Tuesday, September 23, 2008


USA Today - A scene from the airport of the future: A man's pulse races as he walks through a checkpoint. His quickened heart rate and heavier breathing set off an alarm. A machine senses his skin temperature jumping. Screeners move in to question him. Signs of a terrorist? Or simply a passenger nervous about a cross-country flight?

It may seem Orwellian, but the Homeland Security Department showed off an early version of physiological screeners that could spot terrorists. The department's research division is years from using the machines in an airport or an office building - if they even work at all. But officials believe the idea could transform security by doing a bio scan to spot dangerous people.

Critics doubt such a system can work. The idea, they say, subjects innocent travelers to the intrusion of a medical exam.

The futuristic machinery works on the same theory as a polygraph, looking for sharp swings in body temperature, pulse and breathing that signal the kind of anxiety exuded by a would-be terrorist or criminal. Unlike a lie-detector test that wires subjects to sensors as they answer questions, the "Future Attribute Screening Technology" scans people as they walk by a set of cameras. . .

Even if machines accurately spot someone whose heart rate jumps suddenly, that may signal the agitation of learning a flight is delayed, said Timothy Levine, a Michigan State University expert on deceptive behavior. "What determines your heart rate is a whole bunch of reasons besides hostile intent," Levine said. "This is the whole reason behavioral profiles don't work."

John Verdi, a lawyer at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, calls physiological screening a "medical exam" that the government has no business conducting. "This is substantially more invasive than screening in airports," Verdi said.


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