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Biotech Security Science Technology

Fear Detector To Sniff Out Terrorists 342

Hugh Pickens writes "Evidence that the smell of fear is real was uncovered by US scientists last year who studied the underarm secretions of 20 terrified novice skydivers and found that people appear to respond unconsciously to the sweat smell of a frightened person. Now the Telegraph reports that researchers hope a 'fear detector' will make it possible to identify individuals at check points who are up to no good. 'The challenge lies in the characterization and identification of the specific chemical that gives away the signature of human fear, especially the fear in relation to criminal acts,' says Professor Tong Tun at City University London, who leads the team developing security sensor systems that can detect the human fear pheromone. The project will look at potential obstacles to the device, such as the effects of perfume and the variances in pheromone production and if the initial 18-month feasibility study is successful, the first detectors could be developed in the next two to three years. 'I do not see any particular reason why similar sensor techniques cannot be expanded to identify human smells by race, age or gender to build a profile of a criminal during or after an incident,' Tong added."
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Fear Detector To Sniff Out Terrorists

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  • by clickety6 ( 141178 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @09:17AM (#30004804)

    Luckily airports are only ever full of relaxed, calm people who have no fear of flying whatsoever.

    And being dragged off to be interrogated as a terrorist in some darkened back-room by three of four rent-a-thugs can only serve to ease their fears of flying...

  • Up to no good? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Eudial ( 590661 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @09:21AM (#30004852)

    I'd be more alarmed to find someone who wasn't afraid to pass a checkpoint like this. How can you defend yourself from the allegation of some machine saying that you exhibit fear, and therefore is a terrorist? Furthermore, sociopaths and psychopaths will have little trouble passing these checkpoints.

    So you'll get plenty of false positives, and plenty of false negatives.

  • by bencoder ( 1197139 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @09:27AM (#30004912)

    Once they realize how many people are afraid in airports, they will quickly scrap this stupid idea.

    No, it doesn't work like that. More false positives and inconvenience are never a problem for these people. That just means they can apply for more stolen^H^H^H^H^H^H^H government money to deal with the extra people.

  • Let's Be Serious (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Voulnet ( 1630793 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @09:38AM (#30004990)
    The officers would only pull Arab-looking dudes, and many of those dudes might produce fear signals not because of terrorism, but because they're afraid of being treated badly at US airports like many of their brethren are.
  • Great (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MemoryDragon ( 544441 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @09:46AM (#30005050)

    I have been suffering on anxiety disorder now for the last 15 years, does that mean I will get an anal search every time I cross the border now?

  • by vistapwns ( 1103935 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @09:58AM (#30005156)
    Time to lose my Karma I guess... A terrorist is going to be a LOT more afraid of getting on that plane and detonating a bomb on it, and possibly getting caught by security, than an average person is going to be afraid of flying or that his mom my discover his porn, or whatever other funny reasons you guys can come up with... Second, even if there are false positives, I think that's expected by the scientists, nothing is 100%, but if you can increase your odds of picking up a terrorist by some odd percent, and decrease false positives (because terrorists are a LOT more afraid I would think) then you have saved money, saved everyone's time, and increased safety. As far as pranksters with bio-chem degrees, well, when this thing starts picking up a lot of false positives, those pranksters will probably be caught and we won't see much of that. (i.e. all the fear scent 'sprayed' people say they were all in parking lot B, then the security checks the cameras, and finds the car that sprayed them and those idiots get arrested.) I think we should at least give it a chance before condemning the idea with condescending knee-jerkiness.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 06, 2009 @10:29AM (#30005394)

    Exactly. I don't know of anyone that is not a very frequent traveller, that would face US immigration without some stress (especially if the official looks like he is in a bad day).

    I am always afraid they will decide to steal my notebook (which travels with a clean OS install, in order to make it as safe as possible), or decide that I am going to be the one they will ship back to meet their weekly quota of entry refusals...

    Not to mention that all US airports I have gone through are engineered for maximum possibility of luggage theft, so even if I am not terrified of the border control, I will be nervous because they could be delivering my luggage to a uncontrolled dumping belt three meters from the _open_ main doors, and absolutely no measures to avoid theft (this describes the Atlanta airport perfectly)...

