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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 the_one(2) ( 1117139 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @09:16AM (#30004798)

    ... or people who are afraid of being suspected of terrorism

    • by cbiltcliffe ( 186293 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @09:19AM (#30004830) Homepage Journal

      Or people who are afraid of flying?

      • by somersault ( 912633 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @09:37AM (#30004972) Homepage Journal

        Or people who are nervous about their big business meeting, or meeting their possible future in-laws, etc etc

      • by db32 ( 862117 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @10:32AM (#30005434) Journal
        Are you kidding, that would be perfect. I mean really...watching DHS traumatize a bunch of already frightened travelers. Oh this is going to be awesome! Afraid of flying, afraid of traveling alone, claustrophobic, business travelers afraid of giving the presentation they are being sent to do, every week sees groups of people traveling to military bases to start basic training and I bet most of them are pretty afraid of how it may go. The possibilities are endless! This is going to be so awesome.

        Especially when we arrest the arabic man who was just nervous about introducing his girlfriend to his parents.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by backbyter ( 896397 )

      or young men who are afraid that their dreams for a virgin will be confused with somebody else's dreams of 71 virgins.

    • by denzacar ( 181829 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @09:35AM (#30004962) Journal

      Detect terrorists, that is.

      Not while there are anti-anxiety drugs out there.
      What you will detect is a bunch of false positives that will keep you busy "detecting" while trucks loaded with bags of ammonium-nitrate explosive merrily (but calmly) pass you by.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by darthflo ( 1095225 ) *

        Even without anti-anxiety drugs, can anybody confirm that the kind of terrorist who actually pulls off attacks will be fearful? I could very well imagine them being as calm as can be, completely convinced what they're doing is the right thing. After all, standing there with a bomb strapped to your chest pretty much implies you believe in that "heaven with 71 virgins" delusion, no matter if you take out a couple hundred civilians or just two guards, it's martyrdom and it's spoils (mostly spoiled intestines h

    • by tapanitarvainen ( 1155821 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @09:52AM (#30005098)
      Guess it would work best in reverse: people who are *not* afraid are obvious psychopaths...
    • Or from a machine that will go off causing you a bunch of problems and missing your important flight. If are afraid of it.

    • These are ppl that have already made up their mind of HOW things will happen. If they know that they are going to die, they have already discarded the fear. As such, it is possible that these ppl will get by. OTH, if they are hoping to get out of it alive, then yeah, fear will be a big factor.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by uncledrax ( 112438 )

        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 popp

    • by captainpanic ( 1173915 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @10:08AM (#30005240)

      A number of false positives reported in the media, and everybody will fear that machine...

    • by realityimpaired ( 1668397 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @10:12AM (#30005276)

      Y'know.... a man can change the scent/pheromones his body gives off as easily as taking a drug like cyproterone [wikipedia.org]. The effects are temporary, but taking it in doses of about 50mg/day for a week before flying will have a big enough impact on the way your body produces pheromones that most people won't be able to read you properly. Stop taking the drug, and your body resumes normal operation...

      Not suggesting, of course, that the terrorists would think to use a drug that, in people with a Y-chromosome, is usually used to treat transgenderism (and occasionally used to treat prostate cancer), but there are a very large number of drugs out there on the market, some available over the counter, that will affect your body's hormone balance, and will in turn affect the pheromones that your body produces. With so many ways to screw with the results available, I'd be very surprised if they could get such a system to work properly with an acceptable false positive/false negative rate....

    • Such a detector would also nab people who are afraid of flying, or who are afraid they will miss their flight, or are anxious about meeting a new relative, or god-only-knows-what.

  • by unitron ( 5733 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @09:17AM (#30004802) Homepage Journal

    What if the fear they detect in you is the fear of missing your flight while you're held up trying to convince security that you aren't a threat?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      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- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMB6L487LHM [youtube.com]
      full recording- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEJpzVPmih0 [youtube.com]

      I think I would have told these St. Louis police to read me my Miranda Rights, and the

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        I just noticed this: "Your subject has negative warrants for arrest and negative prior history. He does have a valid oil land(?) that expires 2014." What the frak? They have a central computer to track all our history, even in foreign states that are 1000 miles away from where we live? Dang.

        Other annoyances:

        - "Why do you have this money?"
        - "What's your occupation?"
        - "It's not a matter of the law." - The Constitution is the law. It specifically forbids this type of detainment unless a judge okays it.

  • 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...

