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Could eventually be deployed at airports, border crossings, and other public gatherings

Security personnel working for the Department of Homeland Security may soon be able to remotely monitor crowds for the behavioral signals of a terrorist, using a computer system that scans their pulses, body language, breathing rates, and facial temperatures.

The program, called “Future Attribute Screening Technology,” or FAST, works as a combination of custom software and crowd-monitoring body sensors, strategically placed at airports, U.S. border crossings, and other public, high-security areas.

In simulated scenarios, the DHS says FAST is accurate in detecting suspicious behavior in almost four out of five cases. One such trial, run recently at an equestrian ranch in Maryland, paid more than 140 participants $150 to walk through FAST’s sensor array; a handful of the participants were given instructions to act shifty, evasive, deceptive, or even hostile. FAST had an effective accuracy rate of “about [78 percent] on mal-intent detection, and [80 percent] on deception,” according to spokesman John Verrico.

“We're still very early on in this research, but it is looking very promising,” he said.

Individuals detected as suspicious by FAST will be pulled aside for light questioning by security staff. Information processed by the system will never be matched with names, said Verrico, and it will only be used to help security screeners decide whom to question. After that, data from FAST is discarded.

Beyond simply discarding data, Verrico points out that the system is subject to intense privacy controls (PDF).

DHS researchers are designing FAST with mobility in mind, and over the long term would like to roll out portable vehicles for use in concerts, sporting events, and other public gatherings: once the technology is perfected, writes New Scientist’s Short Sharp Science blog, FAST trucks could be as common a sighting at public gatherings as “mobile toilets and catering trucks.”

The Electronic Privacy Information Center’s John Verdi said FAST is “substantially more invasive than screening in airports,” calling it a “medical exam” that the government has no right to conduct. Critics are concerned that the program could reveal physical conditions like heart murmurs, breathing problems, and high stress levels – a blatant privacy invasion – as well as set off false alarms.

“What determines your heart rate is a whole bunch ofreasons besides hostile intent,” said Michigan State University’s Timothy Levine, an expert on deceptive behavior.

FAST appears to be yet another aspect of the U.S. – as well as the rest of the world’s – governments’ growing fascination with biometric data on citizens: the FBI’s “Next Generation Identification” system, currently still in development, seeks to catalogue almost every major identifying characteristic about the U.S. criminal population, including fingerprints, retinal prints, and tattoo/scar markings.

Like the NGI, FAST is still under development and has several years left before it is ready for widespread, public usage – if it even makes it that far. The program is in its second year in development, and has three left to go. USA Today notes that the Transportation Security Administration already has more than 2,000 human screeners doing the same thing – essentially paving the way for their replacement and more widespread deployment by FAST.

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By Visual on 9/24/2008 9:06:45 AM , Rating: 4
Would it not be funny if while you are being questioned, you manage to make the cop nervous or annoyed or hostile enough that he triggers FAST himself? :p

It is an interesting idea, though I have doubts about how effective it can become. Sure they have some good success rate when they are paying people to act like idiots... I'd also make sure I get noticed by it and please my "employers" if they were paying me. But lets see some trials where they pay people only if they aren't noticed by the system...

Also, I can't imagine how many people will be getting stressed up and nervous just from knowing that such a system is scanning them, and consequently trigger it because of that. Self-causation to its finest :p

RE: Fun
By mdogs444 on 9/24/2008 10:13:58 AM , Rating: 2
Also, I can't imagine how many people will be getting stressed up and nervous just from knowing that such a system is scanning them, and consequently trigger it because of that.

Happens all the time. Just think of how many people get nervous or angry when they get pulled over for a minimal traffic violation like failure to use a turn signal or not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign. The smallest things could trigger this off.

RE: Fun
By Suntan on 9/24/2008 10:23:02 AM , Rating: 2
Also, I can't imagine how many people will be getting stressed up and nervous just from knowing that such a system is scanning them, and consequently trigger it because of that. Self-causation to its finest :p

Probably the same amount of people that cause this to happen in the current environment. A guy walks thru the metal detector and sets it off because he has one too many rivets in his jeans, then starts acting like a complete paranoid flake. The TSA agents start to wonder why he is acting so shifty… I’ve seen it happen to coworkers I travel with (and to my knowledge, I don’t work with any terrorists… …although I wouldn’t lose a lot of sleep if TSA stopped the coworkers from traveling with me.)

If the system starts reporting a lot of false positives, it will be fixed or it won’t last long. That’s the way it goes.

I personally don’t see the big deal with it. Assuming it works as intended (doesn’t trigger everytime a hot piece of --- walks down the terminal full of business men away from their wives for a week) it wouldn’t be any more obtrusive than the metal detectors.

How many people start weirding out when that little beagle gets lead right over to your luggage to sniff it? He’s not there to cheer up the room like the beagles at the old folks’ homes you know…


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