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Cell Phone Radiation Detectors Proposed to Protect Against Nukes

Soulskill posted more than 6 years ago | from the distributed-homeland-security dept.

Cellphones 238

crosshatch brings us news out of Purdue University, where researchers are developing a radiation detection system that would rely on sensors within cell phones to locate and track potentially hazardous material. From the Purdue news service: "Such a system could blanket the nation with millions of cell phones equipped with radiation sensors able to detect even light residues of radioactive material. Because cell phones already contain global positioning locators, the network of phones would serve as a tracking system, said physics professor Ephraim Fischbach. 'The sensors don't really perform the detection task individually,' Fischbach said. 'The collective action of the sensors, combined with the software analysis, detects the source. Say a car is transporting radioactive material for a bomb, and that car is driving down Meridian Street in Indianapolis or Fifth Avenue in New York. As the car passes people, their cell phones individually would send signals to a command center, allowing authorities to track the source.'"

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Or, you know, radioactive thoughts... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22179420)

The collective action of the sensors, combined with the software analysis, detects the source. Say someone mumbles the word "nuclear", while walking down Meridian Street in Indianapolis or Fifth Avenue in New York. As the individual passes people, their cell phones individually would send signals to a command center, allowing authorities to track the source.

I'm talkin to you, fattie in the red shirt! (1)

Smordnys s'regrepsA (1160895) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179450)

Ah, you're obviously talking about our national-CCTV in action.
...what, you actually think we DON'T have one? Who's crazy now!


o.0

Re:Or, you know, radioactive thou tsarkon reports (-1, Flamebait)

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So... (5, Funny)

Smordnys s'regrepsA (1160895) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179428)

The things giving us cancer will detect things that will give us cancer? All right, I'll take twenty!

And for those with Prostrate/thyroid cancer? (4, Interesting)

spineboy (22918) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179596)

Often it is treated with radioactive seeds implanted into the prostate. A substantial number of men receive this treatment (implantation of tiny seed sized radioactive bits into the prostate that kills the cancer), which will raise the specificity of said detectors to near useless. I guess we'll see a lot of "nukes" on their way to the early bird special diners, and 4 pm movies.

Some young women are treated with Iodine 125 to treat overactive thyroids. "Ok now the bomb is headed to The Gap, no - now it's going to Forever 21."

Re:And for those with Prostrate/thyroid cancer? (4, Funny)

aproposofwhat (1019098) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179734)

Just train the software to ignore signals that regularly enter the restroom, then!

Regular comfort breaks are a feature of both prostrate cancer and the lack of a Y chromosone, so these signals should be fairly easy to classify and filter :P

Re:And for those with Prostrate/thyroid cancer? (4, Informative)

RDW (41497) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179760)

This kind of thing is already happening with existing anti-terrorist radiation detectors, e.g.:

http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2005/03/nuclear_terrori.html [schneier.com]

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4176/is_20041221/ai_n14588366 [findarticles.com]

http://environment.newscientist.com/article/dn3150 [newscientist.com]

Re:And for those with Prostrate/thyroid cancer? (1)

arivanov (12034) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179788)

No need for that.

It will be triggered by most smoke detectors out there. Depending on the type or the model they contain either Polonium or Thorium.

Re:And for those with Prostrate/thyroid cancer? (4, Insightful)

thermopile (571680) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179816)

Radionuclides give off unique spectral signatures. I-131 looks different from Tc-99m (another common medical isotope) which looks different from cobalt-60 (an industrial isotope) which looks different from uranium. I imagine they're using small wafers of cadmium-zinc-telluride (CZT), which has the ability to do this spectral segregation, but TFA didn't say. Does anyone know?

Having it determine what isotope it's looking at would drastically reduce the number of false hits you might get. It probably WOULDN'T alarm on that truck of bananas ... or that medical patient you're standing next to who's lit up like a light bulb full of iodine. CZT has a pretty poor collection efficiency -- it's very small and it certainly doesn't stop every piece of radiation you throw at it -- but it looks like they're trying sheer numbers (millions of cell phones) to overcome that.

My question is, what does this do to battery life? It takes energy to power up the CZT crystal, and all the necessary electronics (multichannel analyzer, preamplifier, HV supply, etc.). That's a cost most consumers aren't willing to put up with.

Re:And for those with Prostrate/thyroid cancer? (4, Insightful)

RDW (41497) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179856)

'Having it determine what isotope it's looking at would drastically reduce the number of false hits you might get.'

On the other hand, if anyone tries to make a 'dirty bomb' they'll probably use common medical or industrial isotopes. And a dirty bomb attack is much more likely than a terrorist nuclear weapon.

Re:And for those with Prostrate/thyroid cancer? (1)

that this is not und (1026860) | more than 6 years ago | (#22180100)

And the magnitude of a 'dirty bomb' courier will probably be higher than that of the average medical patient. Or not. This isn't even a perfect detector system. Imagine that.

Re:And for those with Prostrate/thyroid cancer? (1)

kvezach (1199717) | more than 6 years ago | (#22180130)

And a dirty bomb attack is much more likely than a terrorist nuclear weapon.

While that's true, a dirty bomb isn't very likely either. The terrorists will simply get a bigger bang for the buck with conventional explosives.

