What is Headspace?

Headspace is Amber Marks's satirical account of her research into the policing of smell - she uses developments in smell research as an allegory for the surveillance society. Amber was working as a barrister when she started spotting sniffer dogs on her travels to courts in different parts of the country. Disturbed by the implications for civil liberties (who needs a warrant when you've got a dog) and cynical about the supposed infallibility of canine intelligence (barking up the wrong knee), Amber started researching the phenomenon. To her amazement she discovered that across the world, people are being convicted on the word of a dog alone - despite the science of smell (the fascinating history and advances of which are all included in this book) being very poorly understood. As a legal expert on canine evidence, Amber is invited to a Ministry of Defence conference where the security applications of mice, moths, salmon and plants are discussed. That's when Amber's research journey really begins.

Q & A with Amber:

Why did you call the book "Headspace"?

Quite a lot in the book is about the importance of pscyhological privacy to human liberty and autonomy. Headspace - in 1960s jargon- means psychological privacy, the cognitive shed required for the development of an individual personality. When an entomologist told me that 'headspace' is also the technical term for the area surrounding a subject in which their smell can be detected and analysed - I knew it had to be the title of my book.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

I enjoyed everything about it. I enjoyed befriending security agents, police officers and scientists (they have all taken the fun I poke at their research in good humour). I enjoyed researching all the novels relating to the sense of smell (Perfume, Jitterbug Perfume, Brave New World, Oryx And Crake and millions of others) and learning about the science of smell. It was a great excuse to read Arthur Koestler's Ghost in the Machine and learn about bee brains and the manipulation of instinctive behaviour.

What is Dogwatch?

Dogwatch is the name of a secret organisation in Amber's book. It monitors potential threats to Headspace and seeks to inform people of their rights in these confusing times. It is presently focused on developments in surveillance, forensic science, less than lethal weapons, the militarisation of biology and the science of smell. Membership is easy- just send your findings to Amber and automatically become a member!

Complaints Received by Dogwatch Re use of Dogs in UK

We have just returned from an evening at X Racecourse. My son was walking alongside me chatting, a police officer with a dog past us, as he passed us the dog walked near to my son. My son has a dog of his own and out of habit he patted the dog on the head. The policeman held my son by the arm- cautioned him and led him away for searching in front of a packed stadium, followed by a plain clothes officer. My son was searched and no evidence of any drugs was found. The police explained the dogs are never wrong and my son must have handled a note that had been used to sniff drugs.

They refused to apologise for any of their actions with no regard for the stress and embarrassment caused.

What does a sniffer dog do to identify someone in possession of drugs? This dog didn’t appear to do anything. Personally I think it was the Police Officer that misread the situation!


Action on Rights for Children (ARCH) became aware of "the problem" of drug dogs in Leytonstone station when two young people associated with ARCH were subjected to humiliating and aggressively-conducted searches following indications from drug dogs.
One 16-year-old boy was taken outside in the cold and made to remove his jacket. The police officer told him "the dog is never wrong". When the police had finished searching him and confirmed there were no drugs on his person, they became less aggressive towards him, but said he must have the smell of cannabis on him from somewhere he had been. He explained he had been at a Department of Education and Skills meeting all day.
The man in the newsagent kiosk inside the station, who has witnessed several dog operations, told ARCH the dogs are often wrong. His friend is a chef and the dogs bark at his clothes every time he visits the kiosk. ARCH is now collecting complaints from young people with tales of unjustified police harassment.
The BTP spokesman said it's "impossible to tell" how often dogs are wrong in their indications. Apparently, they are so sensitive "they can even detect the scent on you if you have brushed past someone who is carrying drugs".
He said "an indication from a dog is not an indication that the person has done anything wrong. What it does is provide probable cause for a search".
Normally one would imply the other, but no longer, apparently.