Slashdot stories can be listened to in audio form via an RSS feed, as read by our own robotic overlord.

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Crime Science Technology

Things You Drink Can Be Used To Track You 202

Posted by timothy
from the don't-hate-me-because-I'm-a-beautiful-spy dept.
sciencehabit writes with an intriguing story about the potential of figuring out where people have been by examining their hair: "That's because water molecules differ slightly in their isotope ratios depending on the minerals at their source. Researchers found that water samples from 33 cities across the United State could be reliably traced back to their origin based on their isotope ratios. And because the human body breaks down water's constituent atoms of hydrogen and oxygen to construct the proteins that make hair cells, those cells can preserve the record of a person's travels. Such information could help prosecutors place a suspect at the scene of a crime, or prove the innocence of the accused." Or frame someone by slipping them water from every country on the terrorist watchlist.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Things You Drink Can Be Used To Track You

Comments Filter:
  • by Keebler71 (520908) on Thursday July 01, 2010 @01:42PM (#32761214) Journal
    Or frame someone by slipping them water from every country on the terrorist watchlist.

    That's tough to swallow...

    • by Zumbs (1241138) on Thursday July 01, 2010 @02:18PM (#32761944) Homepage
      The airport variaty: Has someone else given you water to drink?
    • You clever use of pun makes me wet with envy.
  • Or... (Score:4, Funny)

    by aonic (878715) on Thursday July 01, 2010 @01:45PM (#32761294) Homepage

    Let's hope there aren't any murders near the Coca-cola bottling plant!

  • by McNihil (612243) on Thursday July 01, 2010 @01:46PM (#32761314)

    My toilet telling asking me... "How was your trip to Tokyo?"

    or the next version that checks the stool... "Rosanna the cow hopes that she was a tasty treat!"

  • If this method could tell us if it rained on your wedding day?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by swanzilla (1458281)

      If this method could tell us if it rained on your wedding day?

      Nope...that would be a coincidence. Still. Fifteen years later.

      • by Abstrackt (609015)

        If this method could tell us if it rained on your wedding day?

        Nope...that would be a coincidence. Still. Fifteen years later.

        Isn't it ironic that a song about irony misses the point completely? ;)

  • by Enderandrew (866215) <.enderandrew. .at. .gmail.com.> on Thursday July 01, 2010 @01:47PM (#32761352) Homepage Journal

    That's why I only drink liquid tin foil.

    Who's laughing now?

  • Similar use recently (Score:5, Informative)

    by Deag (250823) on Thursday July 01, 2010 @01:48PM (#32761358)

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/england/bristol/10332975.stm [bbc.co.uk]

    Basically some bones from a German cathedral could be places as having lived in England due to isotopes in the teeth.

    This helped confirm the bones were of a 10th century English princess.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by paiute (550198)

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/england/bristol/10332975.stm [bbc.co.uk]

      Basically some bones from a German cathedral could be places as having lived in England due to isotopes in the teeth.

      This helped confirm the bones were of a 10th century English princess.

      It was that, and the label on the box which read "10th Century English Princess".

      • by Deag (250823)

        Funnily enough they were actually labeled (with her name though). It was to confirm. Can't be trusting labels.

  • by goodmanj (234846) on Thursday July 01, 2010 @01:48PM (#32761366)

    This may be forensically useful, but don't think of it like a fingerprint or a DNA match. There's only one degree of freedom here -- whether the water is isotopically "heavy" or "light". All of a person's water co9nsumption history is mixed up into one number.

    So you won't be able to tell the difference between, say, a person who lived all year in Illinois (with a moderate isotope ratio) and a person who flies back and forth between Montana and Florida (who'd have a mix of "heavy" and "light" water in their system.)

    • you won't be able to tell the difference between, say, a person who lived all year in Illinois (with a moderate isotope ratio) and a person who flies back and forth between Montana and Florida

      Hair grows at a rate of about a couple millimeters per week. Your frequent flier would have striped hair.

      I don't know what's the minimum amount of hair needed for this test, but it's certainly possible to cut hair samples smaller than what it grows during an airplane trip from Montana to Florida.