Re:And for those with Prostrate/thyroid cancer? (1)

Bill_the_Engineer (772575) | more than 6 years ago | (#22180054)

My question is, what does this do to battery life? It takes energy to power up the CZT crystal, and all the necessary electronics (multichannel analyzer, preamplifier, HV supply, etc.). That's a cost most consumers aren't willing to put up with.

My question is how they will get this in the phone...

Re:And for those with Prostrate/thyroid cancer? (1)

AndGodSed (968378) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179970)

...seed sized radioactive bits into the prostate...

Okay, tell me I am not the only one who winced at reading this.

Yes I am a big baby...

Re:And for those with Prostrate/thyroid cancer? (1)

pryoplasm (809342) | more than 6 years ago | (#22180034)

Personally I opted for the radiocactive grapefruits,a bit bigger, but they do give off that pleasant green glow...

Re:And for those with Prostrate/thyroid cancer? (1)

that this is not und (1026860) | more than 6 years ago | (#22180110)

Me, I was just hoping it wasn't, say, the seed of the walnut tree being referenced.

Re:And for those with Prostrate/thyroid cancer? (1)

mi (197448) | more than 6 years ago | (#22180248)

Some young women are treated with Iodine 125 to treat overactive thyroids. "Ok now the bomb is headed to The Gap, no - now it's going to Forever 21."

The point of such systems, AFAIK, is not to detect "the source", it is to detect unusual patterns. A single radioactive seed will not register as anything more than a spec, but a consistent set of reports from the same location will raise attention.

Camping? (1)

Psychofreak (17440) | more than 6 years ago | (#22180272)

So when I am talking on my phone (in speaker mode) and preparing my old Coleman lantern for the fishing or hunting trip I guess I'll be flagged as a terrorist because mantles (the glowy tea-bag thingies)are soaked in a radioactive salt. Then they will notice that I spend a week away from civilization, possibly where cell phones don't work much less having electricity. I'm not going to like being arrested by big brother every time I go on vacation.

On the hunting trip they will find I have several firearms in the trunk of my car too. I can feel the love now!

Happily all the places I go have basic plumbing so showers are possible...though you may have to cart water by hand from the pump.

Phil

Who's going to pay? (2, Insightful)

Nemilar (173603) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179430)

Is the government going to subsidize the placement of these things in cellphones? It's the tragedy of the commons, that no one is going to want to pay for a more expensive cell phone because it will detect radiation, if it's in everyone's phone. And if the government pays for it, that means it's paid for by taxes. So one way or another, we're going to be paying for this...

Re:Who's going to pay? (5, Insightful)

newend (796893) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179766)

Sorry, but I'd be more concerned about the cost and battery drainage. The odds of being killed by a terrorist is infinitely smaller than car accidents or treatable diseases. I'd much rather see the government try to fix one of those problems rather than detecting nuclear material with cell phones.

track us all! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22179432)

I'm still praying for the asteroids to come closer to Earth each month, but they betray me!

if you mod this offtopic or troll I win

Oh, can I try? (-1, Offtopic)

Smordnys s'regrepsA (1160895) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179472)

I hate people who mod this comment down, and people who hate people who mod this comment down, and people who hate the people who hate the people who mod this comment down! That just about covers it.
If you mod me down i shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine. (I'm not sure how, but it's what I believe, and I believe everybody should believe in something - just not in anything)

From FTA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22179436)

If anyone is curious and simultaneously lacks the desire to read the article, the test had an effective range of about 15 feet for a weak radioactive signal.

Re:From FTA (1)

Smordnys s'regrepsA (1160895) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179486)

How weak is "weak"? Are we talking tactical nuke that could take out a city block weak? or just, damn now It is a tumor weak?

Fuck The Article? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22179730)

WTF?

Great (3, Insightful)

Loconut1389 (455297) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179444)

There -are- other, legal, sources of radiation, especially in the scientific community. This is a horrible idea that passes the costs on to the end user for no benefit and oodles of false positives. What could go wrong?

Re:Great (1)

AndGodSed (968378) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179986)

Yeah, roll on paranoia!

That's the good part! It's a tricorder (1)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 6 years ago | (#22180158)

There -are- other, legal, sources of radiation, especially in the scientific community. This is a horrible idea that passes the costs on to the end user for no benefit and oodles of false positives. What could go wrong?


That's the good part -- how often are you going to need to detect nuclear weapons in your life? BUT, having a phone with a variety of sensors that can scan for stuff I'm interested in? That's way more like it. Done right, with the right competition behind it, this could be the first step towards tricorders.

That said, I do see some serious issues with using this as part of a global anti-terror system. Not least of which, that I don't like the term "terrorist", but that's another issue. For one thing, what happens when some kid's mobile goes off, and there's just him and some shifty-looking guy on a train, with a big bag? That kid's life is now in direct danger. This would make ordinary people the untrained, uninformed, and panicky and probably irrational front end of a police taskforce.

Bad Idea (3, Insightful)

Ignis Flatus (689403) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179452)

this would only set a precedent for even more intrusive sensing. like say chemical sensors. then we might as well jump the gun and add firearm shot detectors. maybe the shot detection could even be integrated into the existing mic to save money. but we promise not to listen to anything more interesting than loud bangs. yeah, this is a great idea, for me to poop on.

Re:Bad Idea (2, Informative)

El Yanqui (1111145) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179620)

You weren't paying attention. Many cities have already placed a network of microphones that can detect gunfire. Through triangulation police are able to determine where the shots came from.

