back to article Skeletal scanner would ID terrorists from 50 meters

Scientists are developing an identity verification system that would spot terrorists and pedophiles by scanning their skeletal features and comparing them against a database of stored images. The system could be deployed in airports, sporting events, and other settings vulnerable to criminals and ideally will be able to …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Yeah, we must be crazy tinfoil hat people to reject this!

    How about the harmful radiation that this would be emitting? From that far away, who knows how many people you'd be hitting at once.

    1. Someone Else Silver badge


      Ionizing radiation at 50 meters.

      I'm gettin' some barbecue!

  2. John Hawkins
    Big Brother

    Health and Safety?

    Will everyone be issued lead shielding like that we get given at the dentist when our teeth are being x-rayed? Or will we just have put up with the risk of cancer in our own interest? Potential for class action lawsuit methinks.

    1. Wize

      Not to mention...

      ...pregnant mothers.

  3. a53


    So only terrorists and pedophiles have unique bone structures??

    1. Captain Save-a-ho
      Big Brother

      Only always

      Especially when you're trying to upsell the general public to support a frivilous technology from which you'll be able to greatly profit and for which you can extort large lump sums from both sides (those peddling the kit and those wishing to remain at large).

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not as far fetched as you might think

      'So only terrorists and pedophiles have unique bone structures??'

      Latest research (Morris, Fox et. al. (2001)) suggests that paedophiles have 'have more genes in common with crabs than they do with you and me.'

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Now that is scientific fact.

        There's no real evidence for it, but it is scientific fact.

        1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

          Of course! What do you think?

          They were created that way. Through Intelligent Design.

      2. Anonymous Coward


        Care to point a published reference to that paper, Google throws a blank (except to your comment). Well unless your on about female orgasm research, but that was in the 60's & 70's

        Oh 2001 is not latest research. it's almost decade old research.

        1. Alex Wells

          Don't worry about it

          From the tone of your post it's probably better if you just let this one pass you by. seeing as both the comment and the immediate reply went straight over your head, I would just suggest that the post has value to other people whose aforementioned heads are less pointy.

          hold on, "Well unless your on about female orgasm research"? any chance you're available to come to parties as entertainment?

        2. crowley

          Re: WTF?

        3. Neoc

          Re: WTF?

          Anonymous Coward@08:50 25 August 2010: "Oh 2001 is not latest research. it's almost decade old research"

          Point of order, kind sir - if no research has been done on the subject since 2001, then it *is* the latest research. Just not very fresh.

      3. Adam Foxton

        It's not research

        I mean there's no scientific basis for those claims, it's just FACT.

      4. a53

        Not as far fetched as you might think

        Latest research (Morris, Fox et. al. (2001)) suggests that paedophiles have 'have more genes in common with crabs than they do with you and me.'

        Last I heard you couldn't get much DNA from an Xray or similar...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      me also

      I'm not a terrorist or a paedo but since my motorcycle accident a year ago I have a unique bone structure. Plenty of fractures, pins and a damaged shoulder.

    4. neb
      Black Helicopters

      @So only terrorists and pedophiles have unique bone structures??

      apparently paedophiles share crab dna too!

  4. John A Blackley


    Wouldn't the terrorist have to have been captured in order for the authorities to have a scan of his bones to compare?

    In the case of suicide bombers this is hardly likely to happen, is it?

    1. Anomalous Cowherd Silver badge

      No good scanning suicide bombers after the fact

      You'd need a very big scanner, or maybe a bin bag.

  5. JoeyG

    Can't disguise their bones?

    They "can't disguise their bones" has to be the stupidest thing I've ever heard a researcher say - but is a typical justification for yet another technology that will exclusively track people who aren't trying to hide.

    1. JasonW

      Easy enough to disguise your bones...

      Simply break your arm/leg after the plod have uniquely identified your bones.

      1. Fizzl


        Ok you go ahead and break your own bones but I'll just get some animal bones sewn into the inside of my cloths.

        On an unrelated note... if body scanners = ghost porn does this me soon we shall have skeleton porn?

        1. Paul 129

          New keyboard please

          Oh Err... Look at the Femur's on that one Guv!

        2. Adam Foxton

          Bringing a new meaning

          to the term "boning"

      2. hplasm
        Thumb Up

        Or for extra irony-

        get them to do it for you.

