The Department of Homeland Security is currently funding a research project called Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST), with the hopes of it being implemented in airport screenings. The supporters of this project claim that it gives an added insight to a person's metaphysical levels, which could indicate intent on their upcoming flight. Opponents of the project range from saying there is no statistical basis for this whatsoever to claiming it infringes on an individual's rights to privacy (most likely the 5th Amendment version of self-incrimination). I tend to fall in between the two versions of the opponents' arguments. You can read the story for yourself here.
Sure, we all want to get through the airport faster. And taking off our shoes or having to dump a water bottle we JUST BOUGHT always sucks, but would this alternative be any better? For starters, the devices aim to measure a person's heart rate, breathing, eye movement, body temperature, and even fidgeting. According to the program's proponents, this is just an advanced way of doing things that are naturally evident.
Oh, I guess I missed the science class where my teachers told us normal humans can gauge each others' body temperatures and heart rates by looking at them. Not to mention, there are any number of reasons a person can have an elevated or lowered measurement of each of these factors. Perhaps they're nervous about flying. Or maybe they are going to confront their cheating partner. Or maybe they really have to piss, but they want to get through security first. Well, fortunately for us, they have a solution to that. If a person seems sketchy according to their tests, they run them through a secondary system of questions. And what exactly are these ingenious questions. There must be some subtle way for them to tell if you are a terrorist or not: "Is this the month of September?" and "Do you plan to detonate an explosive?"
ARE YOU F***** SERIOUS!?!? Well if it's that easy, why haven't we been asking these questions the whole time???
"Oh, excuse me. Are you planning on hijacking flight 93 and fly it into a national landmark? Oh you are. Please come with us sir." I mean just look at how easy that is! And it's only taken us a $20,000,000 project, which came about because of a 4,000+ casualty terrorist attack and $1 trillion+ war to come up with these questions?! Gotta love those bureaucrats.
What are some of the devices they use for this project? According to the article, the "researchers took a Wii balance board... and altered it to show how someone's weight shifts." So now they are using children's toys in multi-million dollar research projects. It's bad for our kids to have access to video games because it makes them anti-social, overweight, and possibly violent, but when those same video games are used to stop terrorism... well now, we might be on to something.
The biggest problem with this entire project isn't even mentioned in the article. It's common knowledge that anytime technology is introduced into some human activity, it not only makes the job easier, but also makes the operator lazier. Just look at a grocery cashier. If their computer system shut down and they had to manually add up a person's items, then multiply by 6% tax, half of the people working wouldn't even be able to. And the people working security at the airport are already doing a half-assed job as it is. They give you a once over while looking at your picture ID, and then really enforce the removal of shoes, but barely pay attention to the x-ray machine as they talk about what they're doing after work, or how their kid got in trouble at school again. And somehow more technology is the answer?!
The best sentence in the entire article is attributed to Stephen Fienberg, professor of statistics and social studies at Carnegie Mellon University (aka the school that is known for doing research and reporting statistics.) "Fienberg, who participated in a government study critical of the use of polygraphs, said he worries that a lot of money is being spent on a program that in the end will show 'the emperor has no clothes.'" That pretty much sums up every piece of research currently being conducted on a government contract.