The Real See-Through

As a kid, I remember the advertisements at the back of comic books, right next to the sea monkeys, for x-ray glasses.  If you believed the picture, they would allow you to oogle a young woman’s underwear right through her dress!!!  Back then, seeing women’s undergarments was enough to thrill a young boy.  We were so naive.


And half a century later, the New York Police Department is nearly there, making the dream come true.



Speaking at a State of the NYPD breakfast this morning, [NYPD Police Commissioner Ray] Kelly announced that the NYPD is developing a kind of infrared technology that will enable police officers to detect whether individuals are carrying guns under their clothing. Sure, it’s not as badass as shooting down a plane, but at least cops will finally be able to see what’s under our clothes without having to get out of their cars.


The mechanism, which the NYPD is developing with help from the U.S. Department of Defense, currently only works at a short range of three or four feet. But Kelly thinks they can improve it to scan citizens from a distance of up to 25 meters away. He announced this morning that the gadget will be mounted on NYPD vans with “the infrared rays shooting up the street at the person,” as the Post puts it.


No reasonable expectation of privacy here. While much of the focus on the 4th Amendment implications of technology remains on computers and shiny objects, this bit of science fantasy implicates a wide range of issue, ranging from the physiological impact of shooting “a kind of infrared technology” down city streets to cops ooglng women’s undergarments.

Interestingly, the  Gothamist obtained the reaction of NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman:


Like all New Yorkers, we are eager for solutions to the intractable problem of gun violence. We find this proposal both intriguing and worrisome. On the one hand, if technology like this worked as it was billed, New York City should see it’s stop-and-frisk rate drop by a half-million people a year. On the other hand, the ability to walk down the street free from a virtual police pat-down is a matter of privacy. We have no idea how this technology works, if it is effective, and what it’s error rate is. If the NYPD is moving forward with this, the public needs more information about this technology, how it works and the dangers it presents.

Not exactly a clear picture of where she stands on the future of x-ray glasses.  On the bright side, we can anticipate a huge increase in applications to become New York City police officers, from all those men who still believe that sea monkeys are real and haven’t yet figured out that they can get the Victoria’s Secret catalogue in the mail.

The implications of this technology under the 4th Amendment (or Article 1, Section 12 for you New York sticklers) is a more difficult question.  While it would appear that the tech  runs afoul of the Supreme Court precedent, the argument that there is a right to privacy attached to walking the streets with an illegal handgun is a tough one to sell, particularly if 4th Amendment jurisprudence is really  no more doctrinal than keeping the playing field tilted toward law enforcement.

As Justice Scalia noted in Kyllo,


“it would be foolish to contend that the degree of privacy secured to citizens by the Fourth Amendment has been entirely unaffected by the advance of technology.”

And this was, and remains, an astute observation.


9 comments on “The Real See-Through

  1. Frank

    As this is NYPD, I predict an increase in blue-on-blue shootings and deaths as the device will find the gun but not the badge. As this is NYPD, I can only see this as a good thing.

    Then again, if NYC (or NY for that matter) had constitutional gun laws (as in Vermont and Alaska), such gadgets would not be necessary.

  2. SHG

    I don’t wish harm to anyone, cop or civilian. I may have unpleasant things to say about what they do, but there is no joy to be had in the shooting or death of anyone.

  3. John David Galt

    I’m surprised some court hasn’t already put a stop to NYPD’s practice of stopping and frisking people without cause, both on Fourth and Second Amendment grounds. If we’re lucky, when that does happen the decision will be broad enough to prevent these new toys from being used for the same purpose as well.

  4. Keith Lee

    T-Ray/millimeter wave imaging is pretty interesting tech actually. It can provide highly detailed images of metallic objects through clothing. Give it a few more years and they’ll be able to tell you how much change you have in your pockets. So a knife or a gun would be easily detectable by such scanners.

    Except…that they can’t pick up plastics or ceramics. So take something like a Glock 17 (most popular LEO sidearm in the world!) that is around 20% synthetics and separate the slide and the grip. It becomes very difficult to tell that it’s firearm on a scanner. Or you could pick up a ceramic knife at any kitchen store.

    So that “scanned” person that does not have a weapon could actually pull out a knife or re-assemble a pistol on you.

  5. SHG

    You’re surprised? And that would be because the courts have invariably proven themselves to be so forceful in the protection of individual liberties at the expense of order in your vast legal experience. Oops. Never mind.

  6. SHG

    Time to start gearing up the enterprise to provide non-detectable weaponry so when they perfect the scanners, your website will be up and running.

  7. Peter Duveen

    I have had fairly good luck with New York City police, but the last time I visited the city, I was ticketed for ignoring a sign in downtown Manhattan. Apparently there were quite a few drivers being stopped at the same spot, so the police were aware of the difficulty drivers faced in navigating that particular street. It left a bad taste with me–just one other challenge to meet with when visiting, including the hundred dollars or so for the ticket. Point being that, with all these -see-through gismos and other war-on-terror antics coming on line, the market will work, and people will vote not to visit the city. Tourism will decline, and with its other economic challenges, New York will once again submerge into an economic backwater, which will become evident by the closed shops and dismal atmosphere–something like existed in the 1960s and 1970s. In a way, this will make the city more charming and attractive–less fake and more approachable.

  8. SHG

    I felt the same way, until I found out they were brine shrimp, at which point I determined to serve them in garlic to people I didn’t like with some fava beans and a nice chianti.

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