Robo-scanning at airports may be near

Two years ago in this column, I wrote that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was deploying “Behavior Detection Officers” (BDOs) at America’s airports to watch for “suspicious” behavior exhibited by people at those facilities.  The program purported to teach undercover TSA employees to scan people at airports – not just passengers waiting to pass through security, but everyone – for tell-tale signs of nervousness, which could then lead to their being interrogated and possibly arrested. 

I complained at the time of this significant expansion of TSA’s jurisdiction (the “mission creep” that seems to bedevil virtually every government agency), and reminded readers of the evils of attempting to “profile” people based on behavior characteristics.  

Earlier this year, I wrote again about TSA’s fixation with technology, as evidenced by its plan to greatly expand the number of full-body x-ray machines at airports.

Well, those loveable folks at TSA (and their bosses at the parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security) have taken yet another step in their relentless drive to bring “1984” front and center to America’s airports.  Eager always to take advantage of the willingness of passengers to surrender all sense of privacy if made to feel safe, DHS is spending millions of our tax dollars to develop technology that would remotely monitor certain bodily functions and alert TSA employees whenever someone is exuding signs of nervousness. 

Were this not a serious — and costly – effort on the part of DHS, it would be humorous.  But it’s not funny, and someone in the Administration ought to put a stop to it now.  TSA, for one, needs to be reminded of its job and its jurisdiction.  TSA is supposed to ensure that passengers boarding commercial aircraft are not boarding with explosives, firearms or other weapons.  Its job is not to practice “robo-scanning” or “behavior detection” of people simply because they happen to have a need to enter an airport or take a commercial airline flight. 

People should not be subject to having their eye movements, their skin temperature, their heartbeat, their perspiration, their breathing patterns, or any other bodily functions remotely scanned and analyzed by some government employee.  Yet this is precisely what the project manager for the Department’s robo-screening project, Robert Burns, is proposing to do; and he’s already spent $20 million of our money playing around with such nonsense.

Never at a loss to come up with snazzy acronyms for its projects, DHS has labeled this robo-scanning project “FAST” (short for “Future Attribute Screening Technology”).  One of the researchers proudly claimed in a recent news story highlighting the FAST program, that the results so far are “significantly better than chance.”  Boy, that’s an impressive score.

Already, DHS is considering uses for the FAST technology for events far from airports; suggesting its benefits for deployment at sporting events, government buildings, subways, and conventions. 

One of the more intriguing aspects of this program is the fact that, according to its manager, the technology and its human screeners would be looking not only for persons exhibiting “elevated levels” of those bodily functions deemed suspicious (including “fidgeting”).  They would also target people not exhibiting such signals.  In the view of project manager Burns, failure to appear nervous as evidenced by monitored bodily functions, “is just as indicative of being something that has to be resolved,” as is the person who exhibits those signs. 

In other words, you can’t win.  If your bodily functions convey evidence of nervousness, you would catch the attention of the TSA screeners; but if you don’t exhibit any such signs as monitored by the machinery, you’d fall within their sights as well, because you’d be presumed to be deliberately attempting to avoid detection.

All this is starting to give me a headache; and that also would probably set off a red light on TSA’s robo-screen control panel.

35 comments Add your comment

llorgam

October 19th, 2009
8:14 am

correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you the same people who kept saying:”TSA should quit focusing on stuff and focus on people” and expressing admiration for the Israeli security model of personal observation? We get it and you start screaming. Looks like you want it both ways. I bet you still moan about your pocket knife being taken away. Oh I forget, racial profiling (despite being ruled unconstitutional by the courts) is your favorite method of securing the airways. Focus on brown people and let all the Johnny Whitebreads walk on without submitting to any sort of security.

clyde

October 19th, 2009
8:36 am

I hope they never focus on me when I’m in the supermarket express lane behind the lady that’s fumbling through her purse,looking for the exact change that she keeps assuring people,”is in here somewhere”.I afraid I won’t be on the calm end of the scale.

llorgam,

What is the real score,sofar?Timothy Mcveigh white,The rest non-white.I forget.

TnGelding

October 19th, 2009
8:39 am

llorgam

October 19th, 2009
8:14 am

Well, the courts were wrong. We’re wasting precious time and hundreds of billions of dollars screening everyone when we know the profile of the evil-doers.

