Developing Technology To Catch Crooks At Ports Of Entry

Could FAST technology help border officials find someone intent on doing harm to the U.S. from a crowd?
June 08, 2011

The U.S. government is working to design a scanner that could pick criminals from a crowd before they act.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST) is years away. But some experts who've worked on the program say the technology already exists and would be used at airports and ports of entry.

Homeland Security officials were reticent to speak about the project. A spokesman said the agency doesn't want it compared to mind-reading sci-fi flicks like Minority Report. They think that would only scare some people.

Instead, they say FAST will measure the reaction of the human body.

Paul Ekman is a professor emeritus of psychology who specializes in facial expression research. He worked as a consultant to the FAST program. He said it could become an identifying tool in public places like border crossings.

"It entails using some of the latest technology available to monitor bodily reactions: Heart rate, respiration, skin temperature and blood pressure," Ekman said. "(The technology can) do it from a distance and do it without giving advance consent other than signs being up that would say this was occurring."

Homeland Security officials refused to be interviewed and said FAST was only in a preliminary research phase. However, the agency first received permission to conduct their research in 2008.

Ekman says the technology already exists.

“To me the big question is: What are you going to learn? What's the false-positive to false-negative ratio going to be? What are the privacy concerns?" the professor said. "The question of can you do this has already been answered: Yes you can do this."

A spokesman said FAST would never be used to collect private information.