Smartwater is a proprietary forensic asset marking system that is applied to personal, commercial, and industrial items of value to deter theft and to identify culprits for prosecution. The non-hazardous liquid leaves a long-lasting and unique identifier that is invisible to the naked eye except under an ultraviolet black light. The SmartWater anti-criminal system is marketed globally by Smartwater Technology Ltd.
SmartWater consists of a liquid containing a code that can be read under ultraviolet light. It is intended to be applied to valuable items, so that if they are stolen and later seized by police, their original owner can be determined. Another application is a sprinkler system that sprays a burglar with the (invisible) fluid, which cannot be washed off and lasts for months, to generate evidence that connects a suspect to a specific location.
SmartWater comes in three variants, "Index Solutions", "Indsol Tracer" and "SmartWater Instant", which use different techniques to embed such a code. According to Phil Cleary, this allows "millions of chemical signatures" and is an identifier superior to genetic fingerprinting DNA.
The "Index Solutions" variant is a water-based solution containing low-level additives, which are blended using a binary sequence to ensure uniqueness. The Index Solution is contained within a spray system that is activated by an intruder detection unit, similar to a burglar alarm, and marks the intruder with a unique forensic spray, which the police locate using a black (UV) light.
The "SmartWater Instant" variant consists mainly of a copolymer of vinyl acetate in isopropyl alcohol. This fluid contains millions of tiny fragments; a unique number called "SIN" ("SmartWater identification number") and registered in a national police database together with the owner's details, is etched into each of those particles.
Use and effectiveness
Security expert Bruce Schneier has pointed out that abuse of SmartWater is possible, because an owner of a personalised solution can easily administer it to other people's valuable items. However, in a later article, Schneier accepted that SmartWater worked as a deterrent, citing the publication of a research paper prepared by a team led by Professor Martin Gill, who interviewed over 100 criminals and asked whether or not the presence of SmartWater would deter them from committing a burglary, with 74% saying that it would.
In addition, the company developed a holistic crime reduction programme, called 'The SmartWater Strategy'. During the first six months of a pilot scheme involving 100 households in a part of Kent, police recorded a reduction in burglary of 94%.
Another area that has used the 'SmartWater Strategy' is Nottingham, where 30,000 homes have now had their property marked with individual SmartWater signatures and covert operations using SmartWater were instigated by the police. There has been a reported a 40% reduction in burglary since the start of the initiative.
- Water used to out-smart thieves BBC News, 2 July 2005
- 'Guilty burglars detected by glow' - BBC News, 2005-09-04
- Robert Andrews: Digital Water Marks Thieves Wired News, 15 February 2005
- "SmartWater Spray system". CSI New York. 2008. http://www.smartwater.com/PUG/Strategy/Promoting-SmartWater/TV-Clips/Video_Viewer.aspx?file=/videos/23-12-2008/Channel-Five-CSI-New-York---Glowing-Thief.aspx.
- IndSol Tracer Solutions - Material Safety Data Sheet SmartWater Technology Ltd, 9 February 2005
- SmartWater Instant - Material Safety Data Sheet SmartWater Technology Ltd, 9 February 2005
- How I made it: Phil Cleary, Founder Of SmartWater Rachel Bridge: The Times, October 11, 2009
- Schneier on Security: Smart Water February 10, 2005
- Perpetuity Research Professor Martin Gill profile
- Schneier on Security: SmartWater January 21, 2008
- Ali Lwanga convicted due to SmartWater evidence BBC News 2008
- SmartWater reduces burglay by 94% BBC News May 2009
- Nottingham City: SmartWater covert operation (Windows Media). BBC1 News.
- Burglaries reduced in Nottingham Nottingham City Homes