Several of the perps of 09/11 were flagged by the computer reservations system but the airline personnel still let them board. No system can account for poor human judgment. Congress then federalized the baggage screeners, who had done nothing wrong. It’s that kind of logic that makes flying such a hassle these days. We simply can’t afford these measures that do nothing but inconvenience everyone.

As for the robo-screening, it might have limited use against those that fit the profile(s). We need to be mindful of potential home-grown terrorists as well. as much as we hate to admit they exist.

jconservative

October 19th, 2009
9:10 am

Americans are really rather low IQ when you get right down to it.

It is OK for thousands to be killed each year in auto accidents. It is OK for thousands to be killed each year from infectious diseases in hospitals. It is OK for millions to continue to smoke so that thousands each year can die of cancer. But, God forbid, that 110 people will be killed by a terrorist attack on an airplane.

And that, Mr Barr, is why TSA will get away with helping destroy individual rights in the USA.

joe matarotz

October 19th, 2009
9:38 am

Go take a nap, Bob. It’ll be better when you wake up.

John

October 19th, 2009
9:56 am

You must be joking. Where do they come up with these ideas?

Do the Math

October 19th, 2009
10:10 am

Troop deaths in Iraq: 4,350 U.S., 318 Other
Troop deaths in Afghanistan: 881 U.S., 582 Other
Total deaths from both wars: 6,131
Total deaths in Sept. 11 attacks: 2,819

neo-carlinist

October 19th, 2009
10:11 am

“freedom is not free” and tyranny is even more expensive. I don’t know which is more disturbing, the concept of “homeland security” (as provided by the government) or the notion that “technology” (machines) is the answer.

Joe

October 19th, 2009
10:25 am

I’m feeling nervous about all this. Please don’t shoot me.

Jack

October 19th, 2009
10:27 am

Piso Mojado

October 19th, 2009
10:40 am

Bob,

I don’t think we’d be in this mess if the Bush administration had connected the dots.

Jconservative: If you don’t like the TSA, don’t fly anywhere.

TnGelding

October 19th, 2009
10:49 am

jconservative

October 19th, 2009
9:10 am

Good point. Man wasn’t meant to fly anyway.

TnGelding

October 19th, 2009
10:52 am

Piso Mojado

October 19th, 2009
10:40 am

They didn’t even have to connect the dots. All they had to do was notify the FAA of an increased threat.

clyde

October 19th, 2009
11:06 am

So if they’re going to target the nervous ones and the cool as a cucumber ones,who’s left?

RetLTC

October 19th, 2009
11:17 am

This one is going to be absolutely hilarious. Just wait until they start picking up all of the nervous husbands, wives, etc that start to stress when their party coming in on an international flight doesn’t show after about an hour or hour and a half in customs.

Fang1944

October 19th, 2009
12:11 pm

“Well, those loveable folks at TSA”–Gee, Bob, doesn’t your computer spellcheck?

Since Al Qaeda has come up with a method of suicide bombing that can’t be detected–placing the bomb in the bomber’s stomach and installing the detonator in his anus–we do indeed need to look for new methods of identifying terrorists.

dgroy

October 19th, 2009
12:18 pm

As for me and my house, we will never fly again……it’s not worth all the hassle. As far as I’m concerned, all the airlines can go away…..that’ll put the TSA out of business and we won’t have to listen to their crap anymore. Thank you Bob Barr, a Great American, for your information on this obvious waste of taxpayer money.

Jefferson

October 19th, 2009
12:19 pm

After waiting for the 10 minutes of questions to an eleven year old boy at the Atlanta Airport while I was in line, I thought to myself — “Self – this is nuts, they should be body searching his grandma.”

Ted

October 19th, 2009
12:25 pm

It has been some time since I’ve flown and it will be even longer before I do again.

Murphy

October 19th, 2009
12:35 pm

Google: britain transit cops brazilian 2005 killed

Murphy

October 19th, 2009
12:37 pm

PinkoNeoConLibertarian

October 19th, 2009
1:12 pm

Freedom–schmeedom. Don’t let anybody inside the airport (or within 5 clicks) until they prove beyond all shadow of a doubt that they are truly deserving of the privilege of flight!

John

October 19th, 2009
3:20 pm

If the nervous are targeted, and the calm are targeted, what’s left? Will only angry and/or depressed people be allowed to board airplanes?

All the folks who think this a nifty idea will, no doubt, be thrilled when they are called to go to Room 101.

The innocent have nothing to fear.

