Scanners for "suspicious" behaviour raise persecution worries
- NOTE: Since it is based on "normal" behaviours, it is highly likely that schemes such as this will effectively amount to the criminalisation of people who are psychologically different, or who deviate from a certain standard of cultural normality (too expressive, not expressive enough, appear uncomfortable, etc).
Security firms working on devices to spot would-be terrorists in crowd
· Move to analyse behaviour and physiology from afar
· British expert warns of Minority Report scenario
* Ian Sample, science correspondent
* The Guardian
* Thursday August 9 2007
Counter-terrorism experts have drawn up plans to develop an array of
advanced technologies capable of spotting would-be terrorists in a crowd
before they have time to strike.
Scientists and engineers have been asked to devise ways of analysing
people's behaviour and physiology from afar, in the hope they may reveal
clues about their mental state and even their future intentions.
Under Project Hostile Intent, scientists will aim to build devices that
can pick up tell-tale signs of hostile intent or deception from people's
heart rates, perspiration and tiny shifts in facial expressions.
The project was launched by the US department of homeland security with a
call to security companies and government laboratories for assistance.
According to the timetable set out, the new devices are expected to be
trialled at a handful of airports, borders and ports of entry by 2012.
The plans describe how systems based on video cameras, laserlight,
infra-red, audio recordings and eye tracking technology are expected to
scour crowds looking for unusual behaviour, with the aim of identifying
people who should be approached and quizzed by security staff, New
Scientist magazine reports.
The project hopes to advance a security system already employed by the US
transportation security administration that monitors people for
unintentional facial twitches, called "micro-expressions", that can
suggest someone is lying or trying to conceal information.
Studies by Paul Ekman, a psychologist at the University of California, San
Francisco, have revealed that involuntary expressions can often betray
someone's true intentions. If you flash your teeth, lower your eyebrows
and wrinkle your nose for a fraction of a second while trying to smile,
you have just demonstrated the micro-expression for disgust.
A major hurdle will be developing technology that can make correct
decisions quickly. "Right now, screeners have typically less than one
minute to examine a traveller's documents and assess whether they are a
threat," said Larry Orluskie, of the department of homeland security.
The project is also expected to investigate developing a lie detector-type
test that can be used remotely - an advantage because it would not
interfere with the flow of a crowd and it could be used without the
Experts yesterday were sceptical that today's technology will be able to
predict hostile intent accurately enough to be useful. Dr Ekman said a
terrorist might confound security measures by showing a range of
expressions from fear of being caught to distress at the possibility of
dying. "I don't know. No one knows," he told New Scientist.
Anthony Richards, a counter-terrorism expert at St Andrews University who
has worked on Britain's ability to pre-empt a major terrorist attack,
agreed that the project faced substantial hurdles.
"There could be all kinds of reasons that might make people behave in
certain ways that have nothing to do with terrorism. If you have
heightened security and there are a lot of police around, it could be
possible that you can feel and look guilty even when you haven't done
"We need to reduce the motivation for people doing these kinds of things.
We shouldn't just accept that terrorism will remain as it is or worsen
over the next 20 or 30 years and then just put all the technological
solutions in place. Technology is certainly important in the fight against
terrorism but that shouldn't detract from the crucially important
challenge of finding out what is driving terrorism. We need to have a
sensible and honest appraisal as to what is radicalising young people."
Peter McOwan, a computer scientist who is developing sensors to detect
people's moods at Queen Mary, University of London, said: "It's just like
something from Minority Report. They have been watching too many Tom
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