Here's one link of many you can find through Google. http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2004/11/65802 [wired.com]

Re:Bad Idea (4, Insightful)

robably (1044462) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179704)

First they came for the nukes, and I did not speak out, because I did not have nukes...

Re:Bad Idea (1)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 6 years ago | (#22180260)

Exactly right...

We need to push back on every intrusion, no matter how small, into our daily lives by government. If they want to test the effectiveness of such programs, I'm all for the legislators that vote it in to be the test bed. Let all senators and congressmen and their staff be the test bed, oh, and the whitehouse staff also. When these people are being tracked by commercial entities and the results displayed for all to see, then maybe we'll see the real reasons for it in the first place.

Yes, I just want to hear one of them say that they don't want to participate because of the intrusion into their lives.

After 3-5 years of the testing, then lets decide if all citizens really need it.

And these things *always* protect civil liberties (4, Insightful)

pla (258480) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179456)

The sensors don't really perform the detection task individually

Riiiiiiight - So how long until we hear about a wave of people erroneously "rendered" for "interrogation" in a "friendly", human-rights-respecting country like Jordan, because their own cell phones turned them in following medical tests involving the use of radioisotopes?

Hey congress, grow a pair. We the People do not want this bullshit. Bush won't sign a budget that includes criteria for troop withdrawal - Fine, cut off funding for the war. Bush won't sign a FISA extension that doesn't include immunity for the telecomms - Fine, don't extend the damned thing! Stop with the security theater, please - The actors suck and the popcorn went stale four years ago.

Re:And these things *always* protect civil liberti (4, Interesting)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179492)

How long before it detects "hazardous materials" such as drugs ?

Re:And these things *always* protect civil liberti (2, Insightful)

Das Modell (969371) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179584)

I think one of the most amazing things about Slashdot is how people can always find a way to somehow start ranting about Bush and Iraq, no matter what the subject is.

Re:And these things *always* protect civil liberti (0, Offtopic)

Tom90deg (1190691) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179610)

Oh yah? I enjoy the taste of fresh grilled burgers. Also, Coke is a tasty beverage.

Re:And these things *always* protect civil liberti (1, Flamebait)

pla (258480) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179712)

I think one of the most amazing things about Slashdot is how people can always find a way to somehow start ranting about Bush and Iraq, no matter what the subject is.

Follow the money. DHS research funds come from the executive budget, which means...

Anyone?

Right! Bush.

We can blame Bush for so much because he oversees so much. The War on Drugs? Bush -> FDA -> DEA -> multi-year sentences for simple posession. Air travel dying due to the nuissance factor? Bush -> DHS -> TSA -> grandma gets tazed for her knitting needles. Media consolidation? Murdoch -> Bush -> FCC -> ignoring overwhelmingly negative public response in favor of three comments by the CEOs of the biggest media companies on the planet.

When you complain that it all goes back to Bush, well, it does all go back to Bush. Or congress. Or the USSC. But usually Bush.

Re:And these things *always* protect civil liberti (1)

Frozen Void (831218) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179780)

Bush doesn't live in Andromeda galaxy. He not a figurehead either, and his decisions affect every man on Earth. people like you hide their head in the sand and mutter mindlessly about how Bush is incapable of affecting them in any way possible.
This cellphone spying program is the direct result of fear-mongering brought by the same Administration which hunts for weapons of Mass Destruction everywhere.

Godwin's Law (1, Flamebait)

MoreDruid (584251) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179932)

Godwin's law (also known as Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_law [wikipedia.org]

Maybe in time it will expanded be with Bush... There _are_ similarities with the nazi-regime and the current situation in the USA... Kind of ironic since the US was needed to stop nazi-Germany

yeah yeah flamebait I know...

Re:And these things *always* protect civil liberti (1)

chas.capwell (541893) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179660)

Wow. I love how you manage to infer from TFA that Congress is behind this when they aren't mentioned at all. Oh those wacky senators and representatives with their nefarious plots.

Re:And these things *always* protect... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22180052)

"We the People do not want this bullshit."

Oh.. you want it. Yes you do. The bois in charge say you do. You want it enough to foot the bill for it. Break out the wallet and pay for your privilege of living in the FREE USA*.

There will need to be a more robust "call home" mechanism (lets call it a feature) for these phones too. We'll all pay for that as well, not only monetarily. On the surface, it sounds like a great idea, but deep down, it just gives those with power MORE power. Kind of like the "Patriot Act" trojan horse.

*some restrictions apply

Re:And these things *always* protect civil liberti (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22180152)

Hey congress, grow a pair. We the People do not want this bullshit. Bush won't sign a budget that includes criteria for troop withdrawal - Fine, cut off funding for the war.

You are presuming that the Democrats have a pair. What have the Democrats done since retaking Congress in mid-term elections? Virtually nothing.

Impractical? (4, Interesting)

deepthoughtlife (1226760) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179458)

This would be an additional cost of exactly how much? They don't say. Whatever the cost may happen to be, it is surely nonzero. This feature is unlikely to be favored by the market, so the companies making the phones won't want to include it. It might even necessitate reduced functionality. Therefore, this would require a government mandate. What penalty would there be for failure to comply? How intrusive would they have to be to make sure this came to pass? How much would this cost our government? Us? How would all these things affect the market?

Now to the important part. Would it really work? If it did, how easy would it be to hack the system? Mandated communication equals easy virus spread? How many false alarms? Would it promote overconfidence and lax insecurity?

