Walking around the world anonymously is becoming increasingly more difficult as surveillance tech is developed to identify us by our faces, our gait, and now, our heartbeat.
The Pentagon’s Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO) developed a device that can identify people based on their cardiac signature using an infrared laser, as first reported by MIT Technology Review on Thursday. The device, called Jetson, takes about 30 seconds to identify the target using what’s called “laser vibrometry,” a non-invasive technique that looks at the vibration measurements caused by someone’s heartbeat, as well as an algorithm.
The device reportedly works from 200 meters away through normal clothing, but wouldn’t be effective through thicker materials like a winter coat, Technology Review reported, and because it takes half a minute to identify someone, they would need to be in a stationary position. So it’s not as simple as quickly flashing a laser at a target, but with an improved laser, the distance at which someone can be identified could be increased. “I don’t want to say you could do it from space, but longer ranges should be possible” Steward Remaly, from the CTTSO, told Technology Review.
Remaly reportedly claimed that Jetson is over 95 percent accurate “under good conditions” and that there’s room for improvement. The device is briefly outlined in a 2018 review book from the CTTSO as a completed project under the Surveillance, Collection and Operations Support section that can provide “additional biometric identification when environmental conditions and changes in facial appearance hinder the use of more common facial recognition systems.”
While Jetson is presented as an anti-terrorism technology designed for the Department of Defense, it’s not hard to see how such systems can eventually be exploited upon, especially as the government begins to generate a database of unique cardiac signatures. Together with existing biometric identification systems, we’re starting to build a pretty robust surveillance system that can’t simply be evaded through face paint or a thick jacket.