The Department of Homeland Security has been working on a program called the Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST), which explores passive methods for precision behavioral screening. That may be a mouthful, but the idea is really pretty basic.
With this program, DHS is exploring whether or not current technology is capable of detecting hostile intent among people without the need for an outside stimulus. Your face, body language, and heat signature would be all an airport screener or law enforcement officer would need to determine that you are up to no good, and should be questioned and/or detained.
If the US government can actually read your mind, or at the very least discover a disliking for whatever security process you’re undergoing, would that be a violation of your fourth amendment right? After all, it isn’t illegal to think something, especially since most of us have at one point or another thought (passively) about getting away with some form of crime.
MALINTENT Passive Deception Detection Screening
A system has been designed that DHS is currently testing and considering for field use. This system, called MALINTENT, reads your body temperature and heart rate, breathing patterns, and body language to determine whether or not you’re up to no good. This system can be deployed in airports and within mobile screening units for large events outside of stadiums.
Theoretically, all you need to do is walk through a specific area and the system does the rest. It’s easy on the subject as no external questions or triggers are required for it to essentially read the subject’s intentions. That is, unless you set off the system’s trigger.
Thought Visualization Technology
Further to that, who’s to say what the limit of this technology is in the future? In recent years, scientists have been able to recreate visual images as they appear in your mind. In doing so, they can essentially record movies as they play in your head. Sure, we may be 20 years away from being able to do this on a remote level and these images were captured using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) technology. But still, I can think of no bigger violation of privacy than having someone watch the videos playing in your head. Then again, you could always just picture the interrogator naked.
In realistic terms, this visualization can only currently happen through an fMRI. It would be conceivable to imagine technology eventually evolving to a more portable and passive form.
fMRI Lie Detectors
Functional magnetic resonance imaging has lie detection applications as well. Scientists at Columbia’s fMRI Research Center have been studying the use of this technology as a more accurate lie detector. Traditional lie detection tech is often considered unreliable, despite having a surprisingly good accuracy rating. Truth be told (pun intended), the technology largely relies on changes in the body outside of the brain. Where fMRI exceeds is through being able to detect the decision made by the subject to lie in the first place. Basically, it detects your decisions before you act on them.
Granted, this technology (as stated before) is still in a stage where it would be impractical to ask large groups of people to take part in screening on their way into a stadium, school, or airport terminal. This isn’t a passive technology, though it is one that could find its way into interrogation rooms.
Polygraphs are rarely done during interrogation because the technology relies on the stress of the person being questioned to make the readings possible. If a machine were to be introduced that could guarantee absolute accuracy by reading the mind in real-time, it would probably see approval much faster.
Bear in mind though, that there are certain risks involved with fMRI technology. You are essentially sitting inside the sphere of large spinning magnets. Pacemakers and other assistive technologies may be an issue. Further to that, claustrophobia could create a very uncomfortable situation for the person being interrogated.
Why This Scares Me
Imagine walking through the airport and having a machine interpret whether your breaking into a sweat is caused by pre-flight jitters or terroristic intentions. Are you breathing heavy because you’re out of shape, or because you intend to sneak something malicious on board?
Having a computer pretty much read your thoughts could be a a frightening thing. Imagine being detained or strongly questioned for a pre-crime. Minority Report was not intended to be a perfect world scenario, and it would appear on the surface that the very people we are trusting to keep us safe and allow us to continue to enjoy the freedoms of American life are actually creating the very scenarios that makes some science fiction frightening.
Perhaps we’re not exactly at the point of Minority Report just yet, but with technology advancing at a continuously accelerated rate, it’s only a matter of time before you’re taking off more than your shoes at the airport. You could be handing over your very thoughts.