Much has been written about what is wrong with the Department of Homeland Security’s behavior detection program, but the government hasn’t listened to any criticism. The DHS is expanding the program in the hopes to catch people with “malintent” by using passive signals.
DHS researchers are stepping things up a bit, by introducing what they call “passive stimuli” — such as non-word images of security signs, guard posts, floor layouts and interview rooms — which are intended to amplify the “malintent cues” emitted by a nervous traveler. DHS has recruited volunteers who have agreed to participate in experiments that will test whether such “passive” methodologies can be effective.
“The goal of the Passive Methods for Precision Behavioral Screening is to activate malintent representations selectively from individuals who already have malintent via passive, environmental stimuli; e.g., pictures, sounds, etc.,” explains a DHS privacy impact statement which was released last December.
The DHS’s apparent goal in this testing is to see if pictures and sounds can trigger a psychological reaction in a person. If it does, then the DHS will try to capture the person’s movements so that security can then determine if that person is a threat to airline security. If it works, the DHS plans on expanding it within the United States.
In the future, DHS researchers plan to run operational tests of this “passive” methodology by studying volunteers as they approach screening sites at public places, such as special events, mass transit portals and border crossings, says the DHS privacy impact statement. “The volunteer will be asked to answer a few questions and to observe various stimuli as they are presented on an LCD monitor,” says the notice.
According to the DHS:
“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,”
If it isn’t meant to provide probably cause, then what else is it supposed to be used for? If you eventually manage to catch someone, something that’s highly unlikely with such a dubious program, and you first suspected them because of this program, the person is going to be let go because you can’t use the program as probably cause. So, exactly what purpose do all these volunteer tests serve?