Homeland Security Wants Cellphones to Sniff for Bio Agents, as Cops get hundreds of ‘Warbots’ as new recruits, courtesy of DLA
Your cellphone can already tell you where to find the nearest Starbucks or the most convenient subway station. But it might soon be smart enough to alert you to a toxic threat during your morning commute or coffee break, thanks to a new plan from the Department of Homeland Security.
The last time we heard about cellphones and terrorism, it was an appeal from the NYPD to shut off cell communication during an attack. Now, Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate want to use cellphones to detect the very threats that might be coordinated using wireless chit-chat.
Their new program, called Cell-All, would embed inexpensive, chemical-sniffing microchips into cellular telephones. If a dangerous level of air-based toxin is detected, the phone would issue a warning ring (or vibration) to alert the owner and send a message to a centralized military monitoring station.
Given that terrorist attacks are usually launched in highly populated areas — subways, malls, office buildings — the idea of crowdsourcing the detection of toxic terror threats makes a lot of sense, and using a built-in cellphone app would give the military the ability to detect threats in every corner of the country.
Except that, for now, the program’s manager is describing the initiative as “opt-in.”
“Privacy is as important as technology,” Stephen Dennis said. “After all, for Cell-All to succeed, people must be comfortable enough to turn it on in the first place.”
That’s good news for privacy zealots and conspiracy theorists, but bad news for the program’s potential effectiveness, given that crowdsourced intelligence depends on knowing that there’s a crowd to be sourced in the first place.more from wired
The war in Iraq is (mostly) over. The war in Afghanistan is (slowly, incompletely) ending. And yet the new battlefield robots produced by a decade of war are having an easier transition to peacetime than some human veterans. The robots are simply trading their fatigues for the blue uniforms of American police.
That’s what an official with the Defense Logistics Agency told a conference in Washington last week. Any police or homeland security department with a counterterrorism or anti-drug mission and the ability to execute an arrest warrant can be eligible to get its very own robot. Dan Arnold, a regional manager of the agency’s Disposition Office, says that “hundreds” of war-hardened ‘bots will be donated to police departments, National Defense reported.
To be clear, the cops aren’t about to get battle-hardened unmanned aircraft. Police Departments will have to buy their own spy drones, complete with all the regulatory restrictions the Federal Aviation Administration imposes.
Instead, the likeliest robotic police recruits are ground robots, used for tactical surveillance or for explosives-handling. Things like the Throwbot, a small robot that looks like a Shake Weight and literally tossed by troops around corners to expand their fields of vision. Or the PackBot and Talon machines, which have become so central to bomb disposal in places like Afghanistan. (Although it’s worth noting that many PDs already have these bots, thanks to some pretty generous — some would say excessive — homeland security grants.)
But the Defense Logistics Agency isn’t exactly sure yet which robots it’s going to give away. It’s going to depend, in part, on a surplus of particular robots in military depots.
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