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DHS Wants to Scan You For Mal-Intent

by John Reed on June 10, 2011

Sister site Kit Up! just posted this great piece on how DHS is set to field stand-off sensors to predict if a person is about to commit a crime or terrorist act.

As Kit Up! Editor Christian Lowe describes it, the system, developed by MIT spin-off Draper Labs, (developer of the Inertial Navigation System and employer of my old man during the Apollo moon missions) sounds like it’s a precursor to the tech used in the film, Minority Report. Apparently, it uses cameras, thermal sensors and BioLADAR (creeeeeeepy) to monitor people’s blink rates, facial temperatures, heart beats and respiration. Big Brother’s in the house, ladies and gentlemen!

Oh, wait for it, here’s Lowe’s description of the system, dubbed Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST):

Unlike “predictive” devices like a polygraph, FAST’s sensors do not come in direct contact with subjects being monitored nor does it depend on direct questioning. This allows them to evaluate people walking down a hallway, for instance, or standing in line. This allows leads to the inevitable (and arguably deserved) Orwellian/Big Brother connection, and of course the obvious Minority Report reference. To be fair, FAST doesn’t appear to rely on psychics in a big pool of water, but its critics say the comparison isn’t far off the mark even as proponents carefully explain how accurate the system can be.

Says Steven Aftergood, senior research analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, “I believe that the premise of this….an identifiable physiological signature uniquely associated with malicious intent…is mistaken.” However, it’s hard to dispute the success law enforcement has enjoyed with Human Behavior Pattern Recognition, and organizations like the Center for Aggression Management provide compelling arguments toward the ability to recognize and evaluate “emerging human aggression”.

Apparently, the system’s already been field tested at an undisclosed location. It’s being developed into a mobile module that can be deployed to field checkpoints, airports and any other areas where los federales think they need to be on the look out for stressed out commuters (whoops, I mean, suspicious people).

Here’s what DHS has to say about the tech:

“FAST M2, a prototypical mobile suite, will be used for primary screening at security checkpoints, providing a transportable facility for the development, integration and implementation of human centered/behavioral screening technology,” DHS says. “While existing screening technologies–such as biometrics–offer the potential to identify known terrorists, FAST technologies focus strictly on real-time psycho physiological/behavioral patterns in an attempt to prevent the unknown terrorist from gaining successful access to his or her desired location. This will be accomplished through the use of mobile, real-time, multi-modal behavioral and physiological sensing technologies that provide culturally neutral indicators of mal-intent.”

For more on the concept of behavioral recognition law enforcement techniques, check out this piece by DT alum Sharon Weinberger.

These guys are all about behavioral and pattern recognition; and man, just look at their client list. It’s an interesting concept but it can be abused easily and I think a smart terrorist will always find a gap in your defenses.

The trick is finding the balance between security measures that deter bad behavior and maintaining an open society (and yes, I figure you all realize this already).

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