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Cellphones Government United States Technology

Cell Phones Could Sniff Out Deadly Chemicals 136

Hugh Pickens writes "Science Daily reports that Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate's Cell-All is an initiative to equip cell phones with a sensor capable of detecting deadly chemicals. A chip costing less than a dollar would be embedded in cell phones and programmed to alert either the cell phone carrier to the presence of toxic chemicals in the air, and/or a central station that can monitor how many alerts in an area are being received. While one alert might be a false positive, hundreds would indicate the need for evacuation. 'Our goal is to create a lightweight, cost-effective, power-efficient solution,' says Stephen Dennis, Cell-All's program manager. Does this always-on surveillance mean that the govenment can track your precise whereabouts whenever it wants? On the contrary, DHS says; Cell-All will operate only on an opt-in basis and will transmit data anonymously."
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Cell Phones Could Sniff Out Deadly Chemicals

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  • Mass Panic? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <.moc.liamg. .ta. .nhojovadle.> on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:16AM (#31815528) Journal

    One might be a false positive. Hundreds might indicate the need for evacuation.

    So how is that person holding the false positive going to react? Maybe they're the first phone to realize it? Maybe they don't understand what 'false positive' means?

    For personal safety issues such as a chlorine gas leak, a warning is sounded; the user can choose a vibration, noise, text message or phone call.

    I'd be concerned those false positives might not be warmly received. Especially if someone in a crowded Starbucks has a phone that starts to alarm and says "Oh my god, there's chlorine gas in here!" You might be hit with some lawsuits after a few people are injured in a stampede. Contrived scenario? Maybe. But people are less than rational beings when their lives are perceived to be at stake. While academia is right on board [] some of the larger cities have been a little resistant [] toward citizen operated detectors.

  • by ElSupreme ( 1217088 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:24AM (#31815610)
    Awesome now another chip in my phone to help trim away my already bad phone battery life!
  • Bad idea (Score:2, Insightful)

    by vikingpower ( 768921 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:25AM (#31815628) Homepage Journal
    Anything working only and mainly thanks to and through people's fears and worries is, to my experience, a bad idea.
  • Re:Mass Panic? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by T Murphy ( 1054674 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:32AM (#31815672) Journal
    From the summary and article:

    A chip [...] programmed to either alert the cell phone carrier [...] and/or a central station

    I don't think the user is involved here (they probably thought of your scenario already).

  • Obvious (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:37AM (#31815722)

    Of course you would be dangerously close to it so what is the use?

  • Right... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Wolvenhaven ( 1521217 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:41AM (#31815732) Homepage
    DHS says Cell-All will operate only on an opt-in basis and will transmit data anonymously.
    Right, because the DHS has such a fine track record of opt-in, anonymous data, and not using it for other purposes. While they might have opt-in it will be buried under pages of the cellphone contract or settings and will be on by default requiring the user to spend a few hours figuring out where it is hidden to turn it off. Anonymous transmission, maybe anonymous by the fact it relays cell tower coordinates with an identifier number through which they can gain the personal information "only" by asking the cell provider.

    My question is, how often are dangerous chemicals released in the air for this to be needed? Places which handle dangerous chemicals already have detection systems in place, it's not often you hear of a city being evacuated because of some sort of toxic accident. Or is it to help combat terrorism? It sounds to me like it's a location based detection system which will be [ab]used to detect drugs and other activities instead of to "protect the public".
  • by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @07:43AM (#31815740) Homepage
    Also known as cocaine. Or tetrahydrocannabinol, diacetylmorphine, methamphetamine or similar killers of children. What, don't you want your cellphone to be used to sniff out the murderers of children? What kind of monster are you?
  • Mission Creep (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 12, 2010 @08:05AM (#31815908)

    "Cell-All will operate only on an opt-in basis and will transmit data anonymously"

    Buwahahhahaahahaaa, Yeah, I'm sure that's how it will start. But as with any "Security" program IT WILL result in mission creep. Airport searches, criminal activity databases, fingerprint databases, DNA databases, if there is one thing that our government has proven beyond a reasonable doubt it is that systems initially used to track/monitor for "bad" people/things will eventually be used to track/monitor everyone/everything. Airport searches initially only searched for things capable of commandeering/damaging the plane, now ANY form of contraband is searched for, drugs, kiddy porn, "Suspicious" money, even "objectionable" reading material has been screened. Wasn't there even a incident a while back where a cargo tracking system was used to track law abiding people instead? I see this particular system eventually used to search for meth labs, then used to get search warrants for houses where any illicit chemicals are detected. It'll eventually get so bad that setting off too many firecrackers or messing around with a home chemistry set/bioreactor (homemade fuel) will result in a SWAT team coming through your door, after all you could be a terrorist building a bomb.

  • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @08:24AM (#31816054)

    Even worse, imagine a guy with a job as a house painter / floor refinisher / furniture refinisher.

    Car mechanics will also have an interesting false alarm profile.

  • Re:Mass Panic? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by somersault ( 912633 ) on Monday April 12, 2010 @08:58AM (#31816344) Homepage Journal

    I wouldn't object to a carbon monoxide detector in my phone.. it would be better than one of those little strips you leave near the boiler.

    Does this always-on surveillance mean that the govenment can track your precise whereabouts whenever it wants?

    This seems a little stupid.. simply having a phone and having it switched on surely means you can be tracked by the government already, if it really wanted to do so?

When someone says "I want a programming language in which I need only say what I wish done," give him a lollipop.