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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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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

ew-3 June 10, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Soon to deployed at every public venue.

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@ohfuckinreally June 10, 2011 at 2:26 pm

America is turning into 1984, but because everything is colorful and the TV has wonderful shows, nobody realizes it.

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@z_gryphon June 11, 2011 at 1:10 am

Wait, there are wonderful shows on TV? When did that happen?

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Brian Black June 10, 2011 at 2:48 pm

“The machine told us your dead wife was a terrorist, sir. The machine cannot lie, sir.”

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brian June 10, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Well they are already groping my penis at the airport, why should I object to groping my brain too?

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Tim June 10, 2011 at 4:43 pm

they had to calibrate it one someone.. you were one of them heance the long time.

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Scathsealgaire June 12, 2011 at 10:33 pm

You have to calibrate it on any subject that is tested or you are using a population average, which leads to real problems with false readings (both false positive and negative).

This in not cutting edge science here, it is a Hypothesis that has not even been tested under real world conditions. The testing was done with what sample size? from how many locations? what "racial" and ethnic groups were involved?

If two professional psychologists cannot agree on the meaning behind a facial expression expressed to a question (eg "he showed disgust at the question" is he disgusted by the question or that we asked it or in the phrasing of the question or any number of other possible reasons for disgust), then basing a computer program on one of the opinions is inherently flawed.

A polygraph is bad enough as a lie detector. This seems like the Rube Goldberg of lie detectors. It might get it right by accident, or it might fail to detect things most of the time.

MRI based lie detection is the most reliable (if limited) lie detector. You are limited to whether someone is lying about recognising a picture they are shown. But it doesn't help you figure out if they are guilty of anything except lying about having seen something before.

This is too complex to be computerised.

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Russ Barclay June 10, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Using this device they will also be able to tell when you want to buy! Stores will deploy their sales personnel according to your store-entering read out. If they can get you to turn it on like a Skype camera, online sellers will be able to harvest your income far more efficiently.

That's Capitalism, baby!

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TLAM Strike June 10, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Will this flash positive because someone is a terrorist or because someone just hates everyone?

I might be in trouble…

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Stephen Russell June 10, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Scary & cause much Uprorar IF abused.
Id add Dbase for any felons, etc into System.
Or extreme Mental Psychc care.
Otherwise DONT abuse.
& then add biometrics, scanners, ID & they can Track U anyplace.

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icedrake June 13, 2011 at 11:44 pm

Now available in comprehensible!

(well, one can dream)

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Michael Gene June 10, 2011 at 10:45 pm

Every time someone sees a TSA perv this thing will register a violent intent, get rid of the grope squads to prevent justifiable positives ?

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Richard S June 11, 2011 at 7:41 am

It somehow brings to mind this old blast from the past:

"Dave Bowman: Hello, HAL. Do you read me, HAL?
"HAL: Affirmative, Dave. I read you.
"Dave Bowman: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.
"HAL: I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."

[2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) ]

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Igor June 12, 2011 at 10:17 am

"Computer, either open this door right now or I'm going to march straight down to your memory banks and give you a reprogramming with a hammer you'll never forget!!"

(Stolen from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy)

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Richard S June 12, 2011 at 11:02 am

Now that's my kind of solution to a software problem!

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Thomas L. Nielsen June 14, 2011 at 1:54 am

Back in the day (in the Danish Army), we used the term "reformatting the hard drive with half a pound of plastic explosive".

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg (expat Dane)

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Bill June 11, 2011 at 9:35 am

Once terrorists catch wind of this machine, and if it is accurate, it will only cause them to be calm and collected about their mission; every machine can be fooled.

I can imagine the cold, hard serial killer-sort wouild be able to slip through one of these machines because they do not exhibit the same bodily responses that other killers show.

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anon June 12, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Missions will be compartmentalized.

Terrorist A, you will stash this part in the bathroom.
Terrorist B, find the part in the bathroom, combine with part from terrorist C.
Terrorist D, perform assembly.
Terrorist E, press the red button. Allahu ackbar.