Is this a good idea? I'm not sure. If it prevented a nuclear explosion in a major city that would obviously be a great thing, but what if it made us fail to do so? What if it takes funds that could have been used for more effective measures, and wastes it? There are too many questions about this.

So, is it impractical?

Not just nukes.. (1)

NewbieProgrammerMan (558327) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179462)

This could also be useful for identifying misplaced radioactive sources. I don't know if such incidents are common nowadays, but I recall reading about incidents in which a source gets misplaced/stolen and unfortunate innocent people are exposed to unhealthy doses because of it. I wonder how well such a system could cope with false positives from natural sources, the dentist's X-ray in the office next to yours, etc.

Wikinuke? (4, Insightful)

Bazman (4849) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179476)

It's basically a Wiki nuke detector (but without human intervention). Can you trust the data? No. Could terrorists get 100 cell phones and fake a nuke being transported? Yes. Could they then generate enough fake data so that the gubmint ignores the real nuke heading towards the White House? Yes. (Have TPTB not seen 'How To Steal A Million' - or like me were they too busy gawping at Audrey Hepburn?)

If the detectors are that cheap and small that they can squeeze them into cellphones, just stick them into street lights and then (assuming the terrorists dont have access to cranes and ladders) you have a bit more trust in your data.

Sensor networks are a great idea for some things, but maybe not this one...

Re:Wikinuke? (2, Insightful)

spectrokid (660550) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179672)

If the detectors are that cheap and small that they can squeeze them into cellphones, just stick them into street lights and then (assuming the terrorists dont have access to cranes and ladders) you have a bit more trust in your data.
You are overlooking a small detail here: If you put it in streetlights, it is no longer the consumer who is paying for your scheme...

Re:Wikinuke? (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179696)

You are overlooking a small detail here: If you put it in streetlights, it is no longer the consumer who is paying for your scheme...

Yeah, it's the people who pay for the streetlights, which are... the same people.

Re:Wikinuke? (1)

Gyga (873992) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179840)

More people would end up payng for the lights because not everyone buys the fancy phones.

What about places without streetlights, they often dont have enough cars/cellphone coverage to support this sort of thing.

Re:Wikinuke? (1)

EB FE (1208132) | more than 6 years ago | (#22180252)

Why would anyone want to buy a "fancy" phone that has a radiation detector? Personally, I want the smallest phone I can get. I'm sure this detector circuit won't reduce the size of phones.

Re:Wikinuke? (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179838)

I'm torn on this issue.

On one hand, the network itself is a great idea. On the other, what central place would it report to? The Wiki concept is great precisely because the momentum of masses of people prevents (or is supposed to prevent) abuse.

But if this involves making cell-phones connect directly to Homeland Security... no thank you.

Re:Wikinuke? (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 6 years ago | (#22180164)

I haven't been that alarmed by previous happenings in the US, I was very concerned and alarmed but not terribly so.

With this, I think this is a veiled excuse to start spying on everyone. Heck, there is a natural background radiation. I can see them setting the sensitivity high enough to signal the DHS every time there's so much as a single tick on the "geiger counter". That's a perfect nationwide tracking system.

Hot-rod (1)

Harold Halloway (1047486) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179478)

Would anyone be interested in my new range of custom shop lead-lined cars?

High school terrorists (think of the children) (1)

SiggyRadiation (628651) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179480)

When I was in high school (in the Netherlands, mind you) in physics class our lab has a small glass container with a little rod of uranium (or plutonium or something else radioactive). It must have been small and relatively riskless, but still radioactive.
Very handy to show the classic experiments, such as showing a condensation-trail, or letting a geiger counter go wild.

Nowadays, highschool classes are filled with mobile phones, probably more phones than persons. It'd be interresting to see something like a NORAD-style "USDHS nuclear materials movement alerts screen" light up like a christmass tree once they activate this system.

Re:High school terrorists (think of the children) (1)

Gyga (873992) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179862)

My school didn't have any of that (my teacher had to go behind the administration's back to get thermite and sodium.) But when I did a report on Hans Geiger I borrwed a geiger counter from my dad's work, a fieastaware plate (broken in half), and a radium painted clock (glow in the dark). You should of seen the face of the person I asked to hold them during my presentation when I said they are radioactive.

Hopefully if these things ever come about (unlikely) then their threshold would be set high enough that harmless amounts wouldn't set them off.

False positives? (1)

Bogtha (906264) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179484)

So if normal phones are used for this, what's stopping terrorists from decoding the signal they send and putting timed devices in bins all the way down a street? Set them off, watch the response teams flock to that location, and then attack on the other side of the city.

Isn't there a security law that states something along the lines of "always consider how a security measure can be abused"?

Re:False positives? (1)

Eudial (590661) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179576)

Would probably not be hard to do, either. I mean, what would happen if you were to strap your cellphone to one of those old, slightly beta-radioactive smoke detectors? Furthermore, you could strap it to a semi trailer, and the department of paranoia over radioactive stuff on the loose would be led on a wild goose chase that would take them across the world.

These sort of weaknesses needs to be worked out before this sort of stuff is deployed. Because, as of now, all it takes is one kid with a sense of humor...

Re:False positives? (1)

Barny (103770) | more than 6 years ago | (#22180078)

Think outside the box :)

Fake a few radiation sightings, gauge response times, then start staging them and set a few quasi-claymores timed to go off just as authorities would arrive.

