Anticipating Crime

crime and punishmentDuring the past summer, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security(DHS) tried to anticipate the future at a classified location in a northeastern metropolis. Unlike other times, they did not seek the psychic powers. Instead, they used a battery of sensors that aims at impelling human intentions through analyzing the changes in heart rate, gaze and other relevant physiological attributes.

The sensors are known as Future Attribute Screening Technology(FAST). This is a federal project worth twenty million dollars, that was designed to bring to light suspicious looking airport passengers. It is believed that FAST has the capacity to expose terrorist just before they perform terrorism. However, critics say that the technology may have negative repercussions like, giving false positives for innocent passengers and false negatives for terrorists. The DHS, on the other hand, affirms that FAST is an improvement of an older unstable crime detector.

About 3,000 DHS officers are already using FAST in national airports to scan for apprehensive behavior and gaze through a program known as Screening of Passengers by Observational Techniques(SPOT). FAST aims at supporting SPOT by detecting the fine details that escape the eyes. The DHS officers are positive that with time, FAST will effectively scan and pinpoint suspicious looking passengers for further screening and crime investigations.

Recently, DHS officers performed trials at a technology expo with the help of volunteer subjects. The subjects were required to perform objectionable actions like stealing from the expo. Before the trials began, the subjects passed through a kiosk that was fitted with strong body sensors with a capability of recording accurate measurements from about twenty feet away. The body sensors comprised of the cardiovascular and respiratory sensor that measured the breathing and heart rates, an eye tracker that analyzed the positioning of the eyes and gaze, thermal cameras that measured the heat on the face, floor sensors and high resolution video systems that closely tracked the subject’s body movement.

The purpose of this step is to ensure that each individual is measured against their own baseline as opposed to universal agitation standards. After baseline identification, the subjects were asked some direct and innocuous questions that aimed at stimulating the physiological response. All the measurements are taken in a manner that allows them to be passed through a metal detector that singles out people with ill motives.

The FAST technology applies the theory of malintent that was developed by David Martin a FAST researcher and a clinical psychologist in 2007. They used the neuroscience, psycho-physiology, psychology and counter-terrorism ideas to conclude that, the physiological signs of a planned attack increase rapidly as the time of crime approaches. This makes the technology very effective since it analyzes the fine responses and factors that are uncontrollable to people. The results obtained from the tests that have been undertaken, are promising since the system was able to detect malicious people 78% of the time.

Though David Martin’s theory makes sense, the effectiveness and efficiency of FAST depends on the reliability and sensitivity of the sensors some of which were not designed for use in airports. This theory has been backed by Robert Middleton who referred to a variety of internal studies reassuring that the remote sensors are effective since they perform at par with the body sensors. He also points out that, the scientist who have reviewed the FAST system are impressed with the progress and system performance.

Subsequently, FAST has received a lot of criticism. Stephen Fienberg, a statistics and social science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said that, the systems lacks evidence to prove that it gets physiological and psychological imaging and messages that enable it to detect a terrorist. On the other hand, Steven Aftergood, a senior research analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, says that the system violates basic free will of a person. He argues that, thinking about something does not necessarily mean that you execute it.

There is still a lot that needs to be done before FAST is fully installed for use in the airports. But, Middleton insists that the system should considered since it attempts to introduce a new scientific invention. The DHS should take time to rectify the underlying issues so as to end terror attacks that manipulate people and the economy.