SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's top law enforcement official said an innovative scanning system that may be able to detect guns, bombs or suicide vests could help keep Utah events — like Jazz games, the Sundance Film Festival or general conference — safer and is the motivation behind a new agreement that will allow beta testing of the technology in the state.
Attorney General Sean Reyes said he signed a memorandum of understanding with Atlanta-based Liberty Defense to collaborate on the testing of the company's Hexwave scanning system. Hexwave bounces "energy pulses" off a person's clothing and carried items, like bags or purses, to create 3D images of items concealed within and then compares the shapes, via an artificial intelligence-driven software program, to determine if they are guns, knives, bombs or other potential security threats.
Reyes said the agreement, which does not obligate the state to any purchase or expenditures, puts Utah in the loop for testing a technology that could heighten security at a wide range of public venues and events.
"It's an interesting technology that the state of Utah, at least one municipality and some private industries are interested to see," Reyes said. "They might want to deploy it … to better insulate soft areas, places like concert venues, schools. The technology … would allow private companies and law enforcement (to) see even further out and determine if there might be threats before they’re able to get close enough to cause harm."
Hexwave, according to the company, combines 3D imaging technology developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Lab with an artificial intelligence platform that takes the image created by the scanner and compares it with a massive catalog of items that could be considered a security concern. Innocuous items like cellphones, wallets or water bottles are ignored, but if a positive match is made, the system alerts security personnel to take further action. The scanner system, which looks much like those in wide use at grocers and retailers, can be placed well outside venue or event entrances as a first layer of detection security.
The agreement between Liberty Defense and the state stipulates the following could all be potential testing areas for the Hexwave system:
• Sporting and concert arenas, stadiums and Olympic venues.
• Primary, secondary and higher education facilities.
• Places of worship, facilities and property owned by or affiliated with faith entities.
• Government offices, buildings and facilities.
• Amusement parks.
• Entertainment events, conventions, shows and festivals.
American Civil Liberties Union of Utah legal director John Mejia said he has concerns about Reyes signing off on using Utahns as "guinea pigs" and is calling for more transparency about where and how the system will be tested.
“We are concerned about the lack of detail and public input behind the Utah attorney general’s decision to sign an agreement that promotes testing of an experimental, see-through 3D body scanner by Utah law enforcement in our state," Mejia said in a statement. "People attending sporting events, festivals, and school campuses in Utah didn’t sign up to be guinea pigs to find defects in a private company's surveillance system."
Mejia also expressed his concerns about the accuracy of the technology and the possibility that a scanned individual's private, health care-related items could be inappropriately exposed.
"If this product’s rate of false positives is as high as similar active millimeter wave body scanners, we are concerned that this untested technology will subject Utahns to needless invasive searches and lengthy interrogations," Mejia said. "Additionally, this product could identify for law enforcement deeply personal and private items used by people that officers have no reason to know about, including insulin pumps, pacemakers, colostomy bags, and other medical devices.
"The 'airportization of American life,' where everyone is told to expect less privacy and more government surveillance, will erode our constitutional rights to privacy and protection, and this technology puts us further along that path."
Liberty Defense CEO Bill Riker, who has an extensive background in the defense and security industry, said the technology is safe, adaptable to a wide range of applications and steers clear of the privacy pitfalls of other technology like facial recognition software or X-ray scanners that reveal personal anatomy.
"An important aspect of the detection technology in Hexwave is that it will provide a capability for accurate, high throughput weapon screening, ideally suited for the broad range of facilities that we have in our communities," Riker said. "This ranges from stadiums and malls to schools, hospitals or places of worship. This sense of peace of mind about security includes not having to be concerned about a health or privacy risk from the Hexwave detection system. It uses similar frequency as Wi-Fi, and the power is actually 200 times less than the Wi-Fi power you use in your homes.
"The images do not have any personally identifiable information and are only used by the machine to predict whether there is a weapon present. Actual weapon images and data are then used to further train the computer to expand its learning to understand what is or is not a threat, such as a handgun versus a set of car keys."
Reyes said the Hexwave testing effort in Utah would be at a "very experimental" level but noted that, if viable, the technology could be employed at numerous events that draw large numbers of people like the annual Sundance Film Festival.
Park City Police Chief Wade Carpenter told the Deseret News his department was always on the lookout for new tools to help the city which, besides Sundance, hosts over 270 events every year.
"We're continually looking at new technology," Carpenter said. "Artificial intelligence and machine learning is clearly a path that is really on the cusp of where security is going."
Carpenter said Hexwave was an "intriguing" tool that his department was looking at, but stressed that it was still just in an evaluation/assessment stage and there were no plans in place to roll it out.
In April, Liberty Defense announced an agreement to test Hexwave this summer at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia. The 19,000-seat indoor stadium is home to the city's NHL franchise, the Vancouver Canucks, and previously was the home arena for the short-lived NBA Vancouver Grizzlies. The venue also hosts concerts, award shows and was the hockey venue for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
Canucks Sports and Entertainment owner Francesco Aquilini, who is also an adviser to Liberty Defense, told the Vancouver Sun one of the advantages to the Hexwave system is it doesn't slow down crowd movement.
“What this does is it increases the velocity of people moving through gates,” Riker said. “It’s not intrusive and doesn’t have a big infrastructure.”
Reyes said as criminals ratchet up their knowledge and use of high-tech tools, his office will continue to look for technology collaborations, like the one with Liberty Defense, to grow his department's resources to put offenders in jail and keep Utahns safe.
"Predators and criminals are using technology to their advantage and are always trying to stay ahead of us," Reyes said. "As long as we stay within the confines of the Constitution we’ll use every chance and every bit of technology we can to try to keep up with, if not get ahead of, the criminals."
Mejia said the decision to allow Hexwave testing in Utah should have been preceded by an opportunity for both public information sharing and public input.16 comments on this story
"To decide whether this technology is something that can or should be used in Utah, we’d like to see the attorney general’s office provide more details and increased transparency about the 3D scanning system, the images it generates, the artificial intelligence software that interprets these images, how and where the images are stored and identified, and who has access to them," Mejia said. "We also believe that the public should be allowed to participate in policies governing how law enforcement uses new and invasive surveillance technology.”