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Lethbridge Herald Newspaper Archives

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Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - July 27, 1973, Lethbridge, Alberta 20 THE IRHMIDOE HIRAID Mday, July 27. 1973 Brain disrupters control crowds By ROBERT McDONALD Christian Science Monitor LONDON A British elec- tronics firm has developed a crowd control device which in- capacitates people by interfer- ring with their brain waves. Known as a photic driver, it uses flashing lights and puls- ing sound to disturb normal rhythms of the brain. Once again, the advance of technology has produced a de- vice, potentially attractive to polke, which raises serious questions about the morality and safety of using supposedly benign weapons against civilian crowds. Like CS gas, the pho- tic driver is indiscriminate. It affects the innocent along with rioters. And it could well be dangerous to some individuals. The designer, Charles Bo- vill, describes his invention as "a nonviolent weapon" and says that it wffl merely "dis- concert" people. Mr. Bovill is technical direc- tor of the London-based firm Allen International, a major supplier of police and military equipment. Photic driving is a well-do- cumented medical phenome- non. It is the effect which cau- ses some people to feel sick and dizzy after remaining too long in a discotheque. Mysterious waves The brain rhythms concern- i ed, called alpha rhythms, are: associated with electrical im- pulses in tiie brain about which know little. Their frequency varies from person to person in a range of about 15 to 24 cycles per second. A sfight variation of half a pulse a second has been associated with loss of control of various body functions- The photic driver uses flash- ing infrared "fight" and puls- ing ultrasonic noise to pull ftese brain waves from their normal frequency. The indivi- dual subjected to the treatment sees and hears nothing. If the alpha rhythms are dis- turbed at frequencies exceed- ing an individual's threshold, experts believe the effect may be to cause epileptic fits. Mr. Bobffl admits that his advice might make "a very few people very ill" To use the photic driver in ordinary street, police would require one large strobosccpic lamp about the size of the spot- light on a fire truck and two loudspeakers like those now used on squad cars. The device would effectively debilitate anyone within a six- hundred foot radius. Demon- strators would not have to be in the direct path of the "light' to be Wtaeneed. "Light" refekted off buildings would also affect teem and "sound reverberating In a narrow street would add to the contus- ion. Police using the equipment would have to work from inside a closed van watching the op- eration via television. Phalan- xes of foot police, who would eventually have to disperse the demonstrators, would have to be withdrawn from the area until the "light" and "sound" were switched off. Mr. Bovill says that he would bis equipment at about 11 cycles per second, well below the critical threshold of 15 cydes per second. Nasty business (The Greater London Coun- cil recently banned strobe lights in discotheques flashing at speeds greater than eight cydes per second because of lack of knowledge about pos- sible effects.) At such speeds. Mr. Bovill says, people would become a lethargic, dizzy, and perhaps nauseous. Some rioters would put their hands over their eyes and others Would put then- fin- gers in their ears. "They would fed depressed and say to themselves: 'I don't like this environment I must get out of here.' Those who didn't leave of their own ac- cord would be enfeebled and po- lice could disperse them with- out having to use truncheons, riot gas, or other more harm- ful weapons. That's tiie theory at least Mr. Bovffl's critics point oat that there :s nothing to prevent an unscrupulous user from cranking up the pulse rate to a level which would be danger- ous. They also deplore the in- discriminate nature of the de- vice, which makes no distinc- tion between persons burling bricks and those who are mere- ly chanting slogans. They are particularly concerned that, in- stead of being used on rioters, the equipment might be turned on peaceful crowds ignoring police orders to disperse. Jonathan Hosenhead, presi dent of the British Society for Social Kesponsibffity in Science, descrftes the photic driver as "a new and unusually obscene dimension in the nasty busi- ness of crowd control." And Dr. Joe Hanlan, who first broke the photic driver story in the journal New Scientist says, "We know so little about the ef- fect on the brain of this sort of phenomenon that we should be very chary afojut using the device. Our bodies know bow to react to a swinging night stick and we know bow to get oat of the way of riot gas. But even the experts are divided as to when thresholds have been reached with the photic Ill-informed Mr. Bovill sees such com- ment as "ID-informed misre- presentation" of Ms device and says that description of his equipment as some sort of 1984 vintage gadget is "gross exag- like to see weapons that do not fall or maim and tins is a truly nonviolent he says. As for the political issues surrounding use of the device, Mr. BoviH says ft is the same people turn out for most demonstrations. "We know who they are and -who pays for them." He points out that under Bri- tish law, once the Wot Act has been read any person remain- ing in the environs is commit- ting a feiony and therefore po- lice are legally justified in sub- jecting noters to the photic I driver. Mr. Bovia admits that fte photic driving technique could have much wider application, for example, in a "persuasion' bomb." Barrages of "pyrotech- nics flashing at nasty rates" could be laid down over a city to immobolize its inhabitants. It bas been reported that the VS. Air Force has been con- ducting research into tins flick- j er effect since 1964. With regard to his own de- vice. Mr. Bovffl beheves It wall be at least five years before it's available for sale. It is not a high priority project with Allen International, whose main trade is hi night vision and bugging devices "In any Mr. Bovil] says. "I 'nil not put this out as a weapon until I'm certain that it won't mean people fal- Lng all over the place with epi- SOFT DRINKS Cragmont Regular or Low Calorie Asserted Flavours Zip Top 10 H. Ox. 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