    • by Nutria (679911)

      So you won't be able to tell the difference between, say, a person who lived all year in Illinois (with a moderate isotope ratio) and a person who flies back and forth between Montana and Florida (who'd have a mix of "heavy" and "light" water in their system.)

      Unless the technicians are clever enough to check multiple sections of the person's hair.

    • by Red Flayer (890720) on Thursday July 01, 2010 @02:13PM (#32761834) Journal

      So you won't be able to tell the difference between, say, a person who lived all year in Illinois (with a moderate isotope ratio) and a person who flies back and forth between Montana and Florida (who'd have a mix of "heavy" and "light" water in their system.)

      Not true. The fact that the oxygen isotopes are bound into hair means that we have some kind of a time reference.

  • Polonium 210 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rilister (316428) on Thursday July 01, 2010 @01:49PM (#32761384)

    This has been done before: in the investigation of the poisoning of Alexander Livinenko, the traces of Polonium 210 left wherever the poisoner(s) went gave the UK authorities a very detailed trail to work with - one that not only showed the exact teapot used for the poisoning, but also provides a fingerprint of where the Po-210 was produced and at what date.

    It's quite a fascinating story:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Litvinenko_poisoning#Polonium_trails [wikipedia.org]

    Simply substitute Po-210 for something not deadly and you have a wonderful tracking mechanism.

  • bottle of spiked evian, 4chan's /b anons go from sending justin bieber to North Korea, to sending justin bieber to Cuba.
  • Forensics (Score:5, Insightful)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Thursday July 01, 2010 @01:50PM (#32761408)

    I can see this science being abused. Whether your body contains a certain chemical signature or not is still circumstantial evidence, but increasingly our justice system (like many countries) are using it to give carte blanche access to a person's private information and life. Worse, if the request is later determined to have been falsified or exaggerated, the evidence gathered as a result of that request is still considered valid for the persecution of not just the original crime, but anything else uncovered as a result.

    Thanks to shows like CSI and confidence in science, we want DNA samples, hair, urine, and a billion other things -- and believe that their presence somehow proves or disproves guilt. This is despite the fact that such evidence can be manufactured with ease -- the prime example being Photoshop for photographs, but virtually every technology you have around you can be used against you in some fashion or manipulated to imply or explicitly state something that is not true. Yet the courts rarely ask that samples be tested for contamination, or refuse to re-hear cases where the lab clearly and undeniably compromised the results.

    It used to be that testimony was the primary vehicle in obtaining a conviction. Now we're increasingly using evidence that neither the judge, jury, defense, or even prosecution fully understands to take away other people's freedoms, sometimes under false pretext. While this particular technology is neither good nor bad, the system that will incorporate its use may be fundamentally flawed.

    • Yeah, it doesn't seem that useful.

      I drink a lot of water at work. But I have a gallon of water that rode with me on the 1000 mile trip to where I live now. It sits in my closet, on the off chance that my water goes off. I drink that, and I have a beautiful stripe of isotopes which indicate I spent a few days 1000 miles away.

      Combine that with all the bottled water people drink, and all the pre-packaged drinks, and it's useless for much of anything. If I'm a mixture of water isotopes from Atlanta and Upst
      • by Kenoli (934612)
        I think it has potential uses, but its usefulness is wildly exaggerated in the article:

        Such information could help prosecutors place a suspect at the scene of a crime, or prove the innocence of the accused.

        Evidence that places someone in the general area of a city/region does not place them at the scene of a crime. Also, given the ease at which it can be manipulated, it certainly doesn't prove anything either.

    • Actually, I have heard that prosecutors hate CSI type shows because jurors want some technician to come in and say, "the pesticide oh his wheels indicate that he was at the farm at the time of the crime." Luck breaks like that only happen on... well, CSI.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by GrumblyStuff (870046)

        I wish people would watch Law & Order more. Yeah, I'll sometimes sit through an episode of CSI but at the end of it, they always catch the murder and the murder always confesses at the end, saying they just had to kill or some other bullshit.