How much extra terror can you inflict on people, when the specialists, trained to deal with terror problems, start getting killed in grisly and interesting new ways? I am sure these guys, seemingly creative enough to be the first to use civilian passenger craft as guided missiles, will come up with something :) /insert comment about america digging this hole for itself and that it will just have to deal with the shit that seeps down it, here/

OK, then how about modular sensors? (1)

FauxReal (653820) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179498)

For various tasks that groups of people may need to do. You could even donate time for different causes. Boinc mobile?

i'll take this one step further..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22179506)

if we can pull this off.. then we just need to get everyone in every other country... particularly mexico... to implant themselves with a small radioactive chip... and then we can track illegal aliens!!!!

terrorists and illegals in one brilliant, ridiculously expensive swoop... not even congress can argue with that!

now for health care.....

Global positioning? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179512)

Because cell phones already contain global positioning locators

I think they mean that some phones can find their position relative to a network they are connected to. I doubt the same devices can tell your location in the middle of the pacific.

Re:Global positioning? (1)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179684)

I believe some phones do actually have GPS hardware in them so locating themselves isn't a problem.

However in the middle of the pacific I doubt many phones would be able to relay that information.

Re:Global positioning? (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 6 years ago | (#22180014)

I believe some phones do actually have GPS hardware in them so locating themselves isn't a problem.

Ok, so a very few high-end phones equipped with GPS receivers that happen to be outside long enough to pick up a suitable constellation and get a lock might be able to do it, then?

Re:Global positioning? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22180256)

I remember hearing a few years ago that because of E911 in the US, all new cell handsets were required to have at least basic GPS built in, to allow for locating a caller to 911.

I used to have a radium dial watch (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22179524)

so, as well as risking cancer, I'd be watched by homeland security for that. I gave that watch to my high school to show off the giger counter as soon as I realized how radioactive it was.

I had a tritium dial watch too. I wish I still had that one - that's safe as long as you don't eat it. But you can't get naughty glowing radioactive things anymore.

False alarms? Revealing of classified information? (1)

dpbsmith (263124) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179556)

I haven't read the article yet, because I'm going to try a test. Does the article say anything about false alarms? Because that's probably the most important thing we need to know about this scheme.

Will it go off when one of those unmarked white trucks that's used for discreet transport of nuclear waste goes by? How about when the big research hospital gets a shipment of isotopes for cancer treatment? How about shipments of nuclear weapons by the military?

It's quite possible that such a system might reveal quite a bit of classified information and have all sorts of unintended consequences. A few years back there was a flap because the U. S. had sent a ship into a Japanese port which the Japanese suspected contained nuclear weapons. As always, the U. S. refused to confirm or deny the fact. But if cell phones were organized into radiation detection networks, then not only would it unmask military secrets, but it might trigger mass panic in the interval between the nuclear material's being detected and the military reluctantly confirming that that's what it was.

OK, let's see if the article talks about false alarms at all:

Nope, just as I thought. It is devoted entirely to how sensitive the system is and how it can detect weak radioactive sources. Not a single sentence about how common innocent weak radioactive sources are, or what the distribution of weak radioactive sources is like when there are no terrorists around.

Except for a throwaway (1)

dpbsmith (263124) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179564)

I take that back. The article does say that the system can be trained to ignore "hospitals" and "bananas." It doesn't, however, say how, or say that the researchers have actually done this, or what the error rate is.

It doesn't, however, say how it can tell the difference between a terrorist's "suitcase nuclear weapon" and a legitimate nuclear weapon being shipped by the military.

Re:Except for a throwaway (1)

duinsel (935058) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179722)

No need to take it back. Medical radiation sources can be quite mobile and far from hospitals. http://environment.newscientist.com/article/dn3150 [newscientist.com] Get used to black cars trailing you if you happen to have a thyroid problem....

what could possibly go wrong? (4, Insightful)

presarioD (771260) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179578)

so my cellphone will have a direct line of contact with a... government agency that will... collect my information.. time of day... places I've been... all in the name of... *drums rolling, what could possibly go wrong, I've got nothing to hide*... seCuRitY...

yes, you see this will happen ONLY if the radiation detector fires up an event, NEVER EVER before... the government agency in charge will make sure of that...

what a jolly happy world we are living in, turn every single one of us into a government agent (stooge). Later on the grid will be expanded to keep track of criminals that might be passing us by (for example child molesters in case your morality standards haven't crumbled to the floor yet and are still putting up a fight, you surely wouldn't like little children getting hurt because of some ACLU ridiculous claims on privacy, would you?)... carry on citizens, carry on, nothing to see here...the future is going to be bright and spectacular...

your phone already tracks you (0, Troll)

SethJohnson (112166) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179920)

so my cellphone DOES have a direct line of contact with a... government agency that DOES... collect my information.. time of day... places I've been...

There, I fixed your typos.

Seth

80's spy tracker dust gave everyone cancer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22179602)

Thats great... although in the 80's this technology was already created to be used via satellite -- to track spies by dusting them with radioactive material. I hope this doesn't mean they are going to give hundreds of thousands of people cancer again just to track illegal immigration. There was an agreement of a worldwide ban of this along with the cessation of above ground nuclear testing...

Great idea (1)

Keys1337 (1002612) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179604)

Great idea, everyone who likes to use cell phones please open you wallets and throw some more cash into the war of terror fund, um... I mean the war on terror. I can't wait to feel safe again and I always wanted to be conscripted as a gov't agent.