Binary explosives would be the way to go, but might require some synthesis information, followed by an infrastructure, all of which would have to be set up without triggering LEO inquiry.

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mpower6428 June 11, 2011 at 9:34 pm

should make for a whole new season of TSA hilarity.

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James June 12, 2011 at 6:34 pm

Now I'm not entirely sure how this thing works but from reading the article I can think of a couple of medical conditions that could generate a false positive. I can allready see the headlines about TSA working over a 90 something grandmother w/ a heart condition, high blood pressure, and anxeity about flying in this day and age.

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CoCowboy692000 January 12, 2012 at 3:14 am

I have at least one bad thought a day… I wouldn't be normal unless I did – nobody would. What happens if you have it at the wrong time? What happens if they build this thing into every new laptop? What happens if it's built into every Cellphone? There's an app for that you know… See what I'm saying here?

There is ZERO presumption of innocence with this stupid method. It doesn't account for people who have enough self control to have a bad thought, but move on to other things… What are they going to do about that if they already think they know your intent?? Remember, in the movie Minority Report, that was precisely the problem – FREE WILL. I find this an intolerable form of executive, and power abuse… as well as a violation of our personal liberty and fourth amendment rights.

It's bad enough they've crossed the line at the airports with the violations of 4th amendment, but this cannot and will not stand. It would be legally challenged in court (probably all the way) and ultimately defeated…

WOW – What a grotesque abuse of power…. UNBELIEVABLE!!! And we thought Stalin, Hitler and Mao were bad…. GEEZE…

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Zenpistolero April 18, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Nutshell version of how to beat a traditional lie detector:
During the calibrations questions of "Do you lie?" and "Do you steal?" (you are told that you must answer "No" to those questions, and this amounts to a lie for every single person alive—don't deny it) you think about a stressful event in your life, like the loss of a loved one or when you were caught doing something incredibly embarrassing. This creates a high stress "baseline". Then when you need to be deceptive on future questions, this elevated baseline is easier to sneak under with relaxation techniques when you are giving the deceptive answers. A highly skilled polygraph tech is aware of such countermeasures and can direct the interview as needed to defeat them. That is the level of research that needs to go into the new system.

Things to try for beating the new system…

Emphasis on relaxation:
a) Take any of a number of prescription "happy pills" or even a little heroin maybe. That could mask your feelings if they're not going to do a blood test at the checkpoint. Pirates tend to be heavily doped up in order to resist the non-lethal weapons in use on some cargo vessels.
b) An mp3 player with earbuds and singing along in your head to Enya

Emphasis on elevated baseline
a) Get sick with some illness that creates fever and malaise.
b) Wait till almost late for flight and come running up to checkpoint.
c) If it's a really long line at the checkpoint, hold your bag the whole time for physical exertion(an extra-heavy laptop and extra batteries would be a start.)

That's just a quick spitball… I really hope the people testing this system read this. I used to be with ONI and believe that a well trained red team needs to test this unit with a monetary reward offered for success in beating it as well as a smaller reward for being able to cause false positives. False positives are, after all, a waste of resources and a distraction for screening personnel that could easily contribute to a tango win.

If DT gets a request from a government agency to release my email, please do so.

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Jim Gilliam May 16, 2012 at 3:46 pm

There are obviously two reasons for this fiasco. The first is to separate tax dollars from any useful purpose and the second is to further infringe on what few rights we have left.

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heehaw December 28, 2012 at 5:29 pm

they should look in the mirror or aim it at themselves for mal intent. Shame on them , innocent until proven guilty.

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momwbocjuqqi April 9, 2013 at 9:21 pm
ew-3 June 10, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Imagine the number of "false positives" they'd get on a NYC subway at rush hour during the summer.

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CoCowboy692000 January 12, 2012 at 3:05 am

EXACTLY!!! And a few other movies I can think of off of the top of my head! THIS IS BAD… Make no mistake. This will take the presumption of innocence OFF THE TABLE *** IF *** it is allowed. I cannot imagine that a challenge wouldn't be brought before the court. This is also a 4th amendment issue in the extreme!

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Andy Hughes August 3, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Wow, it's as if you read it in the article!

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