Feeds

Homeland Security bungles 'pre-crime' tech test docs

Minority Report surveillance didn’t submit the paperwork

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been testing its behavioral monitoring CCTV system on the public without the proper paperwork.

The Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST) system uses high-resolution cameras and other “non-invasive” sensors to monitor human behavior, including “cardiovascular signals, pheromones, electrodermal activity, and respiratory measurements,” according to a 2008 DHS report on the project. This data is then fed into a computer system running matching algorithms that suggests which people should have their collars felt by local security.

The principle behind the whole system is that people with malicious intent will exhibit certain behaviors and biological responses that can be identified. The idea is to put these systems into US border-access points, and it’s a techniques which works very well in Israel – with the rather significant difference that the Israelis use people to do the analysis, rather than relying on software.

FAST has been under development for four years, under the auspices of the DHS Advanced Research Agency, and testing on the public was conducted this summer in the US Northeast. However, the DHS neglected to sort out the proper paperwork before using people as lab bunnies, according to documentation from a Freedom of Information request submitted by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).

“Under the existing statutes, if they roll out a new technology like this there’s a need for a privacy-impact assessment,” Ginger McCall, open government counsel at EPIC, told The Register. “They didn’t do that.”

“It seems they would have a very high false positive rate, the best they say was that it’s 70 per cent effective,” McCall said. “When you consider the kinds of suspicions they raise it’s a lot of innocent people getting stopped.”

Well, a lot of innocent people might get stopped if the system were ever put into actual use. There are no "innocents" involved in current testing, however. A DHS source familiar with the testing told The Register that all the research was conducted on volunteers who were fully aware they were being watched. None of the data was stored after analysis, nor could it be tied to individual subjects.

In fact, the happy volunteers were even provided with tasty refreshments – no skulduggery here.

Our source said that the research – which monitors changes in thermal skin conductance, heart rate, respiration, pupil variation, and blink rate – is in the very early conceptual stages, and is in no way close to deployment.

The heavily-redacted testing report shows that around 200 people were put through the system on a two-day test run in Boston earlier this year. Judging from the photos in the report, the system isn’t ready for open deployment, but was instead used in a relatively enclosed space, suggesting a scanning unit similar to the millimeter wave detectors used today.

Hewing to the FAST facts as detailed in the 2008 report, deputy DHS press secretary Peter Boogaard told The Register in an email: "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." ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
FYI: OS X Yosemite's Spotlight tells Apple EVERYTHING you're looking for
It's on by default – didn't you read the small print?
Russian hackers exploit 'Sandworm' bug 'to spy on NATO, EU PCs'
Fix imminent from Microsoft for Vista, Server 2008, other stuff
Edward who? GCHQ boss dodges Snowden topic during last speech
UK spies would rather 'walk' than do 'mass surveillance'
Microsoft pulls another dodgy patch
Redmond makes a hash of hashing add-on
NOT OK GOOGLE: Android images can conceal code
It's been fixed, but hordes won't have applied the upgrade
'LulzSec leader Aush0k' found to be naughty boy not worthy of jail
15 months home detention leaves egg on feds' faces as they grab for more power
China is ALREADY spying on Apple iCloud users, claims watchdog
Attack harvests users' info at iPhone 6 launch
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.