Like The FBI- The Department Of Homeland Security Is Also Developing Their Own Sci-Fi Recognition Program
While the FBI is announcing their $1billion dollar facial recognition system to better identify criminals profiles, fingerprints, records and even identify all of us on video monitoring cameras (already in place in America's cities and highways) the Department of Homeland Security has been developing their own controversial program called "Future Attribute Screening Technology," or FAST for short. And according to DHS, if they can work the bugs out, this system may just detect a crime before it can happen.
Unlike the FBI's system, FAST can reportedly watch a person's eye movement, body language, facial expression and even determine if he or she might be a security risk or about to commit a crime. More alarming is that the software is also intended to detect heart rate, body temperatures, and other biometric information without even touching your body. Some of this high rate technology is already available to consumer products. Like an iPad app that lets you measure heart rate via webcam.
How Fast Is Fast Becoming Another Intrusion Into Our Lives?
According to a December 21, 2011 DHS "Privacy Impact Assesment Update," (linked below) this new technology is authorized through the DHS Science and Technology Directive which conducts homeland security research and leverages the scientific, engineering, and technological resources of the United States to develop technological tools to help protect the homeland.
With that being said, the report details how FAST seeks to improve the screening process at "transportation and other critical checkpoints" by developing physiological and behavior-based screening techniques that will provide additional indicators to screeners to enable them to make more informed decisions. Those critical checkpoints could become anywhere and everywhere that DHS determines they are needed throughout the US.
DHS claims that FAST is not intended to provide probable cause for law enforcement processes, nor would the technology replace or pre-empt the decisions of human screeners. The overall FAST project, including the FAST/Passive research seeks to: (1) identify and validate indicators of malintent; (2) develop a prototype incorporating sensors that measure these indicators; (3) identify and test appropriate stimuli.
In laymens terms, FAST is going to scan every person's eye movement, body language, facial expression and overall demeanor who fall into its scanning area to determine which of us might be a security risk according to homeland securities beliefs. Also in laymens terms, most scieintific researchers in this industry (besides the ones working for DHS) feel this type of intrusive tracking of humans is a terrible and dangerous idea which will inevitably be counter-productive and which will levy a high price in terms of civil liberties while providing little to no marginal security.
Bottom line, the DHS is counting on this technology in being able to to stop a crime before it ever occurs just by this systems programed scenerio of what constitutes suspicious behavior. Will this system be able to distinguish between a terrorist bomber and an honest law abiding citizen whose heart rate is high and facial expressions suspect because they are in a hurry to catch a train? Or, will it be able to distinguish between a man walking through the airport terminal who is terrified of flying from a person on their way to hijack that plane?
Serious Doubt For Accurate Results
One professed doubter of this technology ever working accurately is Alexander Furnas, a masters candidate at the Oxford's Internet Institute writes that the system is "DOOMED." Furnas states that lab tests already performed using the system showed it is plagued with to many false positive recordings. His conclusion raises the question of productivity in Homeland Securities role in protecting Americans. "The results may be counter-productive as TSA and DHS staff are forced to divert their attention to weeding through the pile of falsely flagged people, instead of spending their time on more time-tested common-sense screening procedures."
Furnas closes his article by writing" "Thinking statistically tells us that any project like FAST is unlikely to overcome the false-positive paradox. Thinking scientifically tells us that it is nearly impossible to get a real, meaningful sample for testing or validating such a screening program -- and as a result we shouldn't trust the sparse findings we have. And thinking about the marginal trade off we are making tells us the (possible) gain is not worth the cost. Pick your reason, FAST is a bad idea."
Sharon Weinberger with Nature.com wrote her article detailing statements from DHS and scientists who are against the project... "The systems testing in 2011 produced poor results insomuch as 70% of the lab test subjects scanned came back as false negatives. 'The results are still being analysed, so we cannot yet comment on performance,' says John Verrico, a spokesman for the DHS. "Since this is an ongoing scientific study, tests will continue throughout coming months."
She went on to write that "Once again, the threat of terrorism is being used to justify the introduction of super-creepy invasions of privacy, and lead us one step closer to a turnkey totalitarian state." He goes on to write that, "Like a lie detector, FAST measures a variety of physiological indicators, ranging from heart rate to the steadiness of a person's gaze, to judge a subject's state of mind. But there are major differences from the polygraph. FAST relies on non-contact sensors, so it can measure indicators as someone walks through a corridor at an airport, and it does not depend on active questioning of the subject."
Other scientists question whether there really are unique signatures for malintent (the DHS's term for the intention to cause harm) that can be differentiated from the normal anxieties of travel. "Even having an iris scan or fingerprint read at immigration is enough to raise the heart rate of most legitimate travellers," says Tom Ormerod, a psychologist in the Investigative Expertise Unit at Lancaster University, UK. Such testing, he adds, could lay the groundwork for a more rigorous randomized, controlled, double blind study.
According to the DHS privacy-impact statement, tests of FAST involve instructing some people passing through the system to carry out a "disruptive act". Ormerod questions whether such role-playing is representative of real terrorists, and also worries that both passengers and screeners will react differently when they know they're being tested. "Fill the place with machines that go ping, and both screeners and passengers start doing things differently."
Steven Aftergood, a senior research analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, a think-tank based in Washington DC that promotes the use of science in policy-making, is pessimistic about the FAST tests. He thinks that they will produce a large proportion of false positives, frequently tagging innocent people as potential terrorists and making the system unworkable in a busy airport. "I believe that the premise of this approach that there is an identifiable physiological signature uniquely associated with malicious intent is mistaken. To my knowledge, it has not been demonstrated," he says. "Without it, the whole thing seems like a charade."
Between the FBI and DHS both introducing their own recognition systems, and Homeland Securities mass purchaing and stockpiling of bullets and riot trype gear and equiptment, one has to wander, literally, where we will be in the next couple of years? Putting aside the recent speculation in the media, conspiracy theories and online believers who fear of impending civil uprising or some form of martial law, one can't help but feel real edgy when you take into account all of these recent ongoing changes being made in the name of homeland security.
End of Story
I am the publisher of an online news website and blog covering local, state and national news since 2007. Author of 4 cold-case murder books in the "Who Killed?" series published by Rooftop Publishing Company. Retired from mainstream media in 2007 (more...