  • Yeah, but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FlyByPC ( 841016 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @09:17AM (#30004806) Homepage
    If you have a true religious fanatic, who is looking forward to dying for a cause he believes in -- and is looking forward to eternity in the paradise-of-his-choice for his actions, would he* still show physiological signs of fear?

    * (I think statistically, "he" is a fair generalization here.)
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Sockatume ( 732728 )

      No, but the guy who's afraid that such a person is on the flight will be. These persons will be detected and prevented from boarding, thus they avoid the imagined risk. It's added value for the neurotic!

      • by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara.hudson@[ ... m ['bar' in gap]> on Friday November 06, 2009 @09:42AM (#30005012) Journal

        > No, but the guy who's afraid that such a person is on the flight will be. These persons will be detected and prevented from boarding, thus they avoid the imagined risk. It's added value for the neurotic!

        So lessen the odds by bringing a bomb onto the airplane. Do you know what the odds of TWO people bringing a bomb onto an airplane are?

        And if you can get someone else you trust never to explode a bomb to bring one on an airplane, your flight will be even safer, because do you know how much rarer it will be for THREE people to bring a bomb onto an airplane?

        Heck, have the captain, the co-pilot, the flight engineer, and the head stew also bring bombs on board. the probability of an EIGHTH person bringing a bomb on board is soooo small ....

        Now, where's my grant money?

        (no, it's not original - it's adapted from Isaac Asimov's Joke Book - which is now probably on some sort of watch list because certain people with no sense of humor act like they have a baguette shoved up their ass, so don't trot down to your local library to read it)

        • the probability of an EIGHTH person bringing a bomb on board is soooo small ....

          According to my grandfather it's quite common for a plane to take off with dozens of bombs on board. Or rather it was [wikipedia.org].

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      then we need to be able to smell anticipation for paradise, or would we just confuse that with a bunch of horny guys.
    • by jhol13 ( 1087781 )

      Perfect, it just picks those who are NOT afraid!

      Actually it would work - you are not afraid - interrogation - next time you will be.

    • by Grismar ( 840501 )
      From the summary:

      ".. especially the fear in relation to criminal acts"

      So yes, more so than most criminals I would imagine. A normal criminal only fears getting caught and perhaps going to jail if their lawyer sucks.

      A terrorist has far more to lose from their point of view, so if this figures into it at all, I would expect elevated fear levels. Unless of course their religious belief includes a rock-solid belief that their deity of choice will get them on board safely. Basically, in my opinion the whole religion thing is a bit irrational. I assume terrorist n

  • Or fear of bad airline food? Or fear of having a screaming kid on board? Or fear of being stuck next to a passenger with hygiene issues?

    • Or fear of bad airline food? Or fear of having a screaming kid on board? Or fear of being stuck next to a passenger with hygiene issues?

      That's not the smell of fear ... that's the stink of miserable certainty.

      Oh well - look at the bright side. Anything that reduces air travel is good for the environment, so you KNOW they're also going to be applying for carbon tax credits for the reduction in air travel. One bad scam deserves another.

  • But worry not! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by BlackSash ( 1420967 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @09:20AM (#30004834)

    People that are afraid of flying (or more accurately, crashing) will not need to worry about being picked out of the line for 'smelling suspiscious'! Not at all...

    • after being pulled over by a cop.

      Yeah, this will work. Suddenly we will have lots of suspicious people locked up and their items confiscated all because they are presumed guilty for simply being afraid or worried.

  • Simple solution (Score:3, Informative)

    by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @09:20AM (#30004840)
    take tranquilisers and eat plenty of garlic.

    You'll also get the whole set of seats to yourself.

  • 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.

  • Oops (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dissy ( 172727 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @09:22AM (#30004854)

    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.

    What about us law abiding citizens who are only afraid that our governments checkpoint workers are up to no good?

    It is already a very real possibility for one of those people to make up any type of claim they want and detail you without letting you speak to a lawyer nor involve any courts.
    The reason given can be as ridiculous as 'He had terrorist looking hair' and still be valid. Plenty of legit reason to be afraid of those people.

    Not to mention the fact I have no doubt at least a subset of these checkpoints will be at places where fear is natural (IE airports, fear of flying, or fear of falling out of the sky in a fireball)

    Will deodorant and perfume be classified as a terrorist munition now?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by throbber ( 72924 )

      Will deodorant and perfume be classified as a terrorist munition now?

      They already are.
      Have you tried carring deodorant and perfume in your hand luggage recently?

