Foxnews.com has a post about a recent experiment carried out under the auspices of the Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST) Project for the Human Factors division in Homeland Security's directorate for Science and Technology Homeland Security Program [The video accompanying the Foxnews.com post is not very illuminating, but it is a bit chilling]. According the Homeland Security's website, "the FAST Project is an initiative to develop innovative, non-invasive technologies to screen people at security checkpoints. FAST is grounded in research on human behavior and psychophysiology, focusing on new advances in behavioral/human-centered screening techniques."
The experiment utilize an integrated device dubbed MALINTENT, which the Foxnews.com post describes as follows:
It has a series of sensors and imagers that read your body temperature, heart rate and respiration for unconscious tells invisible to the naked eye — signals terrorists and criminals may display in advance of an attack.
But this is no polygraph test. Subjects do not get hooked up or strapped down for a careful reading; those sensors do all the work without any actual physical contact. It's like an X-ray for bad intentions.
Currently, all the sensors and equipment are packaged inside a mobile screening laboratory about the size of a trailer or large truck bed, and just last week, Homeland Security put it to a field test in Maryland, scanning 144 mostly unwitting human subjects.
The experiment was carried out on "average Joes living in the D.C. area who thought they were attending something like a technology expo; in order for the experiment to work effectively and to get the testing subjects to buy in, the cover story had to be convincing. While the 144 test subjects thought they were merely passing through an entrance way, they actually passed through a series of sensors that screened them for bad intentions." There was even a control group of 23 attendees who were each given a "disruptive device" to carry through the portal — and, unlike the other attendees, were conscious that they were on a mission.
The concept is of course similar to polygraphs, except that the technology allows remote sensing. Whether MALINTENT produces more reliable results than polygraphs remains to be seen, but at least some are sceptical (and others derisively ironic); as for me, I want to see data before I believe anything. Unfortunately, the results of the experiment are classified. Nonetheless, "Undersecretary for Science and Technology Adm. Jay Cohen declared the experiment a "home run." We'll see. Or perhaps we won't.
And then there is that nagging issue of privacy. Bob Burns, MALINTENT's project leader, brushes off privacy issues by declaring that,
Once you are through the FAST portal, your scrutiny is over and records aren't kept. "Your data is dumped," said Burns. "The information is not maintained — it doesn't track who you are."
Hat tip to Sofia Lombera