The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), an intelligence agency in the U.S. federal government, has reportedly spent at least $22 million funding the development of surveillance clothing, dubbed “SMART ePants,” according to The Intercept.
The program, called Smart Electrically Powered and Networked Textile Systems (SMART) ePants, features shirts, pants, socks, and even underwear capable of recording audio, video, and geolocation data for the purpose of spying on the wearer and their surroundings. The research is being conducted through ODNI’s subsidiary research arm, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA).
According to a press report put out by the agency, the clothing is designed to look and feel like any regular piece of clothing, and will be washable. Firms and institutions working on the product, and who have therefore received grant funding or research contracts from ODNI, include SRI International, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Nautilus Defense, Leidos, Inc., and Areté.
The garments are intended to be used by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Intelligence Community (an umbrella term for 18 government agencies including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)), Department of Defense (Pentagon), and other agencies for data collection purposes.
“IARPA is proud to lead this first-of-its-kind effort for both the IC and broader scientific community which will bring much-needed innovation to the field of ASTs,” said SMART ePANTS Program Manager Dr. Dawson Cagle as quoted in the piece. “To date no group has committed the time and resources necessary to fashion the first integrated electronics that are stretchable, bendable, comfortable, and washable like regular clothing.”
As The Intercept reported, Facebook and Instagram parent company Meta is also looking to finance the development of smart clothing and textiles, as they have a job listing for just such a role on their website. The job description notes that the ideal candidate is someone “who can work with a team of researchers working in haptics, sensing, tracking, and materials science.”
Intercept additionally interviewed Annie Jacobsen, author of The Pentagon’s Brain, about the technology. “They’re now in a position of serious authority over you. In TSA, they can swab your hands for explosives,” she said. “Now suppose SMART ePANTS detects a chemical on your skin — imagine where that can lead.”