DHS Says Scanners Successfully Detect “Mal-Intent”

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Amid all the post-election [euphoria]/[depression] (choose one), it should not be forgotten that, behind the scenes, the Department of Homeland Security is still quietly on the job.

And that is still terrifying.

The DHS reported recently that tests of its "Future Attribute Screening Technology" (a name apparently chosen to generate the acronym "FAST," not to make any particular sense) had been "very promising," citing impressive accuracy rates of 78-80 percent.  FAST used to have a more descriptive name: "Project Hostile Intent."  That is, it's designed to try to detect people who have hostile intent, by using sensors that scan the pulse, breathing rate, facial temperatures, and even body language of anyone who passes through it.  In other words, it should be every bit as unreliable and inadmissible as a polygraph test, with the added benefit that everybody would have to take it.  (What if you are not a terrorist, but were just running to catch the plane?)

As usual, the people who came up with the idea have some test results suggesting it might work.  DHS, it turns out, paid 140 people to walk through the sensor array and be scanned.  In order to have something to detect, some of the subjects were told to "act hostile."  (The report didn't say exactly how they went about doing that, but I imagine a lot of really comical expressions.)  Sure enough, FAST was allegedly able to detect hostile intent in many of the subjects that they had asked to think hostilely.  "It is looking very promising," said a DHS spokesman.  "We are running at about 78 percent accuracy on mal-intent detection, and 80 percent on deception."

Technically speaking, scientists refer to results achieved under test conditions like that as "bullshit," but worse than that is the actual use of the term "mal-intent," which just seems way too close to "crimethink."  Have these people ever read Nineteen Eighty-Four?  And shouldn't they all have to?

John Verdi of the Electronic Privacy Information Center said that the system would be "substantially more invasive" than current airport screening, calling it essentially a medical exam conducted without permission.  Isn't it bad enough that they are already searching our helper monkeys' diapers without permission?  And I stand by my previous comment that if the War on Terror requires us to rummage through monkey diapers, then I don't think we're winning.

Link: New Scientist
Link: DailyTech
Link: Wired.com (2007)
Link: Nineteen Eighty-Four (from Orwell.ru)