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EU project scans air passengers for terrorist tendencies

Plane crazy?

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An EU aviation safety project is testing a camera-based passenger surveillance system intended to spot terrorists poised to rush the cockpit.

According to a report in the New Scientist, the European Union’s Security of Aircraft in the Future European Environment (SAFEE) project relies on video cameras being built into every passenger’s seat. Rumours of such aircraft anti-hijack systems have been flying around since the 11 September attcks.

Each camera tracks passengers’ facial expressions, with the footage then analysed by software to detect developing terrorist activity or potential air rage. Six wide-angle cameras are also positioned to monitor the plane’s aisles, presumably to catch anyone standing by the cockpit door with a suspiciously crusty bread roll.

But since people never sit still on planes, the software’s also designed so that footage from multiple cameras can be analysed. So, if one person continually walks from his seat to the bathroom, then several cameras can be used to track his facial movements.

The software watches for all sorts of other terrorist-like activities too, including running in the cabin, someone nervously touching their face or excessive sweating. An innocent nose scratch won’t see the F16s scrambled, but a combination of several threat indicators could trigger a red alert.

The system was tested earlier this year in a dummy Airbus A380. Unsurprisingly, the researchers who built the system, including Dr James Ferryman from Reading University, said the test went well. Dr Ferryman admitted that the system still needs to be tested on thousands more passengers before it can be proven as reliable though.

But isn't it a little late to be detecting terrorists once they're already on the plane? And how prepared are we to have our every last twitch monitored and analysed?

Register Hardware wants your thoughts.

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