Tagging People with Invisible Ink

In Montreal, police marked protesters with invisible ink to be able to identify them later. The next step is going to be a spray that marks people surreptitiously, maybe with SmartWater.

EDITED TO ADD (12/14): Official explanation.

Posted on December 7, 2011 at 6:13 AM • 23 Comments

Comments

Bahman M.December 7, 2011 6:40 AM

Either the police themselves didn't feel rightful to tag protesters or they didn't dare to tag the people in a normal way fearing the outrage of the crowd.

In both cases it shows that the police forces felt week and under pressure.

AlfonsoDecember 7, 2011 6:49 AM

Protesters solution: Find out what the police product is, use it on EVERY protester, passer-by, friends, acquaintances, use it busy bars, etc...

shadowfirebirdDecember 7, 2011 6:49 AM

Interesting. If I haven't broken the law, is it legal for the police to mark me invisibly 'just in case'? I don't believe that it's ethical, but is it legal?

Also, if I haven't broken the law, why on earth would the police want to?

In the actual case it appears that the protesters failed to comply with an order to move. If that is illegal, then they should be prosecuted. If it isn't, why would the police care about tracking whether they went back to the area?

Ross PattersonDecember 7, 2011 7:43 AM

I guess the "People's Mic" response to this would be for *everyone* to write a "5" on their hands in UV-visible marker :-)

Clive RobinsonDecember 7, 2011 8:08 AM

@ Shadowfirebird,

"Is it legal for the police to mark me invisibly 'just in case'? don't believe that it's ethical, but is it legal"

It's very probably illegal and very likely comes under "criminal damage" in many places (that have not exempted LEO's).

If you have a look at the history of "tracking and bugging devices" in various jurisdictions, you will often find sanctions being issued against LEA's by courts for "criminal damage", "theft of electricity" or similar. The result is usually further legislation with exemptions for LEO'S and those involved with "national security".

In Europe it's got to the point of wherever you have "placing on the market" regulations for compatability etc the all have an LEO / NatSec exception even on fundamental safety requirments such as electrical safety....

Which is just one reason why it's legal for a European LEO to use a tazer style stun gun (which could never ever get CE Compliance due to the fundemental LV electrical safety directive) on a suspect, but not the other way around...

Similar exemptions for LEO's exist in the US either formaly or informaly. Just recently we saw video footage of an LEO blatantly pepper spraying people who were absolutly not a threat to him or other officers, so he was effectivly assulting them.

The fact that such blatant behaviour was compleatly ignored by other LEO's strongly indicates that they thought it was all OK for whatever reason (formal or informal exemption). Hopefully since it's been made so public he will be kicked off of the force and prosecuted for assult etc, but somehow I recon the authorities will "look after him" instead of throwing the book at him...

vwmDecember 7, 2011 8:20 AM

I do not know about Canada. In Germany, Police can issue "sending-offs" against troublemakers. But during demonstrations that does not work very well, as it is difficult to know or to prove, whether or not someone was send off earlier or at a different corner. Painting people would work, but it is certainly illegal to openly shame somebody in that way. Invisibly painting people is an interesting work around. I have no idea, whether it would stand in court, however.

Dave Ming ChangDecember 7, 2011 8:41 AM

What!? You mean they don't insert a tracking chip at birth. Talk about lame.

AdamDecember 7, 2011 9:39 AM

I don't see how smart water is viable unless they have a way to change the formulation for each individual protester, or intend to hose them down daily as some kind of metric of which days they were there or not, or as some means of tracking their movements from one place to another.

Aside from uniquely tagging them, how do you go about sampling the "smart water"? You'd have to swab them, analyse the data. This kind of implies you've already arrested them for something so what does the smart water do for you that couldn't be done by other means?

RudolphDecember 7, 2011 9:40 AM

That stuff has been used for a long time and is also in many formulations of pepper spray.

SmartWater, not to be confused with glaceau smartwater: a tasty but very expensive bottled water with added electrolytes.

shadowfirebirdDecember 7, 2011 9:44 AM

I still can't see a rational reason why cops would want to tag protesters; at least outside of Germany (thanks, VWM).

Although it has just occurred to me that it might have some function for *protesters* to mark certain *cops*...

