By Joe Cadillic, publisher of the MassPrivatel Blog
Editor’s Note: The day after Joe published this piece on his blog, Wired.com came out with a story about another company trying to do the same thing. The piece was entitled: Driving While Baked? Inside the High-Tech Quest to Find Out. Joe has given the NMA permission to repost his blog on this important motorist topic.
If Mass General Hospital (MGH) has its way, law enforcement officers in the United States will soon be using portable functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) scanners on motorists.
A recent Boston Globe article describes fNIRS as a “breakthrough” in detecting marijuana impairment.
“Boston researchers say they’ve developed a new, noninvasive technique for detecting marijuana highs that can reliably tell the difference between people who are truly impaired by the drug and those who merely used it recently.”
What has happened to so-called Drug Recognition Experts (DRE)? Have the courts finally realized that police officers using pupil dilation charts to determine which type of drugs a motorist is under is junk science?
Nope, because soon, DRE police officers across the country will be using pupil dilation charts and portable fNIRS brain scanners to determine if someone is under the influence of drugs.
“For so long, our model has been alcohol, so there’s been a lot of focus on breath and blood levels,” Dr. Jodi Gilman, who led the research, added, “Our thought was, ‘What about looking directly at the brain?’ “
The MGH study claims that fNIRS scanners are accurate 76 percent of the time.
“The scientists trained a computer algorithm to spot the differences in oxygenated hemoglobin between those who were deemed high and those who were not. Later, analyzing only the “after” scans, the software yielded false positives in just 10 percent of subjects and correctly guessed which were impaired about 76 percent of the time, a significant improvement over existing techniques and a figure the researchers believe they can boost substantially with further refinements.”
Claiming that fNIRS is 76 percent accurate and yielded just 10 percent false positives doesn’t add up. Either fNIRS gets it right 76 percent of the time or it does not. But without any independent research to back up MGH’s claims, the public will probably never know if those figures are close to being accurate.
If we use the history of breathalyzer source codes being hidden from researchers as a barometer, then one can safely assume that fNIRS scanner source codes will be no different.
The image of government agents stopping motorists under a pretext and forcing them to submit to a field sobriety test, breathalyzer, blood draw and roadside brain scan is something that film director Wes Craven would have turned into a horror movie in the 1980s.
Both Harvard University and Mass General Hospital are working together to turn cops into brain scanning marijuana detectors according to The Harvard Gazette.
“Our research represents a novel direction for impairment testing in the field,” says lead author Jodi Gilman, investigator in the Center for Addiction Medicine, MGH, and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “Our goal was to determine if cannabis impairment could be detected from activity of the brain on an individual level. This is a critical issue because a ‘breathalyzer’ type of approach will not work for detecting cannabis impairment, which makes it very difficult to objectively assess impairment from THC during a traffic stop.”
What “novel direction” will our justice system take when it authorizes 700,000 cops to scan people’s brains looking for marijuana impairment.
As the Harvard Gazette points out, there are considerable advantages to turning cops into infrared brain scanning pot detectors.
“While the study did not specifically assess fNIRS in roadside assessments of impaired driving, it did cite considerable advantages for such an application. These include the feasibility of inexpensive, lightweight, battery-powered fNIRS devices that allow data to either be stored on wearable recording units or transmitted wirelessly to a laptop. Moreover, fNIRS technology could be incorporated into a headband or cap, and thus require minimal set-up time.”
Read a different way; Mass General Hospital and Harvard University would profit immensely from selling portable fNIRS scanners to law enforcement
As the website Breathalyzeralcoholtester.com points out, selling portable alcohol detectors is a hugely profitable business.
“Cost per test is roughly $0.06 each time. Bill and coin operated versions are available. Maintenance is easy. The pre-calibrated field replaceable sensor has eliminated the delays and complications of recalibration by allowing users to simply snap out an old sensor module and “snap in” a new one.”
From ignition interlock devices installed in cars, to mandatory “in-air” alcohol detectors in new cars, to brain scanning motorists, Big Brother has effectively destroyed our Bill of Rights in the name of public safety.
When it comes to fNIRS scanners and policing in America, one cannot help but think of the image from the 1980’s movie Scanners and the poster’s iconic words:
“There are 4 billion people on earth. 237 are Scanners. They have the most terrifying powers ever created…and they are winning.”
Giving hundreds of thousands of cops terrifying new powers to scan 331 million people’s brains is best left to Hollywood because if portable fNIRS scanners become a reality then driving in America will become a real-life horror movie.
Joe Cadillic is a former private investigator and a member of the Digital Fourth, Boston chapter. He is a privacy/civil rights advocate blogger with over 4 million hits.
The opinions expressed in posts to the NMA Blog belong to the author and do not necessarily represent the National Motorists Association. The content of the NMA Blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice. No representations are made regarding the accuracy of NMA Blog posts or links found within those posts.
This whole concept is based on the presumption that cannabis impairs driving ability. I have strong doublts. I used to, and to this day, know people who when skiing, duck into the woods and “get baked” they then go right out and ski moguls, which is and incredibly fast, complex mind/neuromuscular activity. A miscalulation of less than a second can result in loss of control and possibly a fall. As long as we are making presumptive analogies upon which to enact policing practices, maybe cannabis should be compared to tobacco rather than alcohol. Until the mid 80’s I almost always smoked cannabis when driving. If anything it just made me a more mellow and less aggresive driver.