New security measures being tested by resorts in Las Vegas are capable of using low-level microwaves to scan individuals for contraband and guns without their consent. This is an invasion of privacy and contravenes the right issued by the State of Nevada to carry a concealed firearm.

The Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino was opened in 1969 as the first in a series of unique Y-shaped buildings to be built on the Las Vegas strip, and is home to the largest sports book in Las Vegas. Its location next to the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Las Vegas Country Club has made it one of the more familiar resorts on Paradise Road, and despite changing hands many times and suffering a fire in in 1981 in which eight people died, it has remained a feature of the Las Vegas landscape for almost half a century.

What is it and how does it work?

gun scannerHowever, in November 2017, Westgate began testing new surveillance technology – a discrete weapon sensing device called the Patscan Cognitive Microwave Radar (CMR), distributed by a company based in Canada, PatriotOne Technologies. Patscan CMR combines short-range radar with machine learning algorithms to scan individual guests for guns, knives, and bombs in real time.

Patscan units are small, and can be hidden inside existing infrastructure such as walls, doorways, turnstiles, and elevators. They are composed of a service box and two antennae, which cumulatively have a footprint of a movie poster.

The first antenna emits 1,000 pulses of electromagnetic radiation per second, at frequencies between 500 MHz and 5 Ghz – enough to scan for materials but not enough to cook anyone, or even interfere with a cell phone’s signal. Operating at such a weak level limits the detection range to about two meters, however, within choke points in the building’s architecture, this is more than enough.

The second antenna monitors for electromagnetic patterns inside that two-meter range. When you hit an object with electromagnetic radiation, it resonates according to its shape and material composition. Pistols, grenades, rifles, knives, machine guns, and explosives all resonate in the frequency range that Patscan emits, however prosthetics, laptops, and almost everything else does too.

Electrical engineer Natalia Nikolova, director of McMaster University’s Electromagnetic Vision Research Laboratory and the woman whose research Patscan is based on, says each object resonates differently, creating what she calls “an object’s radar signature.” The Patscans will be updated with newly identified radar signatures in a manner PatriotOne CEO Martin Cronin compared with antivirus software, and, in future, the device’s machine learning algorithms will allow Patscans to differentiate between normal and abnormal signatures – essentially learning how to identify an unusual situation.

Westgate’s security personnel and a team of engineers from PatriotOne are currently testing Patscan devices on the resort’s employees before rolling them out across the resort, and hope to deploy the device more broadly in 2018.

A necessary evil or a breach of privacy?

Recent mass shootings in Las Vegas have clearly led to demands for increased security and for guns to be specifically targeted. The shooting at a country music festival on the Las Vegas strip in February 2017 left 58 dead and more than 500 wounded.

When police entered gunman Stephen Paddock’s hotel room at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino they found 23 firearms, some of which were modified to fire more rapidly – essentially circumventing the 30-year old automatic weapons ban that makes it almost impossible for a civilian to legally acquire one. Faced with such terrible events, it comes as no surprise that resorts want to tighten security, reassure guests, and keep business ticking over.

However, resorts such as Westgate should remember where they are. The State of Nevada guarantees the right of its citizens to open-carry, and with a permit it’s perfectly legal to hide a weapon on or near your person.

A whole range of paraphernalia exists on the market to facilitate concealed carry, and many shoulder holsters are designed specifically for concealed carry, and make much of the fact that they hide your pistol very well. Scanners like this completely undermine that ability. Furthermore, the city of Las Vegas represents freedom, excess, and as the city so famously advertises—unaccountability.

Hidden scanners that invade an individual’s privacy and contravene state-given rights are the antithesis of what Las Vegas represents. If this technology proves successful and the trend is to spread, legislation may be required to limit the use of devices like this in order to protect people’s rights, or privacy-enabling technology must develop in tandem.