Arnaud PalissonDecember 7, 2011 10:21 AM

The official explanation can be found here, on Montreal Metropolitan Police's website :
http://spvm.qc.ca/fr/documentation/3_1_1_actualites.asp?noAct=446

In GooglEnglish :

Individuals identified with fluorescent ink: the explanations of the SPVM
30 November 2011, 5 pm

In events where there are mass arrests or when people are released under a condition, the investigators use, in some cases, the ink visible only to the UV rays (the same system as that used in some licensed institutions). The purpose being to ensure that the effects will be delivered to the right person, once it released. In the case of the dismantling of buildings and facilities issued by the Borough of Ville-Marie for the Square Victoria last Friday, a dozen people, who were passive, were identified by investigators of the SPVM. These people were released without charges or findings. However, if these people were on the scene, they were faced with possible charges. Our goal was to liberate people without charges while providing their personal effects. As mentioned earlier, with the very good cooperation of protesters with police officers on the spot, most of the operation in order and calm. The attitude demonstrated by these occupants is a fine example of civic-mindedness which facilitated the police intervention. The discussion, the collaboration of the occupants and the mediation efforts have been important factors in the successful conduct of the dismantling.

John Galt IIIDecember 7, 2011 10:45 AM

The Soviet secret police used to have some UV-fluorescing powder that they would dust on doorknobs to track people who had touched them. It was a horribly toxic carcinogen. Eventually, whole cities were dusted and it became useless. My memory isn't as sharp as it was before the 9,000 pounds of beer, so some details may bee incorrect. Or the whole story could be a CIA plant about the reckless disregard for human life exhibited by the Soviets and the Chinese.

FrederickDecember 7, 2011 10:53 AM

So they basically use this as an invisible, non transferable coat check to make releasing faster in mass arrests.

zorgDecember 7, 2011 11:39 AM

@Adam:
I don't see how smart water is viable unless they have a way to change the formulation for each individual protester, or intend to hose them down daily as some kind of metric...


SmartWater does not seem so good for that. But perhaps those "invisible ink" (fluoresecent or not) variants would be better but it would still have to have a special sprayer that can spray some kind of non-washable barcode (unique to each individual and containing the current date or what now) onto some surface on the body...

Adrian LopezDecember 7, 2011 11:55 AM

So it's basically a way for police to tag peaceful protesters as being subject to arrest should they return to the area where they gathered?

How long until peaceful protests are only legal in cyberspace?

DDecember 7, 2011 5:11 PM

I have a history of allergic reactions to UV ink-stamps. (Hives, Localized swelling.) What happens when I react to this ink? What happens if it's systemic? If I die?

That is not exactly an unreasonable question. Anaphylactic shock can leave me brain-dead in under 30 seconds.

Dirk PraetDecember 7, 2011 7:23 PM

Assuming that LEO's/LEA's are probably exempt from criminal damage charges related to using such techniques, I can't help but wonder why they are not using manure guns when dealing with peaceful protesters. Little physical damage is being inflicted, but to me it sounds just as effective as both a marker and a deterrent when compared to more high-tech solutions as the one cited by Bruce.

On top of that it's probably cheaper too, not too mention 100% natural and biodegradable. From an economical point of view, struggling farmers could make a more than welcome extra buck working as government contractors for the local LEA in charge of crushing domestic hippie terrorists.

meDecember 9, 2011 1:12 PM

I'm going to say something really shallow and hope I will be forgiven for it:

But..."SmartWater"? That's the best name they could come up with?

I don't know about the legal implications, if any, for using this um, technology. Why can't they use the good old standbys of arrest and interrogation of whichever protestors they feel are serious threats to state security? There *are* people who do harm to further their cause and aren't they typically people who have been under surveillance for awhile? Yeah, the cops blow it a lot and yeah, the liberty of everyone is getting infringed on.

People should be able to protest and use technology to do so without their civil rights being infringed upon or feeling that civil servants are going to become aggressive and hostile towards them. Creating an antagonistic environment for protestors does not,imho, further the legitimate aims of frustrating the efforts of evil doers.

Pity those who have to walk that razor's edge. I'm sure it's very stressful.

So please produce technology with cooler names than 'SmartWater'. BTW, maybe they could add a pleasant odor to it for the dedicated resistors who have little chance to shower.

When people smell nice things, even cops and evildoers I bet, they calm down. And maybe in these kinds of circumstances a little 'calm' is needed to promote reasonableness.


:) Hey, I said it was gonna be shallow, sort of.

haxxmaxxDecember 9, 2011 5:46 PM

this won't work anymore now that the protesters know about it. cover the areas they mark in vaseline or waterproof industrial grease or something. wash off, return the next day.

the montreal PD is on the forefront of freedom stealing initiatives. they are currently trying to outlaw any protest while wearing 'a mask' but the areas where they can arrest you for wearing one and exactly what constitutes 'a mask' is not defined.. so during a city-wide security alert (hosting olympics, large downtown party.. something else) they can simply arrest you walking out of your apartment wearing roy orbison glasses and a wig.

too bad mask protesting is essential to freedom so your landlord, boss, or criminals you are protesting against (ahem.. certain unamed US based science based church organizations) can't seek retribution afterwards

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