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    More on So-Called Behavior Detection Technology As Applied to Travelers

    USA Today has an interesting story on new technology being developed by the Department of Homeland Security. It seeks to divine an individual’s criminal or benign intent from a bio scan.

    The futuristic machinery works on the same theory as a polygraph, looking for sharp swings in body temperature, pulse and breathing that signal the kind of anxiety exuded by a would-be terrorist or criminal. Unlike a lie-detector test that wires subjects to sensors as they answer questions, the “Future Attribute Screening Technology” (FAST) scans people as they walk by a set of cameras.

    USA Today notes that this isn’t the first time DHS has attempted to use so-called “behavior detection” programs.

    The five-year project, in its second year, is the department’s latest effort to thwart terrorism by spotting suspicious people. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has trained more than 2,000 screeners to observe passengers as they walk through airports, questioning those who seem oddly agitated or nervous.

    There are any number of innocent reasons why an individual would would be nervous or agitated at an airport. She is on her way to visit a dying relative. He is worried about a business deal. They are tired from lack of sleep after a friend’s wedding. What would the error rate of this technology be? How many false positives leading to the harassment of innocent travelers and the diversion of investigators’ attention and resources from actual criminals?

    Previously, I blogged about the European Union testing in-flight video surveillance to detect criminal intent. Last year, I wrote an op-ed (pdf) in The Tennessean about face recognition systems being used in schools. I explained that the algorithms to automatically detect and identify individuals were complex and still error-prone. A recent large-scale face recognition scientific study (pdf) found that, during the day, the error rate of the technology was about 40 percent. At night, the error rate was 80 to 90 percent.

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