeffrey Rosen coined the phrase “Naked Machine” to describe these devices. He writes: “A kind of electronic strip search, the Naked Machine bounces a low-energy X-ray beam off the human body. In addition to exposing any metal, ceramic or plastic objects that are concealed by clothing, the Naked Machine also produces an anatomically correct naked image of everyone it scrutinizes.”
The ability of this technology to render highly detailed through-the-clothing images of the body is also commented on by a leading developer of the technology, Pacific Northwest Laboratories (PNL), a division of the United States Department of Energy. “With the system’s success came questions about its potential to display the unclothed physical features of a person being scanned to the operator running the machine. Since 1997, PNL scientists have been addressing this potential privacy issue by reprogramming the system to give the operator a view of only concealed items, and not the person’s image.” - Department of Research Energy News. Clearly, Millimeter Wave Imaging (see article What Are Millimeter Waves) provides highly detailed, through-the-clothing images that can be useful in covert, remote surveillance. However, can this technology be used to see through the walls of homes and apartments? If so, is there any evidence to show that it is being used for that purpose by law enforcement agencies? And, more importantly, what weapons are used in conjunction with these surveillance tools? We will consider that in our next installment.
Application of Millimeter Wave Imaging to Post 9/11 security uses
Wired Magazine article: “There’s No Place To Hide”
Air Force Research Laboratory Request for Quote on Through-the-Wall Technology for use by law enforcement officers.
Transportation Security Administration Article on Use of Millimeter Wave Technology in Airport Security