Since writing my last article and reading the news, there has been a complete 180 and the TSA is going to do just that. The story is making its way around the world via the Internet as a “smile or else” theory as to what a person should do at the airport.
In what is being called “a new level of absurdity for America,” Newsweek warns us of new Behavior Detection Officers, trained by the TSA.
The Transportation Security Administration hopes to have as many as 500 Behavior Detection Officers on the job by the end of 2008.
In the study of “micro-expressions”—yes, it is actually a field of study and there are some who are arrogant enough to call it a science—it has been decided that when people wish to conceal emotions, the truth of their feelings is revealed in facial flashes. These experts have determined that fear and disgust are the key things to look for because they can hint of deception.
Yes, I am disgusted right now over the very idea of behavior detection officers, yet I would fear them if, for some reason, they pulled me aside at the airport. Those two things alone will make me guilty of deception at the airport. There are other people that have other reasons to be disgusted or fearful at the airport.
One could be fearful of flying, of people staring at them, of the big, burly men in tights sitting next to him. One could also be disgusted at the airport for numerous reasons, including just getting off the phone with a spouse who pissed you off, being ripped off at the food counters, or missing your connecting flight because your first plane was late. Now, however, if you’re not happy, your a target for the lovely behavior detection officers, and the worst part is, you won’t know who they are.
While there is dispute over the validity of microexpressions, there has been some research [pdf] on the topic [pdf]. The problem with microexpressions is that you know nothing about a person other than they are angry or contemptuous. This does not give you enough evidence to know what is in that person’s mind. A Behavior Detection Officer’s inferences about you, as a stranger, will end up being guesswork and conjecture.
Learning microexpressions is an attempt to get away from racial profiling and gut feelings, however, these new officers will receive 16 hours of training before heading out into the field. Remember, the TSA screeners are mostly still the same old ones as before, they just get paid more and had to watch a three hour training video. So, how much gut feelings will be removed from the face police is debatable. Now, you’ve added more people, with little training to detect something that lasts fractions of a second.
The face police, in place at more than a dozen U.S. airports already, aren’t identified as such. But the watcher could be at curbside baggage, the ticket counter or near the metal detectors and X-ray machines.
This policy is just rife for abuse and people are going to end up being freaked out just entering an airport. Of course, this makes anyone in law enforcement happy. You must be freaking out because you are guilty of something.
We’ve all had crappy days. We all get angry and upset. I’ve yelled at my husband in an airport. Now, if he pisses me off, it’s, get angry, deal with it, move on, get taken aside by the face police, or let it go, never talk about what just occurred, ignore my husband on vacation, and eventually call a divorce lawyer. Okay, it’s exaggerating a little bit but I can assure you, the next time I fly, my husband and I will voluntarily choose not to speak at all, which will, eventually, also be cause for concern and we’ll both get pulled aside for questioning.
There is also the fact that anyone can be trained to hide their microexpressions. This policy is going to do nothing but piss off regular people who are just having a bad day.
Here’s where it gets really absurd. Apparently, these Behavior Detection Officers work in pairs. One scenario is that an officer might move in to “help” a passenger retrieve their belongings after they’ve been screened. And then the officer will ask where the passenger is headed. If the passenger’s reaction sets off alarm bells in the officer’s well-trained mind, another officer will move in and detain them. Let’s be really clear here. If a stranger moved in on me like that, I’d tell that person to go to hell, throw in a few other expletives for good measure and probably give them the finger as I stomped off. Of course, I wouldn’t be stomping very far.
And that is exactly what I would do. If some whack-job, be it in uniform or not, tried to “help” me, I’d probably hit them with my luggage. Again, I’d be sitting in a little room, all alone, very soon after as I now have no idea who these officers are.
While trying to look at this system as a better way to handle security so I can carry some water and shampoo without being hassled, the TSA has already proved itself irresponsible, inept, and incapable of human decency. Why should we think that a TSA employee with 16 hours of training is going to be a highly trained individual?
We have also seen that good ol’ paying attention isn’t as bad as everyone thinks it is.
While we need to do something about security at the airport, I don’t believe this is the right way to go. It gives too much license to the Behavior Detection Officer to pull people aside for any reason. Microexpressions last for far too short a time to be disputed by video evidence later on. On the flip side, they already pull people over for whatever reason they want now, whether it’s a pretty girl or a Middle Eastern looking man.
The fact is, 9/11 is, most likely, the last of its kind. It takes immense preparation and all the security focus in America is on Airports and airlines. The terrorists have long changed their tactics (see London car bombs). The fact is, on 9/11, boxcutters were already illegal. The suggested, and correct, answer to the problem of terrorists on the plane was, and still is, hardened cockpit doors and more air marshals. However, if we did that, we couldn’t intrude on everyone who wants to fly, innocent or not.
Great plan by the government. Appearance of security is everything. Their true intent is to terrorize and intimidate Americans and instill fear in them. Keep making me take my shoes off too while you ignore the screening of cargo. Now, I am tempted to break the rules to prove a point. To the Behavior Detection Officers, I look forward to sitting in your little white rooms very soon.