  • by Sockatume ( 732728 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @09:22AM (#30004858)

    The idea that there's a special chemical signal for "fear in relation to criminal acts" seems to come out of absolutely nowhere. Shouldn't there be some research into whether such a chemical signal exists before device development occurs? If it's not a magic detector of latent emotion or the cause of emotion so I'm not sure how much better it would be than noticing which people "look a bit afraid". It's going to be just as susceptible to picking up people who find flying difficult or are worried about being falsely accused of being a terrorist because they look funny.

    • The idea that there's a special chemical signal for "fear in relation to criminal acts" seems to come out of absolutely nowhere.

      No, it comes from somewhere: It comes from the fact that billions of dollars in federal research grants are being spewed out for anything that can be remotely tied to terrorism prevention and/or response. I can only guess how much money this particular scheme raked in.

      Obviously, the rate of false positives that you'd inevitably get with something like this makes it worse than useless in a crowded airport (I wonder if they addressed that issue in their grant application?). But then, in a nation where delay,

    • by Fred_A ( 10934 )

      The idea that there's a special chemical signal for "fear in relation to criminal acts" seems to come out of absolutely nowhere.

      It comes from studying skydivers. What more can you ask for. We know they're up to no good [imdb.com].

  • Underarms?! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rik Sweeney ( 471717 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @09:23AM (#30004862) Homepage

    "And in the news today, hundreds of teenage boys were arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. They were later released after it turned out they were simply wearing Axe deodorant"

  • by kevinNCSU ( 1531307 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @09:23AM (#30004864)
    They decided people weren't taking FDR's warning seriously enough so they'd give us a damn good reason to fear fear itself.
    • by Daetrin ( 576516 )
      Actually this is a system designed to protect us from anyone who shows signs of fear, so the only thing we have to fear is people who aren't afraid. So don't be afraid! Oh wait, that's scary...
  • waste of time (Score:2, Insightful)

    by runyonave ( 1482739 )
    Do scientist have nothing better to do nowadays. Fear is an emotiona that could be the result of hundreds of different causes. Fear from stress, fear of losing money, fear of an individual, fear of going to an intervew etc, etc. How do these scientist aim to differentiate fear of criminal activity from other causes. Waste of time.
    • The thought is that it will enable them to allow say 1/2 to 2/3 to get by quickly, and then focus resources on the smaller group. No doubt that there will be false positives, but, OTH, if you focus more resources on these, then you can process ppl faster.

      I would be far more concerned about false negatives. I suspect that a terrorists who has already made up their mind to die is probably not quite as fearful. The true religious fanatics that have convinced themselves that either 72 virgins or Jesus or virg
  • Profit!!! (Score:4, Funny)

    by redhog ( 15207 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @09:27AM (#30004892) Homepage
    1. Get a degree in chemistry
    2. Create artificial "fear hormone"
    3. Bottle hormone in spray-flask
    4. Spray "on your car" outside airport (and wash car with a piece of cloth) - make sure to spray passers-by
    5. ???
    6. Profit!!!!
  • More profiling... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cbope ( 130292 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @09:27AM (#30004894)

    Great, just what we need, more profiling in place of real security. And just how is this supposed to work with psychopaths who do not experience the emotion of fear?

  • by rotide ( 1015173 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @09:32AM (#30004940)

    1: Develop System to detect when someone is "afraid"

    2: Let citizens know that those who are "afraid" will be detected, detained and questioned for "citizen safety".

    3: Citizens are now afraid to go through on the idea that maybe they will somehow set off the alarm.

    Tons of false positives. After the first story of a false positive, some people become afraid of being a false positive as well. As more and more stories of false positives arise, more and more people become afraid and become more false positives.

    • 4. All citizens are now afraid of the detector. Except terrorists.

      5. Set detector to "if you're not trembling, you're guilty" mode.

      6. Citizens learn that detector is now only interested in people who aren't afraid of getting stopped

      7. Citizens no longer afraid. Back to square one!

      8. Foxes and rabbits! XD

  • The /. quote right now...

    Everybody has something to conceal. -- Humphrey Bogart

  • Doubleplusgood? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shienarier ( 185368 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @09:38AM (#30004980) Homepage

    Isn't this a step towards thought crime?
    "He's scared, arrest him!"

