Next up: peering through walls

"The Man With X-Ray Eyes" may soon be making an appearance in England, if research into a camera that can see through clothing, skin, and walls continues apace.

The technology is based on naturally occurring and harmless terahertz waves that researchers at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire have managed to capture on camera.

"These waves are just below infrared energy and are given off by virtually everything around us," Dr. Chris Mann, a project leader, told the Sunday Telegraph last month. "They are also able to pass through windows, paper, clothing, and - in certain instances - walls."

The security establishment is likely champing at the bit. Possible applications for this prototype might include scanning airline passengers for concealed weapons, peering into suspect packages, surveying prisoners through walls, monitoring the earth from satellites on cloudy days, and medical imaging for diagnosis.

But the new technology also raises some pointed ethical questions. As Laurent Belsie writes (see story, right), civil libertarians in New York are quoting the Constitution in protest at the invasion of privacy. And they're only worried about the proliferation of ordinary surveillance cameras. The piercing gaze of the terahertz camera hasn't made it onto the street yet.

Right now, however, security concerns seem to largely override privacy issues. That has long been true in London, which has perhaps the world's highest concentration of camera eyes peering at the public. Kim Campbell's story (page 17) explains that years of IRA bomb threats have created a level of tolerance for the intrusion that makes opposition almost mute.

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