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Smile, Big Brother is Watching

JBS | August 18, 2007
Ann Shibler

The Transportation Security Administration has over a dozen Behavior Detection Officers at airports already, with the hope of placing 500 more at an airport near you by 2008.

Follow this link to the original source: " New Airport Agents Check for Danger in Fliers' Facial Expressions "

A new screening system that made its debut in 2006, and that can purportedly identify suspicious airline passengers, is being used and expanded in airports around the country. It's patterned after an Israeli model, but the technique was developed 30 years ago by a former professor who studied the facial movements of people talking.

Paul Ekman from the University of California at San Francisco and Maureen O'Sullivan noticed and catalogued various facial expressions when people tried to conceal their emotions or told lies. They did this with a video camera, and had to slow down the film speed in order to see it. They noticed "Flickers" of expressions, lasting no more than a fraction of a second, that supposedly give insight into a person's real intentions. Stemming from this research, the TSA effort is based on the idea that if a passenger's face registers fear and disgust, then they are likely to be engaged in some form of deception.
The passenger, then, is under immediate suspicion.

Working in teams and disguised as regular airport employees, these new behavior detectors will be scrutinizing passengers for micro-expressions, social interaction, and body language, and doing it all with a grand total of sixteen hours of instruction and training. If the behavior "specialist" decides that a traveler seems suspicious, they will casually ask them about their trip, or belongings, and if "more alarms go off," such as an increase of nervousness, or apparent heart rate increase, or even sweating occurs, these agents "will 'refer' the person to law enforcement officials for further questioning."

Amy Kudwa, a TSA public affairs propagandist, says the 2006 pilot program was "very successful" and had netted "drug carriers, illegal immigrants, and terrorism suspects," but she had no documentation or evidence of said "success." Jay M. Cohen from Homeland Security says they're even looking toward automating passenger screening through the use of videocams and computers that will measure and analyze heart rate, respiration, body temperature and verbal responses as well as facial expressions.

It doesn't take a genius to see that this is bound to fail. Even the developers said there are inherent problems with the so-called detection system, as expressions and body language are easy to misread, particularly among cultures other than Western. This disclaimer of sorts has not deterred TSA, with one spokesman, Kip Hawley, describing it as "a wonderful tool to be able to identify and do risk management prior to somebody coming into the airport or approaching the crowded checkpoint."

The premise of the entire theory is lacking any sort of scientific basis via long-range studies or cross studies; a grade-schooler could discern that it is disingenuous. When most people's faces register fear or disgust, it's because they are fearful or disgusted commonplace emotions in airports these days due to any number of reasons, from delayed and cancelled flights to the intrusive guilty-until-proven-innocent "security" searches. The rate of false accusations with this scheme will probably be close to 100 percent, with most "suspects" thoroughly innocent of any criminal plans or behavior.

But perhaps that's the point. If I'm a nervous flyer, or I've just come from a funeral, or I am disdainfully disgusted with having to disrobe in public, and my face registers this, will I be whisked off to a back room where constitutional rights are barred? Will I then be incarcerated with no recourse to legal representation? And, what's next truth serum to determine whether I am a domestic terrorist because I defend "the U.S. Constitution against [the] federal government and the UN," or " make numerous references to the U.S. Constitution ?"

Obviously, this is an Orwellian-style infringement on our rights by the ever-more-powerful federal government. This is the thought-police in action and control through intimidation and fear.

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