        OTOH, L&O follows detectives around as they talk to one person who leads them to another and then they go back and, you know, acts like a detective. That and not every episode ends with "Yeah! we got that son of a bitch!" Some have been real downers which doe

    • Worse yet, since CSI came out forensic investigators have noticed a marked rise in the number of cases where Gloves and or Bleach were used at the scene of the crime. The Bleach is supposed to damage the DNA evidence they might leave behind.

      Anyways if you want to game this system, do you drink water only where you live, and bring bottles filled at home with you, or just always buy bottled water and never drink tap?

      As others have mentioned they'd probably get a lot of false positives from the local bottling

    • Thanks to shows like CSI and confidence in science, we want DNA samples, hair, urine, and a billion other things -- and believe that their presence somehow proves or disproves guilt.

      For what it's worth, prosecutors are complaining that due to shows like CSI, juries are more reluctant to accept conventional circumstantial evidence, so it might not be quite that simple.

      Of course, having seen lots of stupid jury decisions going both ways, I'm not sure that I'd actually want a jury trial if I was ever accused of a serious crime.

  • considered minerals?

    That's because water molecules differ slightly in their isotope ratios depending on the minerals at their source.

    the human body breaks down water's constituent atoms of hydrogen and oxygen to construct the proteins

    • by dgatwood (11270)

      Source, when it comes to natural water, refers to the headwaters [wikipedia.org]. Thus, this sentence says that the isotope ratios of water vary depending on the minerals present in the ground where the water fell out of the air originally. The second sentence is poorly worded and should have said that the human body breaks down water into its constituent atoms of hydrogen and oxygen to construct the proteins. As a result, you can tell from the isotope ratio in the water where it fell originally.

      HTH.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by selven (1556643)

      1) Water at spring A has more calcium (a mineral) than water at spring B

      2) Because of this, and some chemical processes, the water at spring A has a higher percentage of heavy water (deuterium oxide) than the water at spring B (this has a 50%+ chance of being incorrect, but let's stick with it for the example's sake)

      3) Person X consumes water from spring A and person Y consumes water from spring B.

      4) The metabolisms of the two persons break down the water and put it into the proteins in their respective cel

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by blueg3 (192743)

        Nope. Different isotopes of the same element have the same chemistry, so chemical processes won't alter isotope ratios. This is an important feature of using isotopes as tracers, since generally the tracer elements will be subject to a lot of chemical processes -- like being absorbed into the body and incorporated in to hair.

        It turns out that TFA (which is just a bad summary of an actual paper) appears to have introduced the "minerals" bit. Minerals aren't involved; different water sources just have differe

    • by Lehk228 (705449)
      since they are neither animal or vegetable?
  • by PatPending (953482) on Thursday July 01, 2010 @01:53PM (#32761478)

    General Jack D. Ripper: Mandrake, have you ever seen a Commie drink a glass of water?

    Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Well, no, I can't say I have.

  • And what if the minerals at the source of the water are appreciably the same? Reliably being tracked back to a handful of collection sites across the US doesn't exactly equate to "placing someone at the scene of a crime".

    If you look at the heat map included with the article, the entirety of Florida is indicated as having the same expected water composition. Similarly for most of Texas, and wide swaths of the Midwest / Central US.

    So if someone commits a crime in Tallahassee, and I buy bottled water at

  • "There a murder in Atlanta, and I can prove from your hair sample and this expensive test that you were in Atlanta at some point!"

    "Or you proved that I drank a bunch of Coke bottled in Atlanta, and that you like to waste tax payer dollars on silly tests which prove nothing."

  • And because the human body breaks down water's constituent atoms of hydrogen and oxygen to construct the proteins that make hair cells, those cells can preserve the record of a person's the travels of things people drink.

    Fixed that for you. This would work if we didn't ship products throughout the country. Get pulled over for a DUI, "Couldn't have been me, check my hair! I've been in Fort Collins!"

    • ...those cells can preserve the record of a person's the travels of things people drink.

      Fixed that for you.

      You not only fixed it, you also exploded the heads of at least a dozen grammar nazis.

