Nanobiometrics Will Track You By Smell

image source: Sayo Studios

Nicholas West
Activist Post

In a few short years, we already have become accustomed to drone surveillance and an array of biometric ID tracking technology that has formed a pervasive matrix of identification and personal data retention.

As discussed in How Close Are We to a Nano-Based Surveillance State? back in February of 2011, the next phase of ID will be on the nano scale. DARPA and their contractors have been working for quite a while on making you, not just your personal data, the tracking mechanism. Through a matrix of biological sensors and biometrics, the individual is now set to be tracked, traced and databased with greater frequency and much greater ease.

A new announcement from a Spanish engineering firm highlights the direction that is being taken in extracting the most innate personally identifying information possible. We already have iris scans, biometric fingerprinting, facial recognition, voice recognition, payment with vein scans, and proposals for brain scan databases. Now our unique smell is being researched as the ultimate tool for providing one’s ID authentication.

Nanotechnology for identification purposes already has been introduced in the following ways, just to name a few:

  • Nano sensors for use in agriculture that measure crops and environmental conditions.
  • Bomb-sniffing plants using rewired DNA to detect explosives and biological agents.
  • “Smart Dust” motes that wirelessly transmit data on temperature, light, and movement (this can also be used in currency to track cash).
  • Nano-based RFID barcodes that can be embedded into any material for tracking of all products . . . and people.
  • Nanosensors that can detect molecular changes indicating the presence of diseases.
  • Devices to detect molecules, enzymes, proteins and genetic markers — opening up the door for race-specific bioweapons, as mentioned in the Project For a New American Century’s policy paper Rebuilding America’s Defenses.

It is these last points that makes using ones genetic markers particularly troubling. For example, it already has been proposed to employ genetic pat-downs for use in airport screening. And, in fact, the company researching the concept of nanoscale smell sensor ID – Ilía Systems Ltd – highlights security applications such as airport screening and national border control. (Source

Quick to assuage concern over Big Brother, however, a press release from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid sees this technology merely as an extension of what already has been used from the beginning – just think of it as an electronic bloodhound:

People body odor identification is not a new idea considering since it has been conducting for over a century by the police force thanks to the help of bloodhounds dogs which are trained for such task. The ability of these dogs to follow the trail of a person from a sample of his or hers personal odor is well known and proofs that using body odor is effective is an effective biometric identifier. Although the sensors used today have not yet achieved the accuracy dog’s sense of smell, the research has used a system developed by the Ilía Sistemas SL company that has a high sensitivity to detect volatile elements present in body odor.

The difference, I would arugue, is that the traditional bloodhound itself doesn’t have the ability to transmit information instantaneously to an array of databases to be analyzed, stored, and used for future tracking applications by government agencies or private interests.

We only need to look at the applications that have been admitted to in order to realize that this type of technology is far vaster in scale than authenticating our ID for our own personal financial security, or for disease detection and prevention.

By 2003, the newly opened Department of Homeland Security showed immediate interest in SensorNet, a program spearheaded by Oak Ridge National Laboratory and their strategic partners to research ways to fully integrate nano- and micro-sensors into one overall Internet-like matrix of real-time detection and surveillance.  The Department of Defense allocated $3 million to the initiative for the first year, with a projected budget into the billions being allocated over the long term for “detection systems.” 

By 2006, Oak Ridge announced that they planned to turn Fort Bragg military base into a prototype for America’s future cities.  According to Department of Energy researcher, Bryan Gorman, “Any sensor can talk to any application.  Just like with the Internet or with telephone systems, it doesn’t matter what kind of computer or telephone you have, where you are or what application you’re running. The system just works.”

SensorNet has since morphed into an even more comprehensive system “to integrate safety and security measures . . . into the transportation system,” which includes concerns surrounding transportation and commerce in the “political, economic, or environmental” arenas.

What we are really seeing with this development of smell ID is what we typically see with creeping surveillance technology: first it is introduced through the potential benefits in the area of disease detection and protection from terrorism, real and financial – all voluntary, of course – before it becomes a pervasive and permanent (and mandatory) part of the human landscape. The potential for abusing this type of technology by integrating it across currently disparate lines is virtually certain in our currently data-compromised world.

Legitimate science must research ways to increase human potential and freedom, not permit it to be used as a system for identification and control by the politically and morally compromised. With the rise of nanotechnology as a federal initiative, we should strongly resist the collection of any part of our life force to be used in whichever ways that government-controlled science sees fit.

It is the misappropriation of science and technology that poses one of the greatest threats to our freedom. How much longer can we permit the ethical part of this discussion to become an afterthought, instead of an integral component while beginning this type of research?

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