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Security tests to sniff out new explosives
date£º2008-01-03 15:07:16 Click No.£º1640

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald.

    The next generation of technologies for detecting explosives, including so-called ¡°electronic strip-search¡± body-scanning cameras, is to be tested for possible use in airports.

    The federal Department of Transport and Regional Services has asked security firms to provide it with the latest equipment for screening airline passengers and baggage.

    The department has told the industry it hopes to test the equipment in laboratory conditions using live explosives between November and March before deciding on the suitability of the technology.

    The tests are part of a project by the department¡¯s Office of Transport Security to evaluate the next generation of screening technologies in the light of last year¡¯s terrorist plot in Britain, which involved liquid explosives. The project is expected to focus on improving the ability of airport security personnel to detect liquid explosives as well as hidden weapons being carried by passengers.

    A spokesman for the department said yesterday that the Government had boosted funding to the office in December last year to co-ordinate trials of technologies aimed at improving security screening.

    ¡°The safety of the travelling public is the most important thing so we want to ensure that the equipment we are using in Australia is as good as possible,¡± he said.

    In a request for expressions of interest issued this week the department says it wants to test technologies including portable materials analysis and body-scanning using high-frequency radiation.

    It says the materials analysis equipment should be capable of detecting explosives in liquid, aerosol, gel or powder form by analysing vapours or particles.

    The department also wants to test body-scanning equipment which is able to detect through clothing suspect items including non-metallic items.

    It gives the examples of millimetre and terahertz wave imaging technologies.

    Researchers in Australia including at the CSIRO and the University of Wollongong have been working on applying these technologies, which use different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum to detect hidden weapons or explosives.

    Millimetre wave scanners detect radiation emitted by the human body at frequencies between microwaves and infrared light. They allow operators to discern colder materials such as hidden metal, plastic or ceramic objects.

    Terahertz scanners detect extremely short radio waves emitted naturally by objects, allowing detection and analysis of concealed weapons or explosives.

    Both of these technologies have been tried in Britain and the United States, where civil liberties groups have dubbed them ¡°electronic strip searches¡± because they allow operators to see through clothes to a subject¡¯s body.

    The department¡¯s request says its trials will assess the equipment¡¯s technical and operational performance, its effect on aviation security screening processes including how quickly passengers could be screened, and how readily the equipment could be used by operators.

    It says public opinion will also be a factor in the assessment.

    The trials are expected to be run in Sydney and Adelaide. In addition to controlled laboratory tests, some equipment might be selected for testing in airports.


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