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Mini-camera separates suicide bombers from citizens

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 10:45am
Kasey Panetta, Managing Editor

If you're ever in China for business (or vacation), you had better hope that you don't have a particularly stressful day because new technology might flag you as a suicide bomber. Security fears and attacks in public places have Chinese authorities turning to less traditional means of detecting potential killers before they act.

For the record, if you think you've seen this movie before, it's basically the plot line of Minority Report.

The device in question, designed by Chen Tong, an associate professor of electronic information engineering at Southwest university in Chongqing, is able to monitor the level of blood oxygenation. Basically, the device uses a "stress sensor" to measure the amount of oxygen on specific areas of the body like your face. The idea is that the higher your mental stress, the higher your blood oxygenation. The logic behind this--as opposed to more traditional stress indicators like heart rate, facial expression or body temperature--is that you can learn to control these things. I'm not sure exactly how you control your body temperature, but who am I to doubt this. However, the mental stress of an attack--which have thus far included knife wielding religious extremists to bus fires--would be difficult to mask.

The device records the data, which is then sent elsewhere to be analyzed and returned to the officers. The device itself would allow officers to see "stress indicator" bars above the heads of the people they're observing. Apparently the researchers were able to distinguish between physical exertion stress (running for the bus) and mental stress (a violent intent.) There are limited details about how the device distinguishes between a suicide bomber and, say, someone who just got dumped or fired or is trying to navigate a foreign country where she doesn't speak the language (hypothetically).

Nonetheless, anyone suspected of being less than respectable would be subjected to further tests via devices that require contact to record heart rate, galvanic skin response and breathing rate. For the record, if the whole reason we aren't looking at those things in the first place is because they can be controlled, what exactly does this prove?

I feel like I don't even need to point out (any more than I already have) how this could go terribly, terribly wrong. Aside from the total lack of details on exactly how this works, the risk of bagging someone who is just having a stressful day versus an actual terrorist or person with intent to harm seems high. Now remember this is China, where citizens have limited freedom, but this seems all sorts of paranoid and invasive.

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