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Hold Off on that Cell Phone Upgrade

1:11 PM, Jun 5, 2007 • By BRIAN FAUGHNAN
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We're reminded so many times each day that new technology is profoundly changing the way we live. Bright people talk about how technology is empowering individuals and ad hoc networks to bring powerful institutions to heel.

In that vein, you might want to hold off on that sleek new cameraphone/IPod/Crackberry upgrade, until the bomb-sniffing version becomes available:

Putting hazardous material sensors in commercial cell phones has been discussed in scientific circles for years, according to researchers in the field. More recently, the idea gained support among government agencies, and DHS said publicly in May that it wants businesses to start coming up with proposals.

At the 2007 DHS Science and Technology Stakeholders Conference, S&T Director of Innovation Roger McGinnis outlined how the system could work. Cell phone sensors would continually test the air for harmful compounds and digitally relay any information to a central monitoring system if they find anything amiss.

"It's a great way to get millions of detectors out there," McGinnis said.

Like the built-in GPS function many cell phones now offer, customers would have the option of turning the sensors off, McGinnis said.

Undoubtedly some users would choose to shut off this function--uncomfortable with the idea of some big business or government agency tracking where they are and what they're doing. But it would only take a relatively small number of such phones to fundamentally change the way terrorists think. As long as there was a reasonable chance of being detected while preparing a biological, chemical, or nuclear attack, they would have to alter their approach.