Technology to help war on drugs

BY CLAIRE MCENTEE
Last updated 05:00 13/07/2009

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Customs is looking to arm itself with digital tracking technology in the war against drug traffickers and smugglers.

Spokesman Rowan McArthur says it is planning to evaluate and trial "surveillance technology", but would not divulge further details. "We will not be elaborating on this for obvious reasons of security and the potential for compromising our work in fighting the trade in illicit drugs and other contraband."

About 20 per cent of illegal drugs imported into New Zealand are detected by Customs, according to a report by the National Drug Intelligence Bureau.

Geospatial Research Centre senior research scientist Steven Mills says it is unlikely that GPS technology would be used to track intercepted shipments, as satellite signals cannot penetrate buildings and metal shipping containers and any tracking unit was likely to be conspicuous. "Using GPS would probably require a large device with an antenna and some sort of transmitter."

GPS receivers rely on satellite signals to determine their location.

"Inertial sensors" measure acceleration and can be used for tracking, but the technology is not small enough to be deployed covertly and tends to become increasingly inaccurate over time, Dr Mills says.

Antony Dixon, chief executive of Lower Hutt RFID manufacturer Times-7, says RFID technology is often used for tracking and can be miniaturised so an RFID battery can be incorporated into a thin sticker. But the battery would have a range of only about 20 metres, making it impossible to track an item that was more than 20 metres from an antenna.

RFID batteries (or tags) transmit radio signals that are read by antennas.

Customs is also planning to research "next-generation x-ray and other screening technology".

Meanwhile, police will be able to use wireless video cameras under a proposed change to search and surveillance laws now before Parliament. Napier telco Airnet has suggested that police use battery-powered "keyhole" cameras that send encrypted video images over wireless broadband links.

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- The Dominion Post

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