Written on Wednesday, November 08, 2006 by Gemini
UK’s Tallest Building To Have Scanners That Can See Through Clothes, But Ignores Anatomical Details
Scanners designed to detect suicide bombers by looking through clothing are to be deployed at the site of Britain’s tallest skyscraper this month. In a world first, the system at Canary Wharf in London’s Docklands will detect explosives, liquids and bomb-making components even if they are hidden underclothing or inside rucksacks.
Canary Wharf, home to HSBC, Barclays and Bank of America, is regarded as a prime target for Al Qaida; an area outside the complex was bombed by the IRA in 1996. The system at Canary Wharf 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.
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. The room is dominated by five wall-to-wall TV screens, each split into a patchwork of smaller screens that relay footage from hundreds of CCTV cameras. Richard Kemp, a former senior member of the government’s Joint Intelligence Committee, is in charge of the surveillance operation. Kemp said Nemesis aimed to protect the public without being intrusive or in 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 UK was “waking up to a surveillance society”, with people being tracked throughout their lives. The system is manufactured by ThruVision, an Oxford-based company. 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. 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 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.