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A new low in drug testing

by Melissa Friday, Jan. 23, 2004 at 5:55 PM

The government is apparently planning to install face-scanning cameras and urinalysis machines in some public urinals. It sounds strange, but it's technically feasible. We need to spread the word about this so it doesn't become widespread.

I got the following message from a former co-worker. It sounded strange until I looked into it. There are several small portable and cheap urinalysis machines available. This isn't rocket science, but it is scary.

[begin email]

"I'm taking a lot of risk in sending you this, but I think it's extremely important to get the word out. We just finished a feasibility study for DHS. They wanted us to design a system to fight terrorism and drug abuse, and it's got me creeped out.

The problem was to develop a way to surreptitiously test as many people as possible for drug use. I know you're going to laugh, but, what they wanted us to design was a urinal (stop it!) that would also perform drug testing. You might think this is a joke, but it actually makes a bit of sense in a creepy way. The urinal would not only check its "users" for drug use, but would store that information in a database along with the user's picture and maybe even their DNA. Sounds weird I know, but the technology already exists to do this (and more).

We quickly rejected a brute force "sample bank." A public restroom might have a thousand or more "uses" per day and, even though the amount of urine that would need to be stored is low, that was considered too burdensome. What we suggested uses a smaller storage system. These urinals would be dry, so the "sample" wouldn't be diluted with water. After the user is finished, a quick urinalysis is performed. If we find an indication of a problem, that sample is stored away together with a few pictures of the user. Every few days the samples can be retrieved and sent to a lab for further analysis. The samples are stored away using a pretty neat technique that's low tech but also quite dependable.

Each installation could be plugged into a building's network, even WiFi. That way the pictures of the user could be analyzed and facial recognition could be performed in real time. Low-cost urinalysis units can do 50 or more tests per hour.

People are already used to the sensors on toilets and urinals that flush them automatically, so adding a small camera next to that isn't going to be a problem...

Of course, the price we figured for each installation is a bit high. But, it's not out of line for certain places, like federal buildings, prisons, or even high schools in some areas. Much of this could be implemented with COTS parts, and the price should go down quite a bit over time. And, we didn't look into DNA analysis that much, but that wouldn't be that difficult given a small enough number of samples.

There isn't an awful lot to worry about *now*. AFAIK, our study was the first on this system, and not even a test site could be in place before the end of the year. But, after that, I'd start worrying about this, especially in certain locations...


Just an FYI, but also something we need to let as many people as possible know about so they can stop this in its tracks."

[end email]
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another worrying development along privacy lines Hex anon w/ encryption Friday, Jan. 23, 2004 at 7:36 PM
A question Frontinus Friday, Jan. 23, 2004 at 8:07 PM
checkpoint - a triple use word Hex anon w/ encryption Friday, Jan. 23, 2004 at 9:30 PM
checkpoint Hex anon w/ encryption Friday, Jan. 23, 2004 at 9:41 PM
fresca fresca Friday, Jan. 23, 2004 at 10:27 PM
Jerrys back ! Hex anon w/ encryption Friday, Jan. 23, 2004 at 10:56 PM
fresca fresca Friday, Jan. 23, 2004 at 11:02 PM
You are a nut says jerry the troll Hex anon w/ encryption Friday, Jan. 23, 2004 at 11:08 PM
Back to the original topic. ;lk;lk Saturday, Jan. 24, 2004 at 3:37 AM
oh jerry you're SO american Hex anon w/ encryption Saturday, Jan. 24, 2004 at 4:58 AM
Hee hee! (Have you noticed that's getting to be my standard response to Hex's posts?) lkhjhgjhf Saturday, Jan. 24, 2004 at 4:47 PM
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