Real life “Minority Report”

Department of Homeland Security logo. Photo from Creative Commons.

A recent internal document from the Department of Homeland Security highlighted a controversial program intended to predict the likelihood that an individual is about to commit a crime. This system is currently being tested by volunteers from Homeland Security.

While this may sound like some sort of psychic driven prediction process, like the one in “Minority Report,” it’s not. The system known as Future Attribute Screening Technology, or FAST, makes use of a complicated computer drive algorithm. The prototype screening facility makes use of race, gender, heart rate and other physiological features to determine the ill intentions of individuals.

FAST has already received a limited field test, although the scenarios so far have been mock ones. Not much is known about the system’s initial field test beyond what occurred in an area similar to an airport where many people travel in and out. All those who participated in the limited field test had informed consent before taking part in the test, according to a statement made by Homeland Security.

The documentation also talks about plans for future testing. One such test will occur at a VIP event where food services workers will be asked to participate in the test. Some of the participants will be told to sneak in recording devices, where others will be told to go about their normal tasks. This is done to see if the system can weed out those being actively deceptive.

Screenshot from the movie "Minority Report." Photo from Creative Commons.

While this new method of determining the ill intent of individuals can be an effective way to protect the public from attacks and a means to find smugglers. This being the case, there is likely to be a large amount of backlash from the public comparable to the backlash seen with the full body scanners recently implemented by the TSA at airports.

Like the full body scanners, the ultimate goal of FAST is to be used in airports with the system making use of various cameras. These cameras are specialized to read a number of things. Some will watch the eyes and look for deception when asked questions and others will monitor body heat and heart rate. The question is what becomes of all this data Homeland Security saves. Is it secure or will it end up like the full body scan images spread all over the Internet for everyone to see?

While this project makes sense from a security standpoint, it does beg the question how far is too far in the search for security. Homeland Security has claimed that the system wouldn’t record or keep personal information. The information that would be kept would be secured via an anonymous identifier and used only as an aggregate to evaluate the performance of the FAST system. FAST is still in the testing phase, so it will be a while before it is actively used in the field.