Does Airport Security Make You Nervous?

By Ada Denis

Technology and big brother gadgets, for better or worse, have taken us to the next possible step in TSA screening. A passenger's rapid heart rate and heavy breathing sets off an alarm. A machine picks up his skin temperature jumping. TSA crew move in to question him and start the investigation. Is he a terrorist? Or is he simply a passenger nervous about flying?

The US Department of Homeland security have high hopes that screening biometrics, can weed out the bad guys, before they strike. 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 variations in body temperature, pulse and breathing that mimic 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" (FAST) scans people as they walk by a set of cameras.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has trained more than 2,000 screeners to visually monitor passengers as they walk through airports, questioning those who seem unusually nervous. This new FAST system, would be portable and fast, and placed in areas that scan people as they walk into airports, train stations or arenas.

Those identified by the machines would be interviewed in front of cameras that measure minute facial movements for signs of attempted lying. Like the TSA's program, FAST raises reliability questions. Even if machines can spot someone whose heart rate jumps suddenly, that may signal the agitation of learning a flight is delayed, or simply fear of flying. More testing is planned for the next year.

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