Mass drug testing proposed.

In 2002 the police in Staffordshire got hold of a drug testing machine and began using it in pubs, clubs in the area. They annouced via the press that they would be mass testing everyone attending the V2003 festival. UKCIA took an interest...

At the end of 2002, the police in Staffordshire introduced a new scheme of mass drug testing, whereby customers going to visit a bar or club will indiscriminately, whether there is any suspicion of drug possession or not, be asked to provide a sample via means of a swab taken from their hands. This sample will be placed into a laptop computer (one of which costs £40,000) and will show up either green, amber or red. A red result will be taken as an indication of definite contact with drugs and the police will take proceedings from there as they see fit.

The workings of the laptop are at the moment a mystery to UKCIA - all that has been reported in the media is that out of 190 people tested in a Staffordshire nightclub in May 2003, 6 were found positive - but no drugs were found. Ignoring the issue of the legitimacy of these tests in the first place and their potential conflict with the public's civil rights, this does not sound like an effective way to accomplish even the aims of its users. However, not to be deterred, this machine is being rolled out to test the tens of thousands of people that will attend the Staffordshire V2003 festival (also known as V Festival) this summer.

This test is apparently "voluntary", however the police have said "If someone refuses, then it is a tick in the first box of suspicion", which can be interpreted in a number of ways, some more menacing than others. They have also applied pressure to venues within Staffordshire to adopt this testing procedure, effectively threatening the venues with losing their licenses. A leading human rights group in the UK, Liberty, finds this style of testing worrying in its implications, with a spokesman saying: "This is an extremely questionable use of police powers. The police cannot force someone who is not under arrest to take a drug test but they are implying they can. To then use a perfectly legitimate refusal to comply as part of the justification for suspicion is an abuse of policing powers."

In addition, as in previous years the V Festival is to be held in two seperate locations simultaneously. The other venue is to be in Chelmsford. However, the Essex police force who will be overseeing this V Festival location are not going to be useing this drug testing machine. Sergeant Chris White, operational co-ordinator, has pragmatically said "We all accept drugs are available at festivals, it's a fact of life", and expressed concerns that "We believe there might be an issue of human rights" with these tests.

We asked them to comment further, and got this response.

UKCIA shares these and other concerns about the indiscriminate use of this mystery £40,000 laptop and has written a letter addressing this issue to the Chief Constable of Staffordshire Police. Copies of this letter have also been sent to the Home Secretary, the MP for Stafford and the DAT co-ordinator for the Staffordshire area, as these are all people who should have an influence and further knowledge over this new policy.

The letter can be seen here.

We feel that if the police wish to subject us to such tests, the least they can do is provide information to the public on the test itself and surrounding policy, and equally importantly, justify its use to us, Liberty and any other concerned parties.

 

Read our letter and responses - click here

UKCIA later contacted the organisers of V Festival itself for their opinion on the situation - do they support these actions, or were they effectively forced into complying with these tests as many other Staffordshire venues reputedly have been? We were referred to their PR company, CakeMedia, for comment who can be emailed on this matter at vfestival@cakemedia.com. After some chasing, CakeMedia responded with a statement that they have been assured by Staffordshire Police that there are now no plans to mass drug screen of V2003 attendees.

Read our email to CakeMedia and their reply claiming no such drug testing would be taking place - here

We then wrote to the police to ask them to confirm this decision and explain why this change-of-heart had happened. After some time passed and no response was had, UKCIA wrote to the Sunday Times, who originally published the article claiming that this style of mass testing was to be used at V2003 to ask them to find out if the tests had been cancelled, and if so why.

To see our letter, click here.

Immediately afterwards, the fact that there is to be no such testing at V2003 was confirmed by the police themselves, who also claimed that no such plans ever existed as can be seen here.

This directly contradicted the above Sunday Times article "Festival fans face drug laptop test". It seems either the original article was wrong, or the police are covering up their original plans. UKCIA has written back to the police to try and determine which of these options is correct and elicit further information on the scheme.

We will bring you updates whenever possible. Whilst we are glad that this test is not to be used at V Festival, we fear that the majority of our questions and concerns have not been answered as yet.

Drug testing laptop

The mystery £40,000 laptop that is being used to conduct these tests is the "Itemiser" and is manufactured by GE Interlogix. An overview of the technology that is used in their products is provided by the company in a demonstration video on their website. The script goes as follows:

The ITEMISER works by heating the sample in the desorber to create vapors that are drawn into the detector and electrically charged by a patented ionization process. At the front of the detector, behind the desorber, is a semi-permeable membrane. Narcotics easily pass through the membrane, but inorganic materials and water vapor cannot. Once they pass through the membrane, the vapors reach the ionization chamber where they gain or lose electrons and become positively or negatively charged.

In the ionization chamber, the vapors react with dopant gases. The dopants are circulated inside the detector by the same pump that draws the sample into the detector. The dopants help to ensure that contraband substances are fully ionized, and simultaneously prevent the ionization of other substances that are not targeted for detection.

Once the ions are created, an electrical field is used to propel them from the ion trap at the front of the detector to the collector electrode at the other end. The current generated by the ions creates peaks that are displayed as a Plasmagram. By measuring the "time of flight" of the ions, each substance can be uniquely identified. This process allows detection of targeted contraband substances with high sensitivity and selectivity.