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More "see through your clothes" imaging scanner security theatre at Canary Wharf

The Sunday Times has yet another "see under your clothes" scanner story, in which they have failed to ask the obvious privacy and security questions of the sort we have asked before:

The Sunday Times November 05, 2006

‘Superman’ scanner to spot bombers

David Leppard

David Leppard often seems to get access to leaked Government documents. Is this because he is a good investigative journalist, or because he is used as a conduit for "Climate of Fear" security theatre hype ?

SCANNERS designed to detect suicide bombers by looking through clothing are to be deployed at the Canary Wharf complex in London, site of Britain’s tallest skyscraper, this month.

In a world first, the system will detect explosives, liquids and bomb-making components even if they are hidden under clothing or inside rucksacks.

That is a very bold claim, and one which simply shouts "false alarm".

Canary Wharf in the Docklands area of the capital is home to HSBC, Barclays and Bank of America and regarded as a prime target for Al-Qaeda; the IRA bombed a nearby target in 1996.

The system at Canary Wharf - part of a wider anti-suicide-bomber project codenamed Nemesis - uses “superhuman vision” to “see through” people as they enter their offices and shopping areas. Monitors attached to hidden CCTV cameras can scan from long distances for knives, guns and even drugs.

"Nemesis" is a sinister code name, and the public needs to know much more about it, given that is seems more likley to target and kill innocent people rather than actual suicide bombers.

Note the words "long distance" i.e. not the portal type metal detector or "see through your clothes" scanner booths, which have been tested at airports, and trialled at Paddington Station and at Canary Wharf tube station previously.

How many of these devices are going to be deployed ?

Will there be any warning signs "you are entering a 'see through your clothes' imaging zone ?

If not, then why not ?

The Sunday Times was invited to the system’s underground control room, which is reminiscent of the bunker in Dr No, the Bond movie. It is bomb-proof and has secure radio communications to patrol officers on the ground and to Scotland Yard and other. emergency services.

It is designed to withstand the impact of an airliner hitting Canary Wharf Tower, and has food rations and its own supply of air and water.

It would be far more reassuring if the Canary Wharf office buildings were designed to withstand the impact of an airliner. Why are the lives of the security guards deemed to be more valuable than those of anybody else ?

Surely this must lead to an "us and them", literally bunker mentality ?

The room is dominated by five wall-to-wall television screens, each split into a patchwork of smaller screens that relay footage from hundreds of CCTV cameras around the site.

Richard Kemp, a former senior member of the government’s Joint Intelligence Committee, is in charge of the surveillance operation. He headed the British intelligence team responsible for domestic and international terrorism.

Given the intelligence and surveillance failures which did not prevent the July 2005 attacks, does that make you feel any safer ?

How long ago did Richard Kemp retire from the Civil Service , before taking up this private sector job as Director Group Security for Canary Wharf Group ?

Kemp said Nemesis aimed to protect the public without being intrusive or harmful.

“We will be the first people in the world to use it in public areas. It is a big leap forward in dealing with the growing threat of person-borne suicide attacks,” he said.

However, it is likely to reinforce concerns that personal privacy is being too lightly sacrificed.

Last week Richard Thomas, the information commissioner, warned that Britain was “waking up to a surveillance society”, with people being tracked throughout their lives.

The Information Commissioner's report includes a "future" scenario, in which "see through your clothes" imaging equipment operators abuse the the privacy of an innocent traveller.

The system is manufactured by ThruVision, an Oxford-based company.

ThruVision are:

    "Founded in the beginning of 2004, ThruVision is a spin-out company from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL), a key government research laboratory near Oxford, UK."

A few brief details about their T-Scan-2003A device (.pdf)

"... is particularly interested in the detection of concealed metals, ceramics, plastics and liquids, and has built a product demonstrator - the T-scan 2003A - comprising a camera, control electronics and data acquisition, all within a single, compact, portable unit. The T-scan 2003A builds up a 64 × 128 pixel image revealing concealed objects. What makes this system unique is that it utilises passive imaging - it does not illuminate the subject with any form of radiation, but simply generates an image of the subject by ‘observing’ the subject in the THz region."

It relies on the emerging science of terahertz waves - or T-waves - which provide more detailed images than x-ray scanners. Scientists say the waves can distinguish Semtex from modelling clay and cocaine from sugar.

We really do not believe the implied claim in the article that a Terahertz imaging system can reliably tell the difference between a packet of sugar and a packet of cocaine hidden under someone's clothing.

That is a much harder problem than simply sticking a sample in a bit of laboratory equipment and accurately measuring the electromagnetic "colour" reflected or absorbed - a spectroscopic technique which also works in, say, the visible light spectrum just as well as in the Terahertz frequency range, for differentiating between samples, which look identical to the unaided human eye.

