Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
10 years and $900M later, the TSA’s behavioral analysis program is a debacle. Here’s the US General Accountability Office on the program: “Ten years after the development of the SPOT program, TSA cannot demonstrate the effectiveness of its behavior detection activities.
Until TSA can provide scientifically validated evidence demonstrating that behavioral indicators can be used to identify passengers who may pose threat to aviation security, the agency risks funding activities [that] have not been determined to be effective.”
Basically, the TSA has spent a decade and nearly a billion dollars reinventing phrenology. I feel safer already.
According to Bloomberg:
TSA Administrator John Pistole, the FBI’s second-highest ranking official before joining TSA in 2010, said he’s confident SPOT is an effective deterrent.
“I know behavior detection works,” Pistole said at the hearing. “I don’t want to take a layer away that may identify the next terrorist.”
SPOT involves TSA officers roaming airports looking for signs of people acting suspiciously.
At some locations, officers question passengers waiting in checkpoint lines, a practice that’s been derisively referred to as chatdowns. The agency has been accused by civil liberties groups of using racial profiling in targeting travelers for extra screening.
According to CNN:
The report is the most critical yet pitting the GAO critics against the TSA, which has long believed that trained observers can pick out people who pose a threat to aviation by looking for signs of stress, fear or deception.
The agency has deployed an ever-increasing number of so-called behavior detection officers, calling them a “vital component” of its security program.
In fiscal 2011 and 2012, about 3,000 such officers were deployed to 176 major airports nationwide, where they observed about 1.3 billion people, the report says.
The GAO said TSA tests of the program were flawed, and decades of published research on behavior detection “also draw into question the scientific underpinnings” of the program. Those studies show that the ability of trained observers to detect deceptive behavior is “the same as or slightly better than chance.”
But the TSA defends the program, saying security would be damaged if money is cut. “Behavior detection techniques have been an accepted practice for many years within the law enforcement, customs and border enforcement, defense, and security communities both in the United States and internationally,” the TSA wrote in a response to the GAO.
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