March 31, 2010

Balancing Freedom and Security

There is a new vision for security technology that blends high-tech with behavioral psychology, so that we can seemingly read people’s minds as to their intentions to do harm or not.

There was a fascinating article (8 January 2010) by AP via Fox News called “Mind-Reading Systems Could Change Air Security.”

One Israeli-based company, WeCU (Read as we see you) Technologies “projects images onto airport screen, such as symbols associated with a certain terrorist group or some other image only a would be terrorist would recognize.”

Then hidden cameras and sensors monitoring the airport pickup on human reactions such as “darting eyes, increased heartbeats, nervous twitches, faster breathing,” or rising body temperature.

According to the article, a more subtle version of this technology called Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST) is being tested by The Department of Homeland Security—either travelers can be passively scanned as they walk through security or when they are pulled aside for additional screening are subjected to “a battery of tests, including scans of facial movements and pupil dilation, for signs of deception. Small platforms similar to balancing boards…would help detect fidgeting.”

The new security technology combined with behavioral psychology aims to detect those who harbor ill will through the “display of involuntary physiological reactions that others—such as those stressed out for ordinary reasons, such as being late for a plane—don’t.”

While the technology married to psychology is potentially a potent mix for detecting terrorists or criminals, there are various concerns about the trend with this, such as:

1) Becoming Big Brother—As we tighten up the monitoring of people, are we becoming an Orwellian society, where surveillance is ubiquitious?

2) Targeting “Precrimes”—Are we moving toward a future like the movie Minority Report, where people are under fire just thinking about breaking the law?

3) Profiling—How do we protect against discriminatory profiling, but ensure reasonable scanning?

4) Hardships—Will additional security scanning, searches, and interrogations cause delays and inconvenience to travelers?

5) Privacy—At what point are we infringing on people’s privacy and being overly intrusive?

As a society, we are learning to balance the need for security with safeguarding our freedoms and fundamental rights. Certainly, we don’t want to trade our democratic ideals and the value we place on our core humanity for a totalitarianism state with rigid social controls. Yet, at the same time, we want to live in peace and security, and must commit to stopping those with bad intentions from doing us harm.

The duality of security and freedom that we value and desire for ourselves and our children will no doubt arouse continued angst as we must balance the two. However, with high-technology solutions supported by sound behavioral psychology and maybe most importantly, good common sense, we can continue to advance our ability to live in a free and secure world—where “we have our cake and eat it too.”


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