  6. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    A Brilliant Mind (not)

    Where have we heard this before? It's just Security Theater - it's not so long ago that we were going to ID the bad lads by the way they walked ... except that didn't work and anyone in the gait community could have told them that the idea was a loser from the start.

    Now it's "bones" - like that's going to work? Have any of these idiots even bothered to figure out the resolution needed to ID a skeletal abnormality at 50m? Maybe you could get the resolution needed to distinguish one person from another reliably at a couple of metres but that's not going to be anything close to good enough to tell one ankle break from another.

    What's next? We can ID people by listening to the sounds they make in the crapper? Slurping noises in noodle shops? I've got it - I'm off to patent a foolproof way to ID terrorists by they way they pick their noses while waiting in the security line at the airport...

    No, on second thoughts I'm heading for the crapper - we're all obviously surrounded by idiots.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      a brilliant idea

      I can identify Paedos outside schools by their breathing. Then again, maybe they jogged down and are picking their kids up!!

      //Mines the one with John Merrick skeleton in the pocket.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Now /that's/ a brilliant mind.

      If I could upvote this post more than once, I would gladly do so.

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Use my method...

      ... I use a divining rod to detect pedeos and terrorists, I can safely say I haven't found any in my area at the moment.

      1. I didn't do IT.

        Re: Terrorist Divining Rod

        Actually, that was a real product that sold for over $5,000 a pop - until someone finally got some sense in the audit office and kicked them out on their ear.

        Was originally used for "detecting" bombs and drugs... but didn't do any better than random searches. Surprising, eh?

  7. Tom 35

    system that would spot terrorists

    No, it would only spot KNOWN terrorists that you happened to have an x-ray of (or what ever other boogy man they want to use to sell this). Your not going to have much luck spotting a suicide bomber since they are never repeat offenders (unless they are really bad suicide bombers).

    And just how are they going to get what is in effect an x-ray from a distance?

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Someone's been watching too much Total Recall, methinks

    mine's the one with five kids to feed

    1. Alexander Rogge

      Definitely an idea from Total Recall

      This device plan sounds like it was ripped out of the pages of Total Recall. If only we would place more emphasis in copying the parts about travelling to Mars, instead of trying to make people look naked in public, we would probably have a better world for it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Up


        better worlds for it!

      2. Stephen 5

        Someone was watching Total recall

        Get your ass to Mars!

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hip replacement anyone?

    Scientist 1: I'm bored

    Scientist 2: It's the silly season - let's thing up something unbelievably moronic and see if we can get a newspaper to run it.

    Scientist 1: How about: "The large hadron collider has produced a mini-black hole that is swallowing the moon"?

    Scientist 2: Done that.

    <repeat for 5 hours>

  10. Asgard
    Big Brother

    WTF is happening to our country!

    Year 2000 - It wasn't perfect land of hope and glory and all that, but we had some freedom, privacy & liberty.

    Year 2010 - Police State, they try to spy on us at every move, even being stripped naked by scanners is ok for them, and now they don't even care about our health!

    The terrorists don't need to destroy our way of life, our own government is doing that for them!

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

      re WTF is happening to our country

      One suggestion, though incomplete: NuLabour.

  11. Pablo

    Oh good.

    A few gamma rays never hurt anyone, right?

    1. Anonymous Coward


      Don't make me angry - you wouldn't like me when I'm angry!

    2. Anonymous Coward

      That could make a good

      Banner headline...

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In Paranoid America, the closet skelleton is yours

    So instead of eating too much and you can't get back into Blighty because the turd at the turnstile doesn't recognise you from the face in your passport, you break a leg and you can't get back into Blighty because the turd of a machine at the turnstile doesn't manage to match your x-ray to the one broadcast by the RFID in your passport. Protest, repeat x-ray until cancer.

    New technology and the NHS, a sure winner.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    So they can tell whose a terrorist by the shape of his bones.

    All they've done is reinvented Phrenology.

    Paris, she'll change the shape of your bone.

  14. Nexox Enigma

    Probably not Xray

    I doubt that they plan to use Xrays, as that produces imagry /behind/ the subject, which means the subject has to stand between the Xray source and some sort of film / imaging device. Clearly that's a bit nuts at 50m.

    So they're looking for a wave which will penetrate skin, cloth, etc, reflect off bone with a good resolution, and (probably) not cause any sort of permanent damage. I believe most forms of ionizing radiation wouldn't get past the first two requirements, and obviously not the third.

