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UK Home Office unit looking at electronic offender tagging

But says people chipping doesn't work, yet...

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Has Hilary Benn MP become the UK's Minister for Cyborging? An article in yesterday's Observer newspaper might imply he's dangerously near to it. The story, unfortunately, starts the usual hares about people-chipping in its lead-in paragraphs, which does kind of obscure the real story lurking beneath.

The paper got hold of a copy of a letter from Benn to Labour MP Andrew Mackinley. Benn is currently government Minister for Community and Custodial Provision, which among other things covers the observation and control of sex offenders. Says Benn: "The Electronic Monitoring Team is... looking actively at the possibilities for using tracking technology to monitor offenders' whereabouts as they move from one place to another."

Electronic Monitoring Team? What electronic monitoring team would that be? But it's listed, if not explained, here (right hand column). Benn continues: "To date... the team is unaware of any available technology which uses bodily implants to track offenders' movements or which can measure bodily functions to predict likely criminal activity. Such future improvements are, however, worthy of consideration if it can be demonstrated to be feasible and reliable in delivering improvements in public protection."

So this team is looking at using devices to monitor offenders, but at least knows that there's no way of doing it with today's technology via a surgical implant. Should they come up with something, then it's more likely to be a home confinement 'curfew' system, or one of the larger luggable units combining GPS and wireless. Here's one we prepared earlier on the current state of the art, and presumably if the UK scheme flies it will be along the lines of the US stuff.

If? According to the paper: "Tracker, the company which runs Britain's largest stolen vehicle monitoring network, has already been approached about paedophile monitoring and computer company Compaq has been asked to develop the software." The involvement of Compaq, sad to say, probably does not mean British offenders are going to get free iPaqs manacled to them - the Compaq unit in question is named as Compaq Software Solutions, whose software is already used for monitoring the bodily functions of astronauts.

What this therefore suggests is that Compaq would handle the server end of the deal, supplying the monitoring stations, with Tracker and no doubt other contributors handling the client end. The Observer's explanation of the Compaq software however suggests somebody associated with the project might be a sandwich short of a picnic: "In the case of paedophiles the technology would not measure sexual excitement, but would monitor the offender's state of nervousness and fear."

That's some way ahead of just using tracking systems for monitoring of location, and is not something that's been implemented anywhere yet, as far as we're aware.

Remarkably, although the Observer leads in with surgical implants, nowhere in the piece is the name of Captain Cyborg himself mentioned. But he's there at least in spirit, as the Home Office team is claimed to be "investigating the 'implant tag' after it was alerted to its capabilities by a campaign group for victims of paedophiles."

Warwick himself, who is still allegedly chipping his first child in the next few months, has made it plain he wants to start debate on the issue of people chipping, and has been fairly successful - helped by the more credulous elements of the press - in convincing people that the technology really does exist. The actual Warwick technology, we're told, was spotted on a US tour recently, showing how well it all worked. We liked this bit:

Kevin Warwick: "If I double click on the lamp, signals from my nervous system should switch the lamp on [nothing happens]. Let me try that again for you viewers at home. [does it and it works and he makes a face] and again to switch it off [and the light turns off]." Two tries to switch the lights on? Triffic. (Thanks to James for the link). ®

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