Won't work (3, Insightful)

Nomen Publicus (1150725) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179606)

As nuclear material arranged into any kind of bomb is amazingly rare outside the military, this scheme would fail because false positives will vastly out number actual bombs detected. Testing for very rare events is always problematic when the reaction to the event has to be immediate and probably very expensive.

Sensitivity (1)

hcdejong (561314) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179614)

They claim the detectors are very sensitive. Sensitive enough to go off, say, near a smoke alarm? You'd get millions of false positives.

Why mobile phones? (1)

Leperous (773048) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179626)

This is an interesting idea, but, first I don't see why consumers should pay a bit extra for this protection in their phones, and secondly, why these sensors can't be installed on street lamps, inside postboxes, etc.. If they are stationary surely there will be less of a problem triangulating their location, and less of a privacy issue?

Easy to Knock A Good Thing (-1, Troll)

rally2xs (1093023) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179644)

It is amazing, almost as if it was illegal to not oppose every new idea. Folks, this is a great step toward self-defense against the absolute worst sort of terrorism. Would it cost something? Sure. Is it worth paying for? Damned straight. We have to start thinking like we're a society under attack, because we are. Just because the bastards haven't been able to mount a serious threat within the US borders since 9/11 doesn't mean they wouldn't like to. Its probably just a matter of time until these yahoos do get their hands on a nuke. This would be just the thing to stop them in their tracks. Casting a ubiquitous network of cell phones throughout the land that can detect nuclear material on the move would be an extremely good thing. If it can be done for maybe $25 - $50 per cell, so much the better. Try imagining the alternative, such as maybe your own neigborhood looking like the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki all the way out to the horizon. If not your own neigborhood, how about your friend's neighborhood, or your relatives neigborhood? Is that OK? I say it is not. I'm sitting in Kuwait on the way out of Iraq after working a science and tech advisor job to the US military in counter-IED work. Take my word, the enemy is smart, capable, and desireous of wiping us off the face of the earth if they can. They take the most innocuous materials and figure out ways to kill you with it. If they get their hands on a nuke, and we don't have proper countermeasures, a whale of a lot of Americans will die, and if not you, at least several people you know and some you care about. Go ahead and whine about a few bucks extra for an unneeded device such as a cell phone. Cell phones are a luxury. Can't afford an extra $25 - $50 to keep America safe? Do without a cell then. I'm 60 years old and lived without cell phones for 50 years so I know it can be done. This only takes money from the monied, and is no burden on the poor. You couldn't want a better financing model.

Re:Easy to Knock A Good Thing (5, Insightful)

martinmcc (214402) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179782)

"We have to start thinking like we're a society under attack, because we are."

Society is always under attack, both from within and from without. The first thing you have to decide before doing something to protect 'society', is establish whether the method will in itself change (therefore 'attack') the very society you are trying to protect. Constantly adding a means to 'look over your shoulder' will change a society from a free and relaxed society to a paranoid and controlled society.

"Just because the bastards haven't been able to mount a serious threat within the US borders since 9/11 doesn't mean they wouldn't like to"

Gifted with our imagination, we can come up with an infinite amount of ways we can be harmed, but simply saying it is possible is not justification for any level of measure against it. Careful consideration has to be given to the risk of the threat against the negative aspects of the protective measures.

"Its probably just a matter of time until these yahoos do get their hands on a nuke. This would be just the thing to stop them in their tracks."

Speculation. And if this system was put into place, would it be fool proof. If a group was organised enough to get a nuke, manage to smuggle it to the country of destination, I would suspect they would be organised enough to come up with a way to hide it (lead casing perhaps?)

"Try imagining the alternative, such as maybe your own neighbourhood looking like the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki all the way out to the horizon. If not your own neighbourhood, how about your friend's neighbourhood, or your relatives neighbourhood? Is that OK? I say it is not."

Again, just because you imagine an awful thing, does not justify any level of preventive measures. I can imagine a mass alien invasion, but I don't think that warrants issuing all citizens with rocket launchers. I do not have enough information to properly evaluate the cost/risks for either of these events, and I see no evidence that you do either.

"I'm sitting in Kuwait on the way out of Iraq after working a science and tech advisor job to the US military in counter-IED work. Take my word, the enemy is smart, capable, and desireous of wiping us off the face of the earth if they can. They take the most innocuous materials and figure out ways to kill you with it. If they get their hands on a nuke, and we don't have proper countermeasures, a whale of a lot of Americans will die, and if not you, at least several people you know and some you care about."

We cannot verify your position, so better to stick to the facts. SO far, the evidence has been that the 'enemy' is generally badly organised and stupid, and most of the 'smart' attack vectors have been thought up by western security 'experts' and generally are argued to be implausible (liquid bombs on planes for example).

By the way - I am neither for or against this idea (it 'feels' wrong to me, but like I say, I don't have enough info to make a sound judgement), but I am against the whole 'this is good because terrorism is bad' line of argument. Yes, it can be argued the other side 'this is bad because freedom is good' is just as bad, but would you rather your default position was one of paranoia or one of freedom?

Re:Easy to Knock A Good Thing (1)

Eivind (15695) | more than 6 years ago | (#22180192)

It's like everything you consider doing really. It's not enough there there's some advantage to doing it. The advantage also has to outweight the drawbacks.

The advantage seems, to me, minute. Making it sligthly easier to track movements of certain kinds of materials ?