    Good news is that they'd probably be broadcasting on a pretty specific wavelength, so all of those terrorists (I imagine that there must be crowds of them around everywhere by now, with all that people are spending to stop them) just need a pretty simple device to detect when there's a scanner in range. Like your average flashlight or search radar, it'll advertise it's presence to people that are far outside it's bonescan range.

    1. beli bouton

      Probably not Xray

      Backscatter Xray ... pervs^H^H^H^H^Hspooks have been using it to electronically undress you for years.

      1. John Latham


        Apparently a backscatter xray scan gives about the same radiation exposure as 2 minutes of flying, so it's not a huge safety concern at airports.

        However, neither backscatter xray nor millimetre wave scans reveal skeletal structure.

    2. Pablo

      Think again

      The article linked to specifically says it could use x-rays or gamma(!) rays, though it does leave the door open to "other forms of body scanning". I guess some type of ultrasound might work, but that normally has a range of zero (bodily contact) not 50 meters.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I was talking to someone knowledgeable recently

    Apparently taking up martial arts will cause small changes to your bone density, as will any other sport which involves a lot of blunt trauma. No need for fractures, just tiny cracks that repair over time.

    1. Charles Manning

      ... or weight training or calcium suppliments

      or any change in exercise level. Pretty much anything targeting higher bone density in the aging, especially women.

      1. hplasm

        How about Adamantium?

        At X-ray Station #1-

        "Look at that! Metal bones!?!"

        "Shhh! He might hear us!"


        "O crap- he did..."

  16. Anonymous Coward

    Oh it's all gone Dali anyways, so of with the ship...

    MIne's the one with a melting pocketwatch in the pocket, and a bomb-proof jacket sewn into the lining, sure sure.

  17. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    not a good idea

    Tom 35 beat me to it -- this system is worthless, because it would only identify people who have had a full body scan performed. And most likely performed outside a hospital, since hospitals have STRICT privacy regulations. I know if the hospital handed my records over to the gummint, I'd demand they pay me a HIPAA settlement.

    And, as several people have said, I don't want to be X-Rayed constantly either.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Prior Art!

    I think there's prior art to identifying a terrorist by his bones:

    Achmed the Dead Terrorist

  19. Jon Press

    Previously broken bones

    And if your identity is stil ambiguous presumably some copper from SO20 will be around to break a few others to ensure you can be picked out uniquely.

  20. Evil Auditor Silver badge

    The Final Solution.

    Just develop some robots which are going to shoot everyone who looks suspicious or not. Soon every terrorist and pedo will be dead as will every other person. Problem solved. (Who will shut down the robots?)

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Who will shut down the robots?

      Rick Deckard will - that's what Blade Runners do.

  21. Anonymous Coward

    Protesters need not worry.

    Turn up at protest. Get scanned.

    Next protest scanner fails to identify you.


    Something to do with the Met and batons spring to mind.

  22. Mystic Megabyte


    Simple, install Orgasmatrons at airports. Most terrorists could probably do with shag and afterwards they might chill out.

    While in the booth take a *ahem* bone scan. Sorted!

  23. Aquilus
    Thumb Down

    Terrorists are rare...

    The trouble is, terrorists (and of course, the obligatory thinking-of-the-children-provides-justification-for-anything pedophiles) are extremely rare. Even if the scanner has a 0.1% false positive rate, because the prevalence of terrorists in society are even less than that, it is still likely to finger many orders of magnitude of innocent people over actual terrorists. And no, I don't consider hundreds to thousands of innocent people being hassled, delayed, having guns pointed at them, arrested, or being executed due to police incompetence a suitable trade-off for catching that 1 real 'terrorist*'.

    * which probably means he's watched a jihadist YouTube video, or plans to stuff a few petrol cans into his car and drive it into a shop window, given their recent form.

  24. Dave Bell

    Plausible, at first glance

    Oh, I suspect they could do something to pick out me, with this tech, if they have the detailed scan to start with. I have a painful collection of breaks, plus the measurements of all the rest. It might be unique.

    But it needs that detailed scan.

    Bertillon didn't make this idea work. There's a lot of technology come in since his day, and maybe it could identify an individual.

    But the spooky terrorists: the problem is you don't know who they are. You don't have that data. And it doesn't help you find criminals: they leave their fingerprints at the scene of a crime, but they don't leave their skeletons.

  25. kain preacher

    @Henry Wertz 1

    have you read hippa ?

