Homeland Security Embarks on Big Brother Programs to Read Our Minds and Emotions
2009 12 11

By Liliana Segura | AlterNet.org


Half-baked Homeland Security is spending millions to develop sensors capable of detecting a person's level of 'malintent' as a counterterrorism tool.

In the sci-fi thriller Minority Report, Tom Cruise plays a D.C. police detective, circa 2054, in the department of "pre-crime," an experimental law enforcement unit whose mission -- to hunt down criminals before they strike -- relies on the psychic visions of mutant "pre-cogs" (short for precognition) who can see the future. It may be futuristic Hollywood fantasy, but the underlying premise -- that we can predict (if not see) a person's sinister plans before they follow through -- is already here.

This past February, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) awarded a one-year, $2.6 million grant to the Cambridge, MA.-based Charles Stark Draper Laboratory to develop computerized sensors capable of detecting a person's level of "malintent" -- or intention to do harm. It's only the most recent of numerous contracts awarded to Draper and assorted research outfits by the U.S. government over the past few years under the auspices of a project called "Future Attribute Screening Technologies," or FAST. It's the next wave of behavior surveillance from DHS and taxpayers have paid some $20 million on it so far.

Conceived as a cutting-edge counter-terrorism tool, the FAST program will ostensibly detect subjects' bad intentions by monitoring their physiological characteristics, particularly those associated with fear and anxiety. It's part of a broader "initiative to develop innovative, non-invasive technologies to screen people at security checkpoints," according to DHS.

The "non-invasive" claim might be a bit of a stretch. A DHS report issued last December outlined some of the possible technological features of FAST, which include "a remote cardiovascular and respiratory sensor" to measure "heart rate, heart rate variability, respiration rate, and respiratory sinus arrhythmia," a "remote eye tracker" that "uses a camera and processing software to track the position and gaze of the eyes (and, in some instances, the entire head)," "thermal cameras that provide detailed information on the changes in the thermal properties of the skin in the face," and "a high resolution video that allows for highly detailed images of the face and body … and an audio system for analyzing human voice for pitch change."

Ultimately, all of these components would be combined to take the form of a "prototypical mobile suite (FAST M2) … used to increase the accuracy and validity of identifying persons with malintent."

Coupled with the Transportation Security Administration's Behavior Detection Officers, 3,000 of whom are already scrutinizing travelers' expressions and body language at airports and travel hubs nationwide, DHS officials say that FAST will add a potentially lifesaving layer of security to prevent another terrorist attack. "There's only so much you can see with the naked eye," DHS spokesperson John Verrico told AlterNet. "We can't see somebody's heart rate…. We may be able to see movements of the eye and changes in dilation of the pupil, but will those give us enough [information] to make a determination as to what we're really seeing?"

Ideally, Verrico says, FAST mobile units would be used for security, not just at airports, but at "any sort of a large-scale event," including sporting events or political rallies. ("When the Pope visited Washington D.C.," he says, "it would have been nice to have something like this at the entrance of the stadium.")

"Basically," says Verrico, "we're looking to give the security folks just some more tools that will help to add to their toolbox."

If you think eye scanners and thermal cameras sound like the twisted props of some Orwellian dystopia, you're not alone. FAST may be years from being operational, but civil libertarians have already raised concerns over its implications.

"We think that you have an inherent privacy right to your bodily metabolic functions," Jay Stanley, director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty program told AlterNet. "Just because somebody can build some high-tech piece of equipment that can detect your pulse and perspiration and breathing and heart rate, that doesn't mean that it should be open season to detect that on anybody without suspicion."

Besides, he says, the FAST program is based on "the same old pseudo-scientific baloney that we've seen in so many other areas. As far as I can tell, there's very little science that establishes the efficacy of this kind of thing. And there probably never will be."

Bruce Schneier, a security technologist and bestselling author who has been one of the most vociferous critics of such new high-tech DHS initiatives, concurs. In fact, he says, all the evidence suggests the opposite. "The problem is the false positives," he says.

Beyond the fact that ordinary travelers are likely to exhibit many of the symptoms supposedly indicative of malintent (how many people run to catch a plane and end up overheated and out of breath?), compare the rarity of terrorist attacks with the millions of travelers who pass through a security checkpoint. Statistically, Schneier argues, it's a fool's errand. "If you run the math, you get several million false positives for every real attack you find. So it ends up being as useless as picking people randomly. If you're going to spend money on something, you can spend money on dice -- it's cheaper. And equally as effective."

...

Read the full article at: AlterNet.org



Video from: YouTube.com




Related Articles
Behavior Detection Officers (BDO)
Feeling Nervous? 3,000 Behavior Detection Officers Will Be Watching You at the Airport This Thanksgiving
Oops! TSA Accidentally Posts "Sensitive Security Information" Online
'A Comedy of Errors': Why It's Time to Get Rid of the So-Called Terrorist Watch List
Malintent - Wikipedia
Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange (Matrix!)
Scanners that see through clothing installed in US airports
Airport scanner a ‘virtual strip search’
Big Brother Brain Scanners To Detect Pre-Crime
Covert Iris Scanner Close To Minority Report Future
'Tiny Radio Antennas' Under Skin Could Act As Remote Sensors Of Humans' Emotional, Physiological State
Pentagon Explores 'Human Fear' Chemicals; Scare-Sensors, 'Contagious' Stress in the Works?


Latest News from our Front Page

Cyclopean Masonry: A Mystery of the Ancient World
2014 04 16
They don’t make things like they used to, and that is, in some cases, a monumental understatement. Silly wordplay notwithstanding, there is something to be said for the construction techniques of the old world. Where modern buildings are designed to withstand the elements; wind, temperature extremes, earthquakes and floods, today’s engineers have to strike a balance between economics ...
Megalithic Origins : Ancient connections between Göbekli Tepe and Peru
2014 04 16
At 6,500 years older than Stonehenge and 7,000 years before the pyramids were constructed, a cult megalithic complex sat atop the hills near current day Sanliurfa, in southeast Turkey. Göbekli Tepe was flourishing an astonishing 12,000 - 14,000 years ago, and today, the preserved remains still exhibits high degrees of sophistication and megalithic engineering skill. Back in the 1990’s when ...
Department of Transportation Uses LRAD Sound Cannons Against Drivers
2014 04 16
The Missouri Department of Transportation revealed two newly acquired LRAD sound cannons this week, which will reportedly be used to target vehicles that speed in work zones. Coming in at $25,000 a piece, the Long-Range Acoustic Device, a sonic weapon best know for its use against protesters and insurgents in Afghanistan, will alert drivers to road conditions by shooting a loud ...
An ’Unknown Holocaust’ and the Hijacking of History
2014 04 16
An address by Mark Weber, director of the Institute for Historical Review, delivered at an IHR meeting in Orange County, California, on July 25, 2009. (A report on the meeting is posted here.) We hear a lot about terrible crimes committed by Germans during World War II, but we hear very little about crimes committed against Germans. Germany’s defeat in May ...
Ex-Mayor Bloomberg Starting $50 Million Gun-Control Network
2014 04 16
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ramped up his efforts to fight gun violence on Wednesday with a plan to spend $50 million on a grassroots network to organize voters on gun control. The initiative’s political target is the powerful pro-gun lobby, including the National Rifle Association, that spends millions of dollars each year to back gun-rights supporters. Bloomberg’s group, called Everytown ...
More News »