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Dishonesty detectors: a criminally flawed technology

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« on: November 08, 2011, 07:34:20 pm »

Dishonesty detectors: a criminally flawed technology

By John Rennie | November 8, 2011, 4:51 AM PST

“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” began one of the most famous of the classic radio mystery serials. “The Shadow knows!” If so, the Shadow is still the only one who does. Despite decades of advances in biometric technologies and neuroscience, investigators have at best only a rudimentary and untrustworthy ability to find telltale changes in the body or in brain activity that might betray guilt or bad intentions. That doesn’t stop the authorities from continuing to look, however.

Witness the U.S. government’s recent dabbling in Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST). With thermal cameras, microphones and a laser radar that can measure heart rate and perspiration, FAST is designed to surreptitiously scan airport travelers for nervous behaviors, rapid blinking, or any other signs that might indicate intentions to commit violent terrorist acts — what the system’s developers call “malintent.” The Department of Homeland Security acknowledged running preliminary tests of the technology in northeastern airports early this year. In September it tested a prototype more thoroughly at another undisclosed location: working with a cohort of 140 volunteers, FAST looked for ones who had been instructed to cause a disruption. Predictably, that news kicked off an uproar over FAST’s potential for civil liberties abuse, invasive public surveillance, and likeliness to entrap the innocent. (Comparisons to the science-fiction movie Minority Report, with its telepathic technology for predicting “pre-crime,” also came in right on cue.)

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The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity, but the one that removes awareness of other possibilities, that makes it seem inconceivable that other ways are viable, that removes the sense that there is an outside. --Allan Bloom

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