    PHI may be used and disclosed for research without an Authorization in limited circumstances: Under a waiver of the Authorization requirement, as a limited data set with a data use agreement, preparatory to research, and for research on decedents' information.

    The Hospital District may Disclose PHI to a public health

    authority authorized by law to collect or receive PHI to

    prevent or control disease, injury, or disability; or at the

    direction of a public health authority, to an official of a

    foreign government agency acting in collaboration with the

    public health authority (HCHD Infection Control Policy,

    Required Reporting of Diseases and Conditions, No. 1101).

    Disclosure Pursuant to Law. Disclose PHI as required by law, including

    laws requiring reporting of certain types of wounds or

    other physical injuries (See also Sections III. B and IV of

    this policy for additional information).

    gun shoot wounds must be reported.

    may Use and Disclose PHI for

    Research purposes without obtaining a patient’s Authorization

    Is necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and imminent

    threat to the health or safety of a person or the public and

    is to a person(s) reasonably able to prevent or lessen the

    threat, including the target of the threat.

    Oh yeah and the one tiny itsy bitsy thing thats is most on point , Is ....

    PHI can be disclosed for terrorist preparation .

  26. rpjs

    Good job Labour lost the election

    Or they'd have these things on every street corner by the time of the next one.

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge
      Big Brother

      I completely agree

      and I hardly miss a chance to verbally beat Labour. Anyhow, it's (usually) just a question of time until the new and for now sensible government gets greedy and corrupted and starts to introduce other control freak measures.

  27. Vladimir Plouzhnikov


    This is the first time I hear that pedofils are a threat to airports. I understand that terrorists can commit mass murder by blowing themselves up in front of an economy check-in desk but what can pedofils do that is equally dangerous? Wank themselves to death? Commit mass insemination, perhaps?

  28. Anonymous Coward

    Mmm, lovely rays.

    "Virtually every person has a unique skeletal structure nearly impossible to alter."

    1) Virtually? So there's a possibility that two people could have the same skeleton? So skeletons aren't unique? So the premise of the thing is rather skewed? Skewed like an argument consisting entirely of questions?

    2) I've broken my nose, my collarbone, and my leg a couple of times. Please don't tell me my skeletal structure is nearly impossible to alter.

    I was intrigued so I looked at the article in more detail:

    'Ryan Fendley, the research institute’s director of operations and strategic initiatives, said scanners could be used wherever there is a controlled point of entry.

    “It could go anywhere,” he said. “It could be in every airport. You could put it in a hotel if it gets down to the right scale and cost.”

    "Depending on the selected technology, a skeletal scan would only expose a person to radiation that is the approximate equivalent of taking one cross-country airline flight."'

    Really? See, when I look up 'Bone Density' on Wiki I find out that it's measured using dual energy X-ray absorptiometry, and when I look at the references to find out how powerful this kind of x-ray is I find it's "only about a tenth of a chest X-ray". Which is probably OK if you're not exposed very often. However - if you put this together with Ryan Fendley's frothy comments, a holiday and some maths you find that if I stay in a hotel for a 2-week period and enter the building, ooh, 3 times a day, and I get scanned every time I enter the hotel, then by the time I have completed my holiday I will have had the equivalent of 4.2 chest x-rays.

    Not good.

    What's most disturbing/funniest (they're so close together though, aren't they? Especially when I write them next to each other) about this is the backstory:

    "The idea was born when a Wright State University scientist went online as his young daughters were preparing to go trick-or-treating and discovered that convicted sex offenders were living in his neighborhood.

    What if there was a way to positively identify sex offenders as they arrived at theme parks and other venues populated by young children?"

    For one thing how would solving problem #2 help with problem #1?

    For another thing problem #2 can be solved by utilising the tried and tested method of security guard + photograph of undesireable.

    For another thing the entire fucking world is populated by young children. As a species we're growing faster than we can handle. Walk down pretty much any street and there they are, all young and childreny and loud and annoying. If he wants to do mankind a service could he not invent a way to make them shut the fuck up? Like a smack in the mouth, or a gag or something?

    1. John G Imrie

      @The Silver Fox

      For another thing the entire fucking world is populated by young children. As a species we're growing faster than we can handle. Walk down pretty much any street and there they are, all young and childreny and loud and annoying. If he wants to do mankind a service could he not invent a way to make them shut the fuck up?

