Smart Phones, Smart Tablets, and Now “Smart” Guns? A Blessing for Gun-Control Advocates or an Inevitable Privacy Issue?

The Smart Gun was an innovative concept debuted in the most recent James Bond movie, Skyfall.  The weapon issued to James Bond would only operate in Bond’s hands.  Today, that imaginary movie concept is a reality.

Armatix GmbH, a German company, has developed a personalized firearm for sale in the United States. Named the Amatrix iP1, the .22-caliber pistol will only operate when it is in close proximity to its owner. The Smart System technology is centered on a radio-controlled watch, iW1 active RFID, activated by means of a five-digit PIN code. RFID, an acronym for radio-frequency identification, consists of miniature tags that use radio waves to exchange data between reading devices. Here, the RFID is placed in the watch and the pistol. When the “smart” gun is within range of the watch, the owner can activate the weapon—releasing the locking device.

The owner can also control time-controlled deactivation, such that if the gun is knocked out of the owner’s hand, the gun can automatically deactivate itself. The pistol is now on sale at the Oak Tree Gun Club in Newhall, California. The retail price is $1,399 and the watch costs an additional $400.

Kodiak Industries, a Utah-based company, has developed a newly patented fingerprinting technology named “Intelligun.” Unlike the radio transmittal technology in Amatrix iP1, the Intelligun technology unlocks the gun for its owner and other authorized users based on biometrics. Other “smart” gun technology under research includes voice recognition, size of hand or finger recognition, and RFID chips in other objects.

This new, fascinating technology comes at the blessing of gun-control activists. Armatix GmbH labels its new pistol as “consistent concept of gun safety for the future.” It will ensure that only authorized gun owners can operate the handgun, thus minimizing the chance of the handgun falling into the wrong hands. Recently, Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey advocated for a gun control bill that would finally produce a solution for firearm violence. The bill includes a federal requirement that all newly manufactured guns to be “personalized” like the Amatrix iP1. These special features would add further protections to the current federal legislation on firearms. The Brady Act, a 1993 amendment to the Gun Control Act, mandates FBI background checks of individuals prior to any gun sale form any federally-licensed merchant or manufacturer. The Gun Control Act prohibits the sale of firearms to anyone under ten identified categories, which would be barred by a background check, i.e. a convicted felon, a fugitive from justice, or an individual who is adjudicated mentally ill or committed to a mental institution.  Gun-control advocates stress that closing in on this secondary market of firearms is a necessary step in the gun control dilemma.

Yet, the current trend in “smart” gun technology will inevitably bring with it a host of privacy and security concerns. Many are alarmed by the development and emerging popularity of biometric fingerprint technology. Data is collected, identities are established, and then data is stored and compared. Thus, the central concern will be on how this biometric fingerprint will be collected, used, and retained. Fingerprints are personal information that distinguishes individuals from one another. The use of this technology will raise Fourth Amendment concerns in the capture of the biometric identifier. The emergence of “smart” guns will create an interesting issue on the application of privacy protections on biometrics when obtained by the government after an arrest for a serious crime. The U.S. Supreme Court has been clear that an individual does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his or her fingerprints. But as previously mentioned, fingerprints and RFID technology are just the beginning in “smart” gun technology. Congress must act on addressing the technological advances in the firearm industry by updating the current federal legislation on firearms to meet the demands of the 21st century. Congress must strike a balance between the right to privacy and the interest in keeping our communities safe from gun violence.

More information regarding the Amatrix iP1 can be found at here.