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Skeletal scanner would ID terrorists from 50 meters

And maybe non-terrorists too

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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 positively identify an individual's unique skeletal structure from 50 meters, the researchers, from Wright State Research Institute, said here. It would analyze a variety of skeletal attributes – including shape, density joint structure and previously broken bones – to identify the individual.

Officials from the Intelligence Advanced Research Project Activity invited the researchers to speak about the project at a conference in Washington, DC.

Using fingerprints to identify someone can be problematic for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the ease at which a person's unique image can be appropriated by others. Facial recognition has begun to catch on in some places, but that technology can be easily thwarted using masks, beards and other disguises.

“But they can't disguise their bones,” said Phani Kidambi, one of half a dozen scientists and engineers working on the project. “Think about a scenario where the face doesn't match, but the bones match. That definitely is a person of extreme interest because it appears he's tried to change his face.”

Of course, the ability to identify individuals from great distances has some spooky implications for privacy. The specter that scanners will be deployed at political demonstrations, outside medical clinics, or similar places will no doubt arouse concern among civil libertarians. It might also give way to a whole new industry of tin-foil lined clothes. ®

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