Monday, May 30, 2011

Pre-crime detection

Oh, racial profiling, you've come such a long way baby.
Apparently, Homeland Security has been field testing pre-crime detection somwhere in the northeastern United States. They aren't testing it in an airport, where they allege they'll be using it in the near future, but at "a large venue that is a suitable substitute."
Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST), a US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) programme designed to spot people who are intending to commit a terrorist act, has in the past few months completed its first round of field tests at an undisclosed location in the northeast, Nature has learned.

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.

It also doesn't depend on someone actually committing a crime either. Brilliant.
If you look, act, or even feel shady, anxious, or excited, NO FLIGHT FOR YOU!
I'd more easily go for a system that involved three clairvoyant sisters.
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."

They're claiming a 70% success rate, which is pretty good actually, but not good enough. One innocent is one too many. Also, some people are naturally cold-blooded sociopaths who will probably go undetected. Others will learn the weaknesses in the system and figure out how to exploit them.
And then it will all just be another useless waste of the taxpayers' money.