Abolish the Department of Homeland Security. We Were Safer Without it.

Posted on Tuesday, 18th October 2011 @ 03:26 PM by Text Size A | A | A

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Detaining and arresting you for what you might do.  This is an example of the kind of waste that is bankrupting the United States treasury.

Homeland Security moves forward with ‘pre-crime’ detection


An internal U.S. Department of Homeland Security document indicates that
a controversial program designed to predict whether a person will
commit a crime is already being tested on some members of the public
voluntarily, CNET has learned.

If this sounds a bit like the Tom Cruise movie called “Minority Report,” or the CBS drama “Person of Interest,” it is. But where “Minority Report” author Philip K. Dick
enlisted psychics to predict crimes, DHS is betting on algorithms: it’s
building a “prototype screening facility” that it hopes will use
factors such as ethnicity, gender, breathing, and heart rate to “detect
cues indicative of mal-intent.”

Excerpt from internal DHS document obtained by EPIC
Excerpt from internal DHS document obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center(Credit:
U.S. Department of Homeland Security)

The latest developments, which reveal efforts to “collect, process, or
retain information on” members of “the public,” came to light through an
internal DHS document obtained under open-government laws by the Electronic Privacy Information Center. DHS calls its “pre-crime” system Future Attribute Screening Technology, or FAST.

“If it were deployed against the public, it would be very problematic,” says Ginger McCall, open government counsel at EPIC, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C.

It’s unclear why the June 2010 DHS document (PDF)
specified that information is currently collected or retained on
members of “the public” as part of FAST, and a department representative
declined to answer questions that CNET posed two days ago.

Elsewhere in the document, FAST program manager Robert Middleton Jr.
refers to a “limited” initial trial using DHS employees as test
subjects. Middleton says that FAST “sensors will non-intrusively collect
video images, audio recordings, and psychophysiological measurements
from the employees,” with a subgroup of employees singled out, with
their permission, for more rigorous evaluation.



Peter Boogaard, the deputy press secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, provided a statement to CNET that said:


The department’s Science and Technology Directorate has conducted
preliminary research in operational settings to determine the
feasibility of using non-invasive physiological and behavioral sensor
technology and observational techniques to detect signs of stress, which
are often associated with intent to do harm. The FAST program is only
in the preliminary stages of research and there are no plans for
acquiring or deploying this type of technology at this time.


FAST is designed to track and monitor, among other inputs, body movements, voice pitch changes, prosody
changes (alterations in the rhythm and intonation of speech), eye
movements, body heat changes, and breathing patterns. Occupation and age
are also considered. A government source told CNET that blink rate and
pupil variation are measured too.

A field test of FAST has been conducted in at least one undisclosed
location in the northeast. “It is not an airport, but it is a large
venue that is a suitable substitute for an operational setting,” DHS
spokesman John Verrico told Nature.com in May.

Although DHS has publicly suggested that FAST could be used at airport
checkpoints–the Transportation Security Administration is part of the
department, after all–the government appears to have grander ambitions.
One internal DHS document (PDF)
also obtained by EPIC through the Freedom of Information Act says a
mobile version of FAST “could be used at security checkpoints such as
border crossings or at large public events such as sporting events or

Internal DHS document says FAST "will help protect the public while maintaining efficiency and security"
Internal DHS document says FAST “will help protect the public while maintaining efficiency and security”(Credit:
U.S. Department of Homeland Security)

It also says that the next field trial of FAST will involve members of
the public who “have food service experience” and are paid “to work at a
one day VIP event.” Most of the document is redacted, but each person
is apparently told to act normally or to do something demonstrating
“mal-intent,” such as being told to smuggle a recording device into the
VIP event. The trick, then, is to see if FAST can detect which is which.

It’s not clear whether these people were informed that they’re participating in a FAST study.

McCall, the EPIC attorney who has been pressing the department to obtain
these internal documents, said it’s time for the DHS Privacy Office to
review the current state of the FAST project. What appears to be the
most recent privacy analysis (PDF) was completed in December 2008 and contemplates using “volunteer participants” who have given their “informed consent.”

“They should do a privacy impact assessment,” McCall said.

DHS is being unusually secretive about FAST. A February 2010 contract (PDF) with Cambridge, Mass.-based Draper Laboratory
to build elements of the “pre-crime” system has every dollar figure
blacked out (a fleeting reference to an “infrared camera” remained).

Relying on ambiguous biological factors to predict mal-intent is
worrisome, says McCall. “Especially if they’re going to be rolling this
out at the airport. I don’t know about you, but going to an airport
gives me a minor panic attack, wondering if I’m going to get groped by a
TSA officer.”

Update 2:12 p.m. PT: A Homeland Security spokesman has just
provided this additional statement to CNET: “The FAST program is
entirely voluntary and does not store any personally-identifiable
information (PII) from participants once the experiment is completed.
The system is not designed to capture or store PII. Any information that
is gathered is stored under an anonymous identifier and is only
available to DHS as aggregated performance data. It is only used for
laboratory protocol as we are doing research and development. It is
gathered when people sign up as volunteers, not by the FAST system. If
it were ever to be deployed, there would be no PII captured from people
going through the system.” (The DHS Privacy Office has said that the system does contain personally-identifiable information and that FAST “is a privacy sensitive system.” DHS defines
a privacy sensitive system as “any system that collects, uses,
disseminates, or maintains” personally-identifiable information.)

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