How ? Install 300 MILLION radiation-detectors, a centralised system for collecting the sensor-data. A sophisticated program for analysing the data and find "suspicious" activity among the millions of false alarms. Sending information on the whereabouts of every one of us regularily to a central government computer. Drain the batteries of devices where battery-life is a limiting factor already.

I don't know HOW much this would cost (nor does anyone else), but I think it goes without saying that we're talking huge sums, certainly billions, possibly tens of billions.

All this for making -one- kind of attack sligthly more likely to be thwarted ? Nukes spew primarily alpha and beta-radiation, it's not as if it's very hard to shield for either of those, a millimetre of any random metal will do it...

Braindead idea of the year. Luckily it's brainedead enough that there's zero chance it'll ever get off the ground.

Obvious excuse (2, Insightful)

dotancohen (1015143) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179654)

This is obviously an excuse to track people's movements, before the RDIF chips get planted in everyone's ass. The "counter-terrorism" bit is the same excuse they've always used.

And who will pay for this equipment in the phone? Will the government subsidize the phones? Where will the sensors fit in ever-smaller cellphones?

This is really necassary?? (1)

dellcom (1213558) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179666)

"Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." --Benjamin Franklin (1759)

I do think cell phones can provide valuable data about traffic conditions and such, but much beyond that... i think would be pushing a line that has already been pushed much too far.

I mean i personally would rather live with a some risk and full freedom, then limited freedom and some risk.

Cramming it in the handset (1)

notmyusualnickname (1221732) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179698)

TFA doesn't say how these detectors are going to work, but it could be a sort of scintilloscope meets betavoltaic generator setup, taking the electricity generated by each 'count', graphing the counts per minute and sending an alert over $MOBILE_NETWORK to the command centre if it rises above the nominal background count (20CPM IIRC).

Whilst I'm not entirely sure how the above system would work in the finer details, I assume it's possible to differentiate between different types of radiation, develop a database of 'fingerprints' and squelch out the ones that are fairly ubiquitous.

That's how I'd do it, and that's after only a few minutes of thinking about it.

What about... (1)

mach1980 (1114097) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179710)

What about all those legal radiation sources. I wouldn't want FBI to start eavesdrop on my conversations only because I work as a dentist and my cell phone is being exposed to stray emissions from x-ray photos.

ok, heres my two cents (2, Insightful)

Gigaflynn (1008043) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179718)

The idea is good, but flawed.

As someone has pointed out, the cellphones idea can be abused.
But, I think that if this idea is improved upon, it could go somewhere.
Even if we don't get chernobyl phones, somthing useful may come out of this.
Although I am sick of this "In the post 9/11 world" attitude to everything that every single person on this earth must spend every single second of their lives worrying about being blown up.
for god sake, ok 9/11 was terrible, it had unimaginable human cost, but if that had happened in algeria, who anyone care? short answer, no.
the only reason it rules our lives now, and is the one size fits all excuse for everything is because it happened in america, the untouchable super-nation.

Summary of problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22179728)

"able to detect even light residues of radioactive material" - Oh look, another fire alarm.
"cell phones already contain global positioning locators" - No they don't.
"serve as a tracking system" - I don't want to be tracked, thanks.
"Say a car is transporting radioactive material for a"... camping lantern, road surface density gauge or various cancer cures.
"As the car passes people, their cell phones individually would send signals to a command center, allowing authorities to track the"m.

That's wonderful, unless... (1)

L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179736)

... you live in Cornwall on the south west English coast; it's on top of a giant, Argon-releasing granite boss (solidified magma chamber for those non-geologists). Living down there is supposed to be akin to being aboard a nuke-powered sub for your entire life.

Terrible news for.. (1)

eebra82 (907996) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179738)

This is terrible news for Radioactive Man, who can no longer keep his identity secret.

if he's a hero ... (1)

freaker_TuC (7632) | more than 6 years ago | (#22180076)

If he's a hero, he'll do fine without cellphone and pick up his distress calls by sonic waves. The old style!

I like the sound of this (1)

Capt'n Hector (650760) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179762)

Let's make some fiestaware carrying cases just to mess with the man :)

This will be awesome... (1)

Loibisch (964797) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179798)

Because everyone knows even undetonated nuclear bombs are leaking radioactivity like hell...or not...

Watch out for the boogeyman! (1)

goatherder23 (1189859) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179812)

Another Schneier-esque movie plot threat - spend billions to detect a threat which has an almost zero chance of materialising. How about if terrorists got hold of a new species of killer beers? I'll provide the insect spray, can I have a grant now please?

Wonderful in theory. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22179900)

Actually, I like this idea, a lot. Provided we can guarantee anonimity for each and every individual reporting device and its owner. That is of course the real problem, for without such a guarantee it is easily subverted into yet another tool of big brother^W^Wthe DHS.

But with such a guarantee, oh the possibilities. Can we come up with a way to really guarantee anonimity in this case? Promises or laws, especially laws, don't count for obvious reasons, no matter how much our politicians would have us believe otherwise. Math, now, I could possibly believe in.

Yes, the good of the many is important sometimes, even often, pretty often. No self-respecting American should ever contemplate giving up individual freedoms for it, though. So it behooves us to make this work in harmony. Enable the one and preserve the other.

Alright, I'll come off my soapbox and take my happy pills now. Thank you friend computer. I know you know best.

