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Ankle bracelets detect intoxication through sweat

In Illinois county, problem drinkers are being fitted with devices that transmit sobriety levels to authorities.
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Written by Richard Koman on

Electronic bracelets aren't just for house arrests anymore. In Illinois, drunk drivers are being fitted with electronic ankle bracelets that will measure alcohol consumption by testing perspiration, according to the Daily Herald.

At least 4,000 people are wearing the gadget today, and another 2,800 are waiting to be outfitted in the 38 states where SCRAM, Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring, is in place.

State's Attorney Joseph Birkett said Tuesday: "We still have to work out a lot of details, but this is going to focus on people who clearly have an alcohol problem and their alcohol use is tied to their crime."

The technology premiered in Michigan and went on the market April 2003. The eight-ounce ankle bracelet checks hourly for traces of alcohol and stores that data throughout the day, according to the device manufacturer, Alcohol Monitoring Systems, of Colorado.

The wearer must stand within 30 feet of a modem in his home once a day for up to 15 minutes so the results can be transmitted through a telephone line to a secure computer system, which is monitored by either the manufacturer, service provider or, in some cases, probation or other court officials.

The privacy issues are of primary concern, however.

"You want to make sure it's accurate and that there's a process in place to appeal a reading if it's in dispute," said Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.

Added Steven Greenberg, a noted Chicago defense attorney: "The rules they put on people as conditions of bond are unconstitutional because the accused is presumed innocent. You're micromanaging someone's life when they haven't been convicted of anything."

Some predict that technology will make such substantial advances in coming decades that drunk driving may one day not even be an option.

Charlene Chapman, the executive director of Schaumburg-based Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists, attended a seminar where one manufacturer claimed laser technology would gauge sobriety. A drunk driver's car would simply not operate.

"We're kind of just getting the first glimpse at the future," Chapman said. "Technology is going to be the answer to dealing with problem drinkers."
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