  • by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @10:41AM (#30005500) Journal

    Like this guy. By the way, it's not illegal to cash $4700 in cash, nor do you have to answer nosy bastards questions about it, unless they obtain a warrant (signed by an impartial judge), or you are crossing an international border. This poor fellow just wanted to travel from St. Louis to Arlington Virgnia.

    edited version- []
    full recording- []

    I think I would have told these St. Louis police to read me my Miranda Rights, and then exercised my right to remain silent, rather than talk. Bunch of thugs. "It occurs to me that goose-stepping morons like yourself should try reading books instead of burning them." - Indiana Jones father, aka Sean Connery

  • by uncledrax ( 112438 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @11:07AM (#30005758) Homepage

    I dunno.. I'm sure those skydivers made up their mind how things are will happen.. and even knowing that they stand a very very very very little change of dying, they can still exhibit Fear.

    Also, even if the person in question had completely made peace with the fact they are gonna blow themselves up, what about the fear of being caught -before- being able to do the act? If you rot away in prison and get shivved, you're not a martyr, so you 'wouldn't get your heavenly reward'.. assuming you believe such poppycock in the first place.

    The points about anti-anxiety drugs and the fact there will be sooo many false-positives for terrorists means that although this is neat stuff ,they have a long way before being able to put it in airports for practical use as a security measure.

  • by WinterSolstice ( 223271 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @11:14AM (#30005810)

    No kidding - I'm doubting the effectiveness of this, since I am afraid of flying, but I see no reason why a suicide bomber would be.

  • by commodore64_love ( 1445365 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @11:18AM (#30005850) Journal

    This is why I drive a car almost everywhere I go. I haven't flown in an airplane since 9/11 - it was a hassle before and now it's even more so.

    I recall when I had to make a business trip from Oklahoma City to Minneapolis. My coworkers thought I was nuts when I said I was taking my car, so we had a kind of race. We both left the office early in the morning, and arrived in Minneapolis at about 7 p.m. that night. There was only half an hour difference. Plus I got $700 reimbursement for "car wear-and-tear" whereas they got nothing. Plus I didn't have to deal with airport stress.

    I've driven my car everywhere from Alaska to California to Florida to Nova Scotia.

  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @11:53AM (#30006136) Homepage Journal
    Sufficiently organized malice is indistinguishable from incompetence.
  • by realityimpaired ( 1668397 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @12:17PM (#30006380)

    Terrorism is a real threat, it's just nowhere near as large a threat as some would make it out to be. You're likely to be killed in a domestic terrorist attack in the same way you're likely to die of exposure in the winter: Something to be conscious of, something to keep an eye out for, something to take precautions against, but not something to live in constant fear of.

    We shouldn't be hurting people with false positives, and like you, I think that a system such as described in TFA is going to have an unacceptably high false positive rate and will probably be accompanied by an unacceptably high false negative rate, but I don't agree that we should be complacent or work under the assumption that nothing's going to happen... as the sample size increases towards infinity, the probability of finding something that matches case X approaches 1, even for an extremely unlikely X... in other words, given enough time, something *will* happen. There are some seriously messed up people out there who would like nothing more than to hurt western society in some giant spectacular ball of flame. Just that most of them either don't have the means, or don't have the will to actually do something about it. We should still do what we can, within reason, to reduce the likelihood of their success. It's that "within reason" that most people seem to have lost sight of.

  • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @01:28PM (#30007080) other words, given enough time, something *will* happen.

    And sooner or later a micro-meteorite is going to slam through someones skull and end their life. However, we should do absolutely nothing about this.

    We should still do what we can, within reason, to reduce the likelihood of their success. It's that "within reason" that most people seem to have lost sight of.

    Exactly what is "within reason" here? Terrorism as a risk falls miles behind "diabetes". Its even far below "accidental incident with fire arm". It chums around with risks like "breaking neck falling down stairs".

    Clearly we don't need a "Deparment of Staircase Security" with a multibillion dollar budget to make our stairways safer. What do we need? A response proportional to the risk is pretty minimal.

"Call immediately. Time is running out. We both need to do something monstrous before we die." -- Message from Ralph Steadman to Hunter Thompson