Chris Broe

October 19th, 2009
3:22 pm

Remember the defense of allowing armed citizens in the airport? I wonder where Bob Barr fell on that?

Bob Barr’s writing reminds me of Tom Delay’s robo-dancing. Especially when Tom treated us all to his R2D2 Bootie shake which knocked ‘em out across the aisles, and which, correct me if I’m wrong, totally wiped out the moderate left, man. I dont know, Barr’s writing has that “Je ne sais quois, non? ”

CNN just reported that the balloon boy sang like a canary after he was given a lie detector test, subject to good cop, bad cop, and when they shined a desk lamp in his face. “Yes, I did it!” he confessed, “I did it and I’m glad! And I’d do it again! Top of the world ma!”

The question here is what did the ballon boy know about the hoax and when did he know it? He completely fooled the media, who all should have known that a helium ballon would have to be the size of a house to lift a 6 year old child. Before his confession, the balloon boy chided cops with this: “Of course it was a hoax. Did you look at the balloon? Have you no sense of bouyancy at long last?”

The lawyer for the prosecution must pose this to the jury: “If the ballon dont lift, then your verdict must be, ‘Grift’.”

Jklol

Shananeeee Fananeeeeeee

October 19th, 2009
3:33 pm

Obama is as corrupt as they come. 1600 Corruption Avenue. Change in 2010 and 2012, Change we are looking forward to.

Barbara

October 19th, 2009
4:31 pm

New to this type of conversation.
I would like to see an address at the end of such articles, where the ordinary busy citizen is able to quickly contact the responsible party or organization and voice his or her opposition to such measures.

TnGelding

October 21st, 2009
9:50 am

Shananeeee Fananeeeeeee

October 19th, 2009
3:33 pm

Well, since we haven’t gotten any yet, I’d think you’d be delighted with his performance.

swami

October 21st, 2009
12:05 pm

I want the TSA to do EVERYTHING possible each and everytime. Just like the people who are out there trying to do us harm. This admistration is trying to be the warm and fuzzy people and try to do us harm through the back door. Yes being kind and listening to the liberals crying will get us attacked again by making us weak- see billy clinton not going after them regarding the USS Cole attack.

ugaaccountant

October 23rd, 2009
9:32 am

Troop deaths in Iraq: 4,350 U.S., 318 Other
Troop deaths in Afghanistan: 881 U.S., 582 Other
Total deaths from both wars: 6,131
Total deaths in Sept. 11 attacks: 2,819

So in the 8+ years since 9/11 it’s taken less than 1,000 soldiers lives a year to defend our country. That’s an incredibly low price compared to any other conflict we’ve had to resolve.

Pat

October 23rd, 2009
11:59 am

Gee, Fang, “detonator in his anus?” That’s it – body cavity checks for everyone!
Tots and grannies, line up to the left! A nation of people too stupid to put an end to this hysterical nonsense deserve to have their privates violated. Jeez.

Pat

October 23rd, 2009
12:16 pm

Wait – I got it! Simply fine-tune the scans so they serve both security and medical purposes! Need an MRI, mammogram, colonoscopy? Just schedule them for your next flight. Sure, everyone’s flights will be delayed, but we’ll catch all those extra tumors early, and be absolutely sure no one’s smuggling weapons in their colons, breast tissue, joints, etc. We can protect Grandma’s gall bladder, and protect the rest of us from it as well! Stupid idea? Of course. But Homeland Security’s had its head up its own ___ for years – why be surprised they’d love to do it to the rest of us given the chance?

MrLiberty

October 23rd, 2009
11:41 pm

Seems to me you not only voted for the Patriot Act but the TSA and the Homeland Security Agency too. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Little late to complain isn’t it Bob? Maybe you should have listened to your constituents that were calling you and reminding you of the Enabling Act in Nazi Germany and how crises are always used by the corrupt to take away freedoms.

But of course folks like Neil Young were right. We’ll get those rights back someday. I mean its never happened before in the history of mankind, but this is Amerika. It could never happen here.

Springman

November 25th, 2009
3:39 pm

Terms such as Homeland Security, the Motherland, the Fatherland etc. make me less trusting of those that use such along with the word patriot.

[...] an outspoken critic of the TSA’s SPOT program is former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr. In a recent column in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, he decried the new initiatives in the works as “yet [...]

[...] an outspoken critic of the TSA’s SPOT program is former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr. In a recent column in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, he decried the new initiatives in the works as “yet [...]