For the past several years, DHS has quietly been testing various forms of advanced technology to identify, detect and deter criminal and/or terrorist acts before they happen. Two of these programs are the Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST) and Hostile Intent Detection Projects. FAST is an initiative to develop a prototype screening facility containing a suite of real-time, non-invasive sensor technologies to detect cues indicative of mal-intent (the intent or desire to cause harm) rapidly, reliably, and remotely. The FAST system will measure both physiological and behavioral signals to make probabilistic assessments of mal-intent based on sensor outputs and advanced fusion algorithms and measure indicators using culturally neutral and non-invasive sensors.
The Hostile Intent Detection project aims to demonstrate real-time, non-invasive, and culturally independent video extraction algorithms to identify unknown or potential security threats. The operational benefit of Hostile Intent Detection is the increased ability to detect potential threats during secondary checkpoint screening.
Several years ago, the private sector developed intelligent video analytics software to address better business planning and security requirements. This private sector software helps businesses increase sales, lower costs, improve store safety, reduce theft, optimize staffing levels, monitor activity and improve customer satisfaction by analyzing patterns of movement of the customer. This function is being done in the private sector and is not being used to determine if someone is going to commit a crime by analyzing their thoughts and physiological characteristics. The private sector cannot detain or question people under color of law; only the government can do that. Therein lays the concern of freedom loving people. In our country, everyone is presumed innocent, has freedom of movement, freedom of speech and freedom of thought.
With the FAST program, the government is attempting to use a sophisticated suite of sensors that are designed to identify several physiological indicators – like heart rate or the steadiness of a person’s gaze – to identify people before they commit a criminal or terrorist act. This seems like an electronic “profiling system” to target individuals for further questioning. A better way is to train additional TSA officers in behavior detection is to look for indicators and then question people passing through TSA checkpoints. In the old days, these “behavior detection officers” were known as U.S. Customs Inspectors, and they did a fantastic job of identifying, questioning and arresting people of all nationalities and cultures committing crimes at our nation’s borders.
In regards to using software to detect future criminal behavior or terrorist intent, a GAO report released in May 2010 indicated that “a scientific consensus does not exist regarding whether any behavioral surveillance or physiological monitoring techniques are ready for use in the counterterrorist context given the present state of the science.”
In addition, several experts believe that relying on the current technology will create many false positives, targeting innocent people for additional questioning and slowing down security queues at busy airports.
It appears DHS is trying to emulate the Tom Cruise movie “Minority Report.” Basically, this movie was about a government that prosecuted people for “thinking about crime.” Currently, and in the past, our country’s criminal justice system requires an overt act to be undertaken before government intervention could be initiated. The exception is if the government has a reasonable suspicion that a person is committing or about to commit a crime, then the government can initiate surveillance and/or ask questions of the individual concerning their actions. Until then, we don’t need to waste scarce government monetary resources trying to develop “thought crime software.”