DHS tests predictive analysis system for 'sensing' crime

The Homeland Security Department is testing whether predictive analysis technology could prevent crimes by identifying potential criminals before they act.

The Future Attribute Screening Technology Mobile Module (FAST) is based on the premise that certain physical behaviors, such as agitation, could be indicators that a person is about to commit a crime. It uses “non-intrusive” sensors — that is, ones that don't touch the individual — to collect video and audio of heart rate, breathing patterns and other physiological and behavioral indicators from individuals, matching them with potential criminal activities.

FAST is currently being tested to determine how results may differ from individual to individual — male versus female, smoker versus nonsmoker, healthy individuals versus those with heart issues, for example. The test is also aimed at identifying potential user concerns, including the usability and functionality of the technology and maintenance and operations of the technology as well as the associated training needed. It is intended to serve as an adjunct to other screening tools rather than a replacement.

In response to potential privacy concerns, DHS said in papers released to the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center  under the Freedom of Information Act that no Social Security numbers would be collected from volunteer study participants and that the division sponsoring the program, DHS’ Science and Technology Innovation Division and Human Factors/Behavioral Sciences Division, will have access only to aggregated and anonymized data.

Not everyone is convinced that the program will protect individuals’ privacy. "If it were deployed against the public, it would be very problematic," Ginger McCall, open government counsel at EPIC, told CBS News. McCall also said the last privacy assessment of the technology was in 2008.

Kevin Fogarty, in an IT World blog entry, described the program as “a waste of time” and “worse than illegal,” citing numerous reasons why he believes FAST is flawed.

Although predictive analytics tools such as FAST are often seen as futuristic, they are already in use and being tested today. Police in Memphis, Tenn.; Richmond and Roanoke Va.; Chicago; and employees of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are all using or testing predictive tools, GCN reported last December. The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity also is testing whether people can predict potential future events and their probability of occurring, GCN reported in July.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.


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