A camera that can see through people's clothing at distances of up to 80 feet has been developed to help detect weapons, drugs and explosives.

The camera could be deployed in railway stations, shopping centers and other public spaces.

Although it can see objects under clothes, its designers say the images do not show anatomical details. However, it is likely to increase fears that Britain has become a surveillance society.

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The new technology, known as the T5000 system, has attracted interest from police forces, train companies and airport operators as well as government agencies.

It has been developed by ThruVision, an Oxfordshire-based company spun out from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, one of the British government's leading physics research centers.

It was designed for use in spacecraft and astronomy but researchers soon realized that cameras capable of seeing through clouds of cosmic dust could also see through clothing.

This week the camera will be displayed at the Home Office scientific development branch's annual exhibition, Britain's premier showcase for security equipment, to be held on an RAF airbase in Buckinghamshire.

ThruVision already offers a smaller system designed for office foyers that can scan through clothing at a range of 30 to 40 feet.

This has been used at the Canary Wharf complex in east London, which is home to several global banks and is regarded as a target for terrorists. The Dubai Mercantile Exchange has a similar installation.

The system can be linked to a computer so that it can automatically scan anyone passing and alert its human operator to anything suspicious.

Clive Beattie, ThruVision's chief executive, said: "Acts of terrorism have shaken the world in recent years and security precautions have been tightened globally. The T5000 dramatically extends the range over which we can scan people."

Bill Foster, the president of Thermal Matrix, an American defense contractor specializing in imaging systems for the U.S. military, is one customer. He said: "This could be deployed at major sporting events, concerts and rail stations as well as for military use."

The technology works by detecting and measuring terahertz waves, or T-waves for short. These are a form of electromagnetic radiation, emitted by all people and objects that lie between the infrared and microwave parts of the spectrum.

The waves from any given material also carry a distinctive signature, offering the potential to distinguish Semtex plastic explosive from modeling clay and cocaine from sugar.