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Cops and revenue collectors will be salivating at the thought of this in their hands—an external laser device that can detect alcohol vapors inside a moving car.


“Stand-off detection” of chemical and biological compounds with the use of laser beams is a fantastic technology that has aided fields such as civil industry and environmental protection. Unfortunately, it also has the potential to be a weapon for the surveillance state.

The laser device was developed at the Military University of Technology in their Institute of Optoelectronics, and is described in the Journal of Applied Remote Sensing.

It should be deployed by the side of the road to monitor each car passing by. If some vapors of alcohol are detected in a car, a message with a photo of the car including its number plate is sent to a policeman who is waiting by the road several hundred meters further. Then the policeman stops the suspected car driver and checks him using conventional equipment.

What this amounts to is real-time monitoring of people inside vehicles who are simply driving from one place to another. The laser would be searching every vehicle for a physical presence.

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Notwithstanding the clear violation of our right to privacy, it would surely result in wrongful pullovers. What if there is a sober designated driver and others in the car have been drinking? The driver should be harassed by cops for doing nothing wrong? Maybe the perfectly sober driver has an outstanding parking ticket and the cop is feeling angry, or the driver flexes his rights with a plastic bag and proceeds to get beaten.

Even the authors acknowledge that errors can happen.

Sometimes it may occur that the driver is sober while passengers are not or some sort of alcohol was spilt in the car.

Nevertheless, developers of the laser device are working to commercialize it. There will undoubtedly be great demand, as surveillance states are always looking for ways to increase their monitoring capabilities. The more they can sense, the more they can repress and extort.

It won’t stop with alcohol, either. Plans are in the works to extend stand-off detection lasers to “illicit” substances. People could be pulled over when a laser beam detects the whiff of a plant deemed illegal by the state, or it could be pointed inside someone’s home to detect the heinous crime of smoking a joint.