Even if it could so discriminate reliably, once there have been a few seizures of cocaine as a result, it will be only a matter of days, before those involved in illegal drugs make this more difficult or impossible with cheap countermeasures. Crack dealers on the street already keep the "rocks" which they are selling inside their mouths or other bodily cavities, which the Terahertz imaging cannot penetrate.

T-waves occupy part of the electromagnetic spectrum between radio waves and infrared light. They are emitted by all people and objects and, like radio waves, pass through opaque material.

The lower end of the Terahertz frequency range overlaps with the Millimetre Wave radar range used in other models of "see through your clothes" or military "see the target through walls or fog" imaging systems.

The T-wave machines “close their eyes” to anatomical details, providing some reassurance to privacy campaigners who fear people will be “stripped naked” by the machines.

Rubbish ! They provide no reassurance whatsoever, and they already fall foul of the over strict anti-Child Pornography laws in the UK, which do not accept any excuse whatsoever , not even "national security", for "creating or distributing" images or pseudo-images of children, especially those taken without informed, prior consent.

A "child", for the purposes of child porn images, is anyone under Eighteen years of age.

What about the debate about Muslim women and veils covering their faces ?

The rival US company Terraview, is more sensibly, concentrating on using non-imaging detectors and scanners which respond to the presence of metal or explosive signatures to which they are tuned, without the need for a naked image of an adult or a child.

Many of the 400 security staff at Canary Wharf have been trained in behaviour pattern recognition, based on a study of images of the body language of suicide bombers before they blow themselves up.

By all means hire, train and deploy more of these staff, instead of wasting money on expensive privacy intrusive gimmicks like "see through your clothes" imaging systems.

However, this begs the question of what exactly happens when they have a potential suicide bomber suspect in view ?

How many innocent people are going to have their lives put at risk because they have been erroneously been declared to be "suspects" by such a "see through your clothes" imaging system, and are then literally put in the gunsights of an Operation Kratos shoot-first-ask-questions later armed police team ?

John Garwood, a spokesman for the Canary Wharf Group, which manages the 100-acre site where 80,000 people work and 100,000 visit each week, said the system was being installed to reassure companies, their staff and the public that the site was as safe as it could be. “This is not a response to a specific threat,” he said.

Patrick Mercer, the shadow homeland security minister, said: “Private industry is showing the government the way ahead with initiatives like this. One has to ask why something similar has yet to be done on the London Underground.”

Is this quote referring to the training of of security personnel to try to recognise suspicious behaviour, or to the deployment the gimmicky and privacy intrusive "see through your children's clothes" imaging scanners ?

Many of the behaviour patterns which are deemed as "suspicious" by Israeli etc. training is normal behaviour on the crowded London Underground and streets, especially in hot weather e.g. people sweating profusely, wearing apparently inappropriate clothing (it may be hot, but it may rain at any time), muttering and swearing under their breath, perhaps in a foreign language, (cursing the delays etc.), carrying rucksacks and bags with electronic equipment, wires, batteries etc., carrying portable MP3 players or mobile phones with button controls in their hands, connected to wires which lead to the device hidden under clothing or in a bag etc., not making eye contact with a security guard or policeman etc..

See David Mery's experience


The T-wave machines “close their eyes” to anatomical details.

Sounds like guff, for public consumption. It either does or does not look through your clothes. Interesting technology though and I am sure it will make a packet for the companies involved. Then there are upgrades etc in the future.
Just a crazy world we live in now however. I mean why bother. If we can't bloody well go shopping without being snooped on.

Oh yes! Can I please have a job in that control room - please! I promise I won't look at the pictures when they are of young women, even if they are wearing a thong or a g-string - promise, I definitely won't, you can trust me.

Great post. It would be nice to see examples of the pictures they get, just to see how much detail there is.

It is a sad world that needs such machines.


@ Orwell - 64 pixels by 128 for the prototype device is not that good a picture, but it is still enough to invade your or your children's privacy.

Given the current UK laws, it is still sufficient to be classed as an indecent image or pseudo-image of a child (i.e. anyone under the age of 18).

Once you surrender your principles to such devices, next year's production models will inevitably have a higher resolution.

As with Passive Millimetre Wave imagers, what difference does it make, if the system detects something "suspicious" in your left hand trouser pocket ? If that information is used by a security guard or policeman to stop and search you, they will have to check all your pockets etc.

If such devices are not being used in conjunction with an armed police checkpoint , then how are they meant to stop "suicide bombers" as claimed ?

There is no need for imaging with any of these metal detectors and alleged explosives and drugs scanners, especially those which are being pointed at people in public places without their explicit, informed consent.

@wtwu: are there any images available? (I'm sure you'll know why we want them). We've been writing some cautionary letters on this, but can't at the moment find any images on the web that demonstrate the capability of indecency.

Cameras in changing rooms taking photos of women undressed are illegal. Why are cameras that take your clothes off in a public place legal? Can we see the images generated please in order to judge if they are taking indecent pictures of us naked?

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