Hair examination can help in tracing terrorists

Published 16 July 2009

U.K. researchers devise a test which uses laser to determine the recent whereabouts of an individual by analyzing hair strands

Researchers in the United Kingdom have devised a laser test that can determine the recent whereabouts of an individual by analyzing hair strands. The Guardian’s Rajeev Syal reports that the British government wants to use the new technology to test the alibis of terrorism suspects and asylum seekers.

The science behind the technology comes from researchers at the National Metrology Institute in Teddington, Middlesex:

Each region across the world is believed to have a unique isotopic profile, reflected in the food, water and air particles. Anyone who visits a specific region is thought to absorb elements from the immediate environment.

Dr Rebeca Santamaría-Fernández, the leading scientist involved, said: “We are what we eat, and the small variations in the relationship between elements reflect changes to our diet, which can in turn be related to movements from one region to another. The hope is that this can be used to test alibis and explanations from those under suspicion.”

British human rights groups object to the hair tests, arguing they can be abused and that alternatives — such as intercept evidence or more police on the ground — are better counterterrorism policies.