Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Behavior monitoring coming to US airports

Ivan Eland and Roberts Higgs at The Independent Institute have been thinking about the U.S. Transportation Security Agency's plan to intriduce behaviour monitoring at 40 US airports.

"Next time you go to the airport be sure to put on a happy face, even if you’ve been informed that your flight has been delayed by an hour and that you’ll miss all your connections. You’ll need this cheerful fa├žade to make it through the TSA airport security checkpoint.

As if being asked to strip off shoes, coats, belts and other clothing before going through a metal detector and getting your personal belongings x-rayed is not enough, the TSA will begin psychoanalyzing air travelers in 40 major airports next year. TSA screeners, who are not even fully trained law enforcement personnel, let alone professional psychologists, will perform behavior analysis screening on all passengers. The screeners will look for “suspicious” signs that might indicate a passenger could be a terrorist: having dry lips or a throbbing carotid artery (I’m not kidding), failure to make eye contact with or say hello to the screener, or evasive or slow answers to casual questions asked by the screener. Travelers who exhibit such nefarious characteristics will undergo extra physical searches—the infamous “pat down” frisk and bag rummage—and could even face police questioning.

This further invasion of the public’s privacy is part of a trend in law enforcement to go beyond merely responding to criminal activity in an attempt to prevent it. But allowing security personnel to question people, conduct intrusive searches, and possibly even make arrests on such flimsy criteria, instead of on hard evidence of criminal activity, should raise alarm bells with all Americans concerned about their civil liberties. Even psychologists who believe that analyzing body language in a controlled lab environment can detect deceptive behavior admit that studies are needed to see if it will work in the field—in this case, en masse and at chaotic airport checkpoints."

On the spot psychological profiling by untrained, overworked, underpaid airport security personnel. Hmmm. Why do 'security theatre' and 'bad idea' spring to mind?

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