    • No, it's one worse. You could be scared of absolutely anything and flag up, not just anti-Party thoughts.
  • 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.
    • by smartr ( 1035324 )
      Unless the officer doesn't obey orders well, they'll be pulling nervous people of all nationalities. If they're racially profiling, this system won't help them. They'll be pulling the people who will most likely make a scene after being pulled, because they're freaking out. Like most previous posters have pointed out, finding nervous people likely does not even have a correlation to being a terrorist (assuming terrorists wouldn't train against this, which could give it a negative correlation). Basically, we
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 06, 2009 @09:43AM (#30005022)

    ... fear is the mind killer, fear is the little death that brings airport security...

  • 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?

  • I love it! (Score:2, Funny)

    by pehrs ( 690959 )

    I really like the idea! Preferably it should be combined with US patent 6970105 (Passenger control system during a plane flying) http://www.freepatentsonline.com/6970105.html [freepatentsonline.com]

    So we fit all passengers with large collars containing big needles with sedatives. At the first smell of fear we inject a propper dose of sedatives in their necks. The problems with terrorism and fear of flying solved at the same time.

    I really must run and patent this idea right now... And get the movie rights!

  • by joh ( 27088 )

    While I think the "smell out terrorists" idea is absurd and deserves no further discussion, smell-profiling itself may prove to be a valid idea. And as often all the *other* uses of such technology may have a real impact. Drug use, gender, emotional state, age etc. being detected by some smell detectors opens new fields in surveillance and control. And I'm not sure I like that at all.

    And if you look at how dogs can follow and search people by their individual smell I see no real reason why "smell fingerprin

  • Combined with Bomb Detecting Dowser Rods [slashdot.org], what could possibly go wrong?
  • I'm curious if certain psychiatric drugs would mitigate this effect. My friend takes valium before he flies, I would imagine that a benzo or even paxil would have a similar "masking" effect.

    I've also heard that paxil can turn a small segment of the population into cannibals if pumped into the atmosphere.
  • 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,
    • Is a terrorist who scored some benzodiazapines to go with his C4 going to be a LOT more afraid?

      Because of the incidence of anxiety disorders in the general population, there has been a great deal of research on the treatment and control of anxiety and fear. The techniques aren't perfect; but they are clinically validated at this point, and fairly easily available.

      Sure, if you grabbed to guys off the street, handed one a bomb and the other a briefcase, the guy with the bomb is going to be sweating bull
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pehrs ( 690959 )

      Why is the terrorist supposed to be afraid? Many of them have trained for years to do the hijacking, and fear is not what those who survived described. Besides, many of the terrorists here in Europe have been taking drugs to ensure top performance. So what you are looking for is not somebody scared out of his pants. You are looking for a calm professional on benzedrine.

    • by BJ_Covert_Action ( 1499847 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @02:31PM (#30007692) Homepage Journal

      A terrorist is going to be a LOT more afraid of getting on that plane and detonating a bomb on it,

      And there is the fallacious assumption of your entire argument. You assume that there even are people trying to get on planes with bombs these days. Further more, you assume that there are enough of those people, in comparison to innocent travelers, to pose a significant risk. Honestly, how many airplane hijackings/terrorist acts have you heard of since 9/11? Any 'terrorist' (or activist or freedom fighter or whatever) that has any shred of intelligence whatsoever is not going to be trying to use airplanes for terror attacks after 9/11. It is unoriginal, and therefore risky. I would wager (no, its not fact, I know that) that the next significant report of terrorism (meaning X many people died) is going to come in some form of an attack that was completely unexpected and unaccounted for.

      Beefing up airport security to extremely high levels (some security is necessary and should exist) is a very flashy attempt to close a barn door, lock it, nail-board it shut, and put a bomb shelter around it after the horse has already left.

  • The project will look at potential obstacles to the device, such as the effects of perfume

          And completely ignores the premise that a religious fanatic about to die for his god might not be afraid at all!

  • ...for identifying people who are frightened of being identified as being frightened.

    > ...especially the fear in relation to criminal acts...

    Bullshit. Someone whos is afraid that customs will catch him smuggling lizards will smell no different from someone who is afraid of flying (the lizards might, though).

  • by Spatial ( 1235392 ) on Friday November 06, 2009 @10:13AM (#30005284)
    Almost everything.
  • we just ground all aircrafts? get working on high speed rail and ships damn it!

  • There will be no stinkin' terrorists on my plane. Thats nothing to be sniffed at.
  • Usually for these loss of freedom stories, we get the bleated "If you aren't doing anything wrong you have nothing to be afraid of" response. Where is it? Wait, what's that I smell? Scared sheeple?

  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <jcr@@@mac...com> on Friday November 06, 2009 @10:51AM (#30005598) Journal

    Being afraid isn't a crime, nor is it probable cause for a search.


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