  • researchers have used this technique to uncover the shocking truth that a small hamlet in southern maine is actually the residence of tens of millions of people

    http://maps.google.com/maps?q=poland%20spring [google.com]

  • by flaming error (1041742) on Thursday July 01, 2010 @01:57PM (#32761536) Journal

    Baldness FTW

  • ... a water bottling plant that bottles water from every major municipalty and mixes them together.

  • by Fallen Kell (165468) on Thursday July 01, 2010 @01:58PM (#32761576)
    I mean, sure, the bottled water will have the same signatures, but what is to say you didn't drink your own bottled water wherever you went? Or things like bottle sodas, and drinks. The best you might be able to do is say that they had drink which used water from XYZ location. It is a far stretch to say that they were in XYZ when they drank it. Heck, there are stores around me which sell bottled water from around the world, and I know I have even tried a few, but I never left my home town, yet it according to this "evidence" I have been to Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Ukraine, Ireland, and Poland...
    • by Tekfactory (937086) on Thursday July 01, 2010 @02:42PM (#32762370) Homepage

      I've never left the US, Canada and Mexico, but my hair would say I spend a little time each year in Speyside, Scotland drinking water that is anywhere from 12-18 years old, usually Macallan.

    • by Trepidity (597)

      To be fair, they do attempt to address that, though they do so only in the average case. Actually a big part of the paper [acs.org] is exactly that: an attempt "to assess the links between purchase location and the isotopic composition of beverages" and given that purchase location may not be the same as bottling location, whether or not "these beverages could have a confounding impact on the overall isotopic composition of a consumer’s fluid intake".

    • by blueg3 (192743)

      Congratulations for coming up with the same obvious problem everyone else did. Did you, by any chance, read the part of the paper where they discuss this problem and its ramifications and then test how well the isotope ratios in tap water function as a proxy for the isotope ratios in purchased bottled beverages?

  • I spend quite a bit of time in Jalisco, Mexico.

  • 0.05% of the atoms in my body are replaced by water I drank at the scene of a crime, and the CSIs think they're going to ignore the other 99.95%?

    There is such a thing as contempt of court, you know.

  • If you only drink mainstream bottled beverages, wouldn't that rule out any local factor in what you are drinking? "Well, he looks like he was drinking some beer brewed in Ireland..." Similarly, Dasani/Sparkletts/Arrowhead all have relatively large sales areas, don't they?

  • ...provide evidence that I've been living in Ireland all these years?
    • by mjwx (966435)

      ...provide evidence that I've been living in Ireland all these years?

      Brewed under license... New South Wales.

  • ... I only drink distilled water.

    (Yes, I really do. I don't like the taste of mineralized "drinking" or tap water, and contrary to marketing the mineralization has no health benefits.)

    • by Americano (920576)
      So distilled water has no isotopes of Hydrogen and Oxygen in it at all? Man, you must get thirsty drinking that.
      • by macraig (621737)

        So what if it does? I know, you think you're being funny, but really. They won't be isotopes indicative of where I am or live, will they? They'd be indicative of whatever water source the distiller (Niagara, DS Waters) is using. So DHS would wind up sending the troops to some place on the other side of the country.

        • by Americano (920576)

          Yeah it was a joke, intended to point out that "isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen" are not removed by distilling the water, because the water is made up of those "isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen."

          Most bottled water you buy is bottled very near to the point of purchase, so it would still probably give a decent location as long as the signature was good enough to not provide 500 possible matches.

          As has already been discussed ad nauseam here, the technique as described wouldn't allow them to track your location

  • As long as I order Saratoga water when I'm out of town, I would appear to forensics as having never left home. And I'll shave my head for good measure.
  • Or frame someone by slipping them water from every country on the terrorist watchlist.

    Small detail, but it still peeves me:

    Countries aren't on the terrorist watch list, people are.

    Countries are on the State Sponsors of Terror list.

  • For obvious reasons bald is the next rebellious hair style.

  • Drink only bottled water, what are you hiding?

Our business is run on trust. We trust you will pay in advance.

Working...