Memorial Day saw Lindsey Lohan become the latest in a long line of celebrities who were forced to wear a high-tech alcohol monitoring anklet. This is the second time Lohan has been ordered by a court to wear the device. Created by Denver-based Alcohol Monitoring Systems, the SCRAM anklet tracks blood alcohol content through perspiration and will alert authorities if the wearer drinks no matter where they are. Over 130,000 US citizens have worn the device since its debut in 2003 and, if LiLo is any indication, there will be many more in the years ahead. Check out the enthusiastically ominous video about SCRAM from AMS below.
Prevention may be the better side of cure. That reasoning is leading to an uptake in health monitoring systems, but it’s also bleeding over into criminal justice. We’ve seen a rise in surveillance systems in the US and Europe for everything from warfare to CCTV cameras to the internet. The Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring (SCRAM) system fits into this paradigm quite well. Not satisfied with merely punishing offense, society seems bent on preventing offenders from committing their crimes again. There’s something admirable in the spirit of that sentiment, but the real-world results leave me uncomfortable. For starters, AMS is improving the quality of these SCRAM monitors: shrinking their size and including house arrest capabilities:
Criminal courts now use SCRAM devices in all 50 states except Hawaii. The reports from the anklet are wirelessly sent to a central database (Scramnet – sounds delightful) where local law enforcement agents can access the information through a web browser. It’s a very easy way to track and monitor the habits of those on bail or probation. Accuracy is fairly high, with the anklets able to detect a BAC of 0.02 or higher (which corresponds to less than one drink per hour for an average adult man).
The devices have a wide appeal to offenders as well as police because they offer an alternative to jail time. Wear the anklet, stay off alcohol and you get to keep out of prison. Not only that, but you get to have the same fashion sense as many celebrities. Besides Lindsay Lohan, there’s also been Michelle Rodriguez, Eve, Jayson Williams, and many others. Tracy Morgan, who had to wear SCRAM in real life, parodied the device on 30 Rock to great comic effect. For some, SCRAM may even be a path towards sobriety. As recently discussed in the New York Times, the anklet has had a remarkably high success rate in keeping offenders off alcohol in Queens.
SCRAM may be a success now, but where does the use of these monitors begin and end? In the future we will be able to provide a much more indepth look at the human body in real time. Alcohol and other drugs will likely be trackable, but so will blood sugar, exercise, perhaps even neurological conditions and emotional states. Our sense of privacy will have to shift as more of our personal data is released into the online cloud, but I’m not sure I’m ready to have my bodily functions added into the mix. Will parents one day be able to use these devices on their teens? Will insurance agencies require them for customers? It’s all fun and games when we watch Lindsay Lohan sport a SCRAM with a designer dress, but the power and range of these devices is growing. Better to figure out how we want to handle the questions of privacy and information now before we all end up wearing one.