False Positives (4, Insightful)

davecl (233127) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179910)

Fill the country with radiation detectors like this and you'll get so many false alarms that the system will become a joke. The man walking down the street who had radiotherapy yesterday, the woman who keeps her grandfather's WW2 glowing radium watch in her handbag, the building made from that particular granite that's rich in radioactives. And let's not forget all the smoke detectors that use radioisotopes, or all the hospitals and labs with sources.

It's a radioactive world out there, and that is the only thing such a system would tell us.

We'd also learn the usual responses of the security forces when they get something wrong is brutality, coverup and smearing.

The answer to finding hypothetical terrorist nukes is proper human intelligence on the ground, not mass surveillance where false positives outnumber the real thing by orders of magnitude. That's just hiding the needle you're looking for in a much much bigger needle stack.

Farts (1)

Tribbin (565963) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179922)

I better don't 'mystify' the observation-data by having this capability on my phone.

I fart a lot.

False Positive vs Expensive Detectors (2, Insightful)

airos4 (82561) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179952)

Couple thoughts - firstly, I'm paranoid enough that my phone knows where I am, and now you're going to tell me that it's going to tell the government regularly AND THAT'S A KNOWN FEATURE?!?!

However, more logically... the more specific to given isotopes you make the sensors, the more expensive they will become. And if the terrorist group knows that our defense network allows isotope x but not y, don't you think they might work with y - even if it isn't as potent or immediately possible?

Think about this. Radioactivity exists around all of us. Tritum in watches, MRI machines (and for that matter healthcare in general), industrial sites, etc etc etc. Placarded vehicles that might be legally transporting something. You're going to tell me that there will be an effective system set up to take in the millions of false hits, screen them for the ones that might really be something, and then plot that against the map - nationwide in real time?

Not every threat is nuclear, also. I'm personally more frightened of simple biological weapons - not the fancy "weaponized anthrax", but good ol smallpox and the easier ones to work with. Even a good outbreak of flu can kill thousands without trying very hard and swamp medical systems / healthcare resources, which will in turn kill more. Nuclear just creates a good snapshot for the media.

Hate to nitpick, but ... (2, Informative)

Ihlosi (895663) | more than 6 years ago | (#22180156)

MRI machines (and for that matter healthcare in general)



While there are lots of diagnostic and therapeutic procedures that involve radioactivity of some sort, MRI is not one of them.

Oh, the basic glitches in the ointment (1)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 6 years ago | (#22179964)

Lotsa problems:
  • There are three kinds of radiation, alpha, beta, and gamma.
  • Alpha and Beta don't penetrate most materials, so it's rather easy to stop these from leaking out of your "weapon", and (b) It's hard to make sturdy sensors. So count Alpha and Beta as non-starters.
  • Gammas penetrate rather deeply, BUT your basic refined Plutonium and Uranium, the necessary materials for a real bomb, don't emit Gammas.
  • That leaves our Gamma-sensitive cell phones only useful at sniffing out cosmic rays, terrorists carrying nuclear waste, and not much else.
  • And oh, for $149.95 the terrorists could carry around a cell-phone jammer, a cheap and effective countermeasure.
  • How's about we try some other angle, something that won't cost billions to deploy, will work, and won't be easily jammed?

'locate and track hazardous material' (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22180044)

So that's what homeland security is calling us tourists then.

What's next? (2, Interesting)

hcdejong (561314) | more than 6 years ago | (#22180070)

Since this new hardware has no commercial value, there's no incentive in including it in new cellphones, so they'd have to become a legal requirement. Once this precedent has been set with radiation detectors, what's next? Chemical sensors to detect drug labs? GPS for even-more-automated speeding tickets? Continuous audio streaming from every cellphone microphone so the TLA agencies can run voice recognition and speech-to-text conversion, etc.?

Also, when will it become a crime not to have your Personal Surveillance Device with you?

Is it really workable? (1)

amirulbahr (1216502) | more than 6 years ago | (#22180118)

What are the privacy implications? Would the data feed be anonymous or not? If not, then the government will effectively have a log of the whereabouts of everyone carrying one of these things. Will people be comfortable with that?

If it is anonymous, then it can easily be rendered useless by being flooded with false alarms and fake data.

Effective Deterrent (2, Insightful)

PinkyDead (862370) | more than 6 years ago | (#22180176)

What is the point in advertising this thing? It is completely useless once it becomes public knowledge.

I'm sorry to engage in US bashing (as little offence as possible intended) but it seems that the plan is to impress the terrorists with all your amazing technology, so that they just give up.

Effective combat against terrorism requires two things: (a) working to eliminate the root cause and (b) in the mean time having as much intelligence as possible to stop yourself getting blown up.

You don't see the Israeli's advertising their latest and greatest.

Tracking politicians (1, Informative)

TooTechy (191509) | more than 6 years ago | (#22180210)

Bush: Would someone please design a device to be able to track Senator Clinton's whereabouts in the forthcoming campaign?

Politicians have been followed for ever to find out who they are seeing before an election. This is just another way of being able to follow th right people at the right time. Does it have anything to do with us? No. Not until you become the right person.

A little revolution now and again is a good thing. Not possible if everyone knows where you are.

Paranoia, certainly. But not whithout good cause.

"Nothing to fear folks, we just want to turn up the sensitivity in the devices for a few weeks for an experiment. No reason to be alarmed"

False triggers deliver sensor number and location. We found Clinton!
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