DHS Testing "Minority Report"-Like Pre-Crime Unit
Tiffany Kaiser - October 7, 2011 4:22 PM
Someone call Tom Cruise, because "Minority Report" is taking a leap from fiction to reality -- except the real version, which is currently being tested by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, doesn't depend on human psychics called precogs, but rather a screening facility with set algorithms.
This new "pre-crime" detection facility was discovered via a June 2010 DHS document that was acquired by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). The document states that information is currently collected and retained on "members of the public" as part of the pre-crime system, which is called Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST).
FAST is made up of algorithms that use factors including gender, age, ethnicity, heart rate, body movements, occupation, voice pitch changes, body heat fluctuations and breathing patterns to identify clues as to whether the individual(s) will commit a crime in the future.
The idea behind FAST is to prevent crimes from happening before individuals even have a chance to commit them based on the factors listed above. It is able to do this through the use of sensors that collect audio recordings, video images and psychophysiological measurements.
"The department's Science and Technology Directorate has conducted preliminary research in operational settings to determine the feasibility of using non-invasive physiological and behavioral sensor technology and observational techniques to detect signs of stress, which are often associated with intent to do harm," said Peter Boogaard, the deputy press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security. "The FAST program is only in the preliminary stages of research and there are no plans for acquiring or deploying this type of technology at this time."
According to FAST program manager Robert Middleton Jr., there is currently a trial for the FAST program where DHS employees are the guinea pigs. A certain group of employees can give permission to partake in a more "rigorous" part of the trial.
So far, a FAST field test has been launched in an unknown area in the northeast U.S. A new field trial is expected to involve the public, according to another DHS document obtained by EPIC. This other document states that members of the public with experience in food service will be asked to attend a one-day VIP event, where some individuals will be asked to act normally while others will be asked to act as if they're going to act with mal-intent. FAST will be left to determine the difference. It's unclear whether the participants realize they're in a FAST study.
The second document obtained by EPIC also states that FAST could be used at security checkpoints in the future such as border crossings and airports.
FAST has some worried about the accuracy of the system, and the consequences if it falsely targets a member of the public. Also, privacy is another worrisome factor with these sensors capturing images and audio recordings.
"If it were deployed against the public, it would be very problematic," said Ginger McCall, who said security checkpoints at places like the airport are already stressful enough due to handsy TSA employees.