Homeland Security's Latest Nuclear Defense System Could Be All of Us

Location-aware tech is rapidly becoming a part of our lives, but it could also turn each of us into an early warning threat-detection system for a government that’s always watching.

Location-based services are great for things like discounts at nearby restaurants, or a heads-up for traffic, or tracking a morning jog. But what if your phone could take action on your behalf in the event you drove past (say) a rogue nuclear weapon?

Last month on the U.S. government’s Federal Business Opportunities page, a Request for Information was posted for what’s being referred to as a Human Portable Tripwire system. The request serves as a sort of tentative inquiry—it’s not so much a positive indication that the federal government will move ahead with a project as it is an opportunity for private citizens to mentally prepare themselves to become de facto bomb sniffers.

Theoretically, the Human Portable Tripwire system would involve a wearable device that would passively scan for radiation and relay any discoveries of radioactive material back to Homeland Security via satellite phone or Internet connection. As the project calls for a passive system, it would function much like Near-Field Communication (NFC) or any other location-aware tech—once you turn it on, you don’t have to do anything else.

As Michael Peck writes in his breakdown of the ROI on Medium, it’s unclear whether the system is intended for public or Department of Homeland Security use:

This might be useful for security personnel patrolling an installation like a port or a large event like a major league football game. It could also mean that human tripwires could be detecting radiation as they walk the dog or take the train to work.

The project might smack of Cold War-era paranoia, but should the government move forward with the Human Tripwire Project, it wouldn’t necessarily be the first initiative in recent memory that sought to crowdsource national security.

Cell-All is an initiative that began in 2007 to find a way of incorporating chemical sensors into smartphones, which would warn users and automatically notify authorities if it detected a chemical threat. While the Human Tripwire project doesn’t really have anything to do with cell phones—yet—the principle is the same: a distributed approach toward identifying and responding to threats and emergencies that attempts to mitigate the potential for human error.

Whether either project will ever come to fruition remains to be seen, but in a time when Internet users are actively seeking out services that will help protect their privacy and information on how to do it in abundance, it’s hard to see any such initiative being met with anything other than unease.

[Image: Flickr user Steve Johnson]

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  • Guest

    This has nothing to do with any police state. People, please, stop overreacting.

  • Just_a_Guy_Named_Joe

    And I'm sure it couldn't be used to detect other things - gunpowder residue for example - so that they could track honest citizens doing honest things like legally carrying a firearm. Surely the government trusts us enough not to use these devices to spy on us.


  • motorcyclerider

    Given the dangerous, lying fool running us all into the ground...who knows what we might actually be used for if we volunteer for this.

  • suibneg

    socialists always use one half the population to control the other half. Obama is a traitor. obamacare is fraud.

  • Richard

    Knowing how incompetent our Federal government is, I bet they will not allow such monitors to be used anywhere near a Muslim. I'd prefer they do a better job of securing our borders and monitoring the Muslim population since there are many Islamic radicals festering among them just waiting for an opportunity to murder people.

  • Dan

    Just another step to deputize everyday citizens and make them brown shirt agents of the Federal government.

    Those who do not "volunteer" will be sent to reeducation camps and taught the errors of their ways.

    Call me crazy, but this is how it's done. Small baby steps towards that ultimate goal is the only way it will be accepted by the masses, dumbed down as they are.

  • HoosierDave

    A) they should already be installed in every Obamaphone, because these phones are public property and the recipients have no expectation of a right to privacy upon accepting these devices.

    B) for private devices, as long as We the People have a choice about having these 'sniffers' in our phones, then it is a good idea. Personally, I do not want any such software/sniffers in my phone. I always have my tracking settings on off.

    Perhaps the government might find the general public more willing to go along with sensible ideas if they give us a choice and are transparent. Until then, Piss a Off!


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  • daveca

    "Theoretically, the Human Portable Tripwire system would involve a wearable device that would passively scan for radiation"

    Knowing something about nuclear physics and everything about the electronics, this is a PIPE DREAM that can not and will not happen.

    ITs another Pie in the Sky idealogy push to get STIMULUS MONEY.

    No one will wear a suitable detector smaller than a loaf of bread.

    What this implies is "personal dosimeter" and whats REQUIRED for HIDDEN and SHIELDED transport of said materials is a PORT DETECTOR.

    Ive seen the latter, they are closet sized or larger.

  • Joe Cottereuax

    why not put such devices into police cars? postal delivery trucks? politician's limos? better yet, why are they not already installed in polices cars, postal delivery trucks, and politician's limos?

  • Greg Siemen

    We The People Have To Pay EXTRA Money, so our Cell Phones can track us and listen to us. Next, if I walk in front of a car that is unattained and simply being warmed up, because it's cold outside, CO (Carbon Monoxide) will be detected and Homeland Security Will Be Notified?


    When Politicians Don't Actively Work To Enforce Our Constitutional Rights, they need to be RECALLED AND/OR Voted OUT!

  • Jon Weiss

    Just like the many articles describing traffic cameras and how they are increasing the number of tickets being issued based on camera data, (not police on the streets) this could ring the death knell of DHS.

    If we have cameras catching speeders and people running red lights, after which the local government merely mails the offender a ticket, then there is no need for police on the street (after all the courts have ruled repeatedly that police are under no obligation to actually protect anyone, but rather are charged with collecting evidence and MAYBE tracking down the criminal), so save local budgets, and fire all of the police engaged in traffic control.

    Now we will be able to disband DHS, since every person in the country will be doing their job for them.

  • Jon Weiss

    I can see it now, grandma gets one of these sensors, and then decides to mop the kitchen floor, she accidentally mixes a little Clorox with her Ammonia Pine Sol (thereby creating a small amount of hydrazine gas) , then DHS gets the remote signal of what grandma has done and then sends a SWAT Team to kick in her front door an haul her away as a domestic terrorist.

  • Bill Billin