It’s coming soon to a crowded corner near you, a camera that can actually see through your clothes. It’s called the T5000 Camera and while it was first designed for space and has been used to measure the hole in the ozone layer it is now just one more security surveillance tool.
The camera works like a telescope to screen you from as far as 80 feet away, even when you’re moving. Its best application would be in crowded spaces where security authorities want to increase surveillance without slowing people down. Authorities can search for concealed weapons and explosives without you ever knowing it.
“We are genuinely looking through clothing,” says Clive Beattie of Thru Vision, a British company now piloting the camera. “It’s almost a glowing light bulb, you don’t see the detail that people might be concerned about.”
That ‘detail’ he’s referring to is body parts, but the camera actually makes people look like glowing blobs because of how it works. The camera picks up on electromagnetic rays that all of us, and all objects, give off naturally. These rays are called Tera-hertz or t-rays.
Thru Vision claims the camera is completely safe. “We’re not having to eradiate people with x-rays or any other type of radiation,” says Beattie.
We showed what the camera could do to people taking a stroll in Piccadilly Circus, central London, already one of the most spied on corners in the world. Some were still uneasy about a camera that can get under your skin.
“Yeah, maybe, a bit over the top I think” said one woman who couldn’t help but giggle when she saw the glowing images on the screen.
The crucial question is; will it actually make us any safer? Even this camera would likely not have detected the London bombers as they carried their explosive laden knapsacks. So many people are carrying so many packages it would take more than one camera to catch them, but very vigilant security personnel.
Privacy advocates worry security officials are relying too much on technology, extending the reach of ‘big brother’ without really making us any safer.
“What we should consider is how much we want to lose aspects of our privacy in order to attain a sort of notional security, in most cases this isn’t real security, it’s a sense of safety, that has very little real effect.” says a David Murakami Wood a researcher who studies the effects of new technology on society.
It seems authorities though are convinced a ‘sneak peak’ is worth it. Thru Vision says it has already sold its camera to a few companies in the London, including the Canary Wharf financial complex and they say the US military has also expressed its interest.
And remember, if the camera is in use as you’re walking around a crowded event in the next few years, you’ll never know it.
By Paula Newton, CNN’s International Security Correspondent.