      Well this should help with the population problem. As we'll all be so thoroughly irradiated the average male sperm count will fast approach zero.

  29. Tigra 07

    Retina replacements

    Have they not tried retina scanners yet?

  30. Anonymous Coward

    But does it detect Coltan?

    If so looks like my sisters & I will be forced to fly in tiny bikinis.

    'No need to scan us, what could we hide in this?'

    I'll get me coat...... the nice purple leather one..

    1. Evil Auditor Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Erm... yes, it does!

      And let me know when and where you are travelling next

  31. Anonymous Coward

    ah ha...

    tinfoil hat, tinfoil trench-coat, with a wee bit of lead sewn into the back. spelling out "fuck you".

    1. perlcat

      yeah. not so good.

      Will the gentleman in the snoopy helmet and the trench coat get in that line marked 'cavity search -- no lube', please?

  32. Christoph

    Protect the children!

    They intend to use "X-rays, gamma rays or other forms of body scanning". They are so clued up that they don't even know yet what they will use.

    So to protect the little children they will be hit with bursts of X or gamma rays every time they go near the park? Much better than them being in the same park as someone who once got nicked for peeing in a public place, or any of the other things the yanks use to mark you for life as a pervert.

    And hey, we can make those perverts' lives even more hellish! There's already towns in the Land of the Free where there's hardly anywhere they are allowed to live. Now we can set off screaming alarms if they just walk near a park. You need to walk there to get to your job? Or to the hospital? Tough luck - you'll get lynched if you try.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    might it be easier

    to get everyone to sign the sex offenders register and no fly lists at birth and have it over with.

    They're already proposing that babies should be born onto watch lists if they are deemed to have criminal genes. So fuck it, let's go all the way.

  34. bugalugs
    Big Brother


    expose ppl to sundry hypothetical but potentially harmful RF ?

    the UNC(LE) network ( UltrasoundNeighbourhood-CompilationLEmon just make sure it never work for the wrong guys guys ). using technology ( ars priori cred joculus anon ) combining chiropterometricaudiology, accipitroptics and ACCUMlated__Overview_ and FAce_Recognition_ Technologies *, fixed data collection points are established to build up a picture of " normal " patterns in a given locale.

    then system is networked to smmoooothly interface with recycling bin rfids and ze waltz may commence.

    *administer for n0_@u^t_awful purposes*

    * bats differentiate texture and track at high speed

    vultures see from afar and (can) smell

    no two people move_in_the _same_way all the time

    faces are pretty unique too and there_is_a data-base

    BeBuggered for the obvious

    and did any-one see a coat with a can of fosters in the left pocket

    and a safety pin under the right lapel please ?

  35. JeffyPooh

    Mr. 'Version 1.0' has it nailed

    It's a fantasy. Only the most innocent (stupid) and naive would not realize that it's a psuedo-scientific scam. It's obviously impractical and obviously unworkable, and it is therefore an obvious fraud.

  36. Lee T


    do i *really* need to link to *your own story* explaining the problems with using biometrics as a search tool?

  37. Alain Moran

    Where did you get x-rays from?

    Given that they are talking about paedophiles it makes a lot more sense that they are looking at the relative lengths of bones, ie: the ratio between the length of your forearm to your upper arm (think facial recognition but applied to your body)

    This kind of information could easily be manually digitised from pictures of abuse and then compared against a digital model derived from your movements ... no doubt it will be using a similar technology to the gait tracking stuff, so a more reasonable assumption is that it will be fed by basic cameras not x-rays!

    That said, some shoulder, elbow & knee pads and this code would likely be as broken as a facial recognition is when eye makeup or prosthetic noses are applied.

  38. Hegghogg

    Not All That Worried

    Even aside the well-expressed objection based on the indiscriminate dosing of citizens with radiation, I can't say I'm all that worried.

    I *used* to be worried about new ideas for government snooping; but Jacqui Smith solved that for me.

    No, she didn't win me over with her seductive wiles and dupe me into accepting her point of view. What she did was simple: she said that she'd force paedophiles to register their email addresses so the police could keep tabs on them.

    At that point I realised that no matter how lofty the government's surveillance schemes might be, they probably don't have the basic technical knowledge a) to implement them; or b) to know who to hire to implement them on their behalf.

    As far as I can tell most contractors hired to carry out tech development/installation work for the government just bugger about until they've had their fill of Treasury pork, then slink off to play golf.

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