Airport tyranny

August 24, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

---_0141Dear Canadian reader. Are you having a tough time with the global financial crisis? Have you been chucked out of the job you thought was secure? Don’t despair. The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority might be able to use your skills.

If you have the nose of a blood hound, the eyes of a hawk and a suspicious mind, which leads you to think that the world is full of terrorists and that no-one deserves any privacy – well, then you can have a new career as a behaviour detection officer (BDO).

BDOs will be trained and deployed at major airports in Canada from 2010. The BDO will scrutinise weary travellers’ facial expressions and body movements to see if they could be criminals or terrorists. Well, I would most certainly be toast if ever I visit Canada. I usually look nervous courtesy of my uncanny ability to get hauled aside for bomb testing. This has happened to me so often at Sydney airport, I’ve lost count. Apparently, I am a prime target because (I was told by officials when I questioned them) I look “innocent”. I would also be toast because I have the habit of scanning an immigration hall for signs of CCTV and evidence of biometric equipment. A further habit I have is constantly checking to see where my boarding pass is – because I lose things often. This sign of nervousness or agitation could be misread.

BDOs will be trained to spot a passenger with “malicious intentions”, who may have involuntary nervous movements. Let’s hope there will be no religious, ethnic or racial profiling going on.

Really, monitoring peoples’ behaviour in public space is a new level of absurdity in the war against our everyday right to privacy. The BDOs will be in plain clothes watching and lurking in departure lounges and concourses. They will be on the look out for tell-tale signs like foot tapping (well, that’s what I often do at an airport because I am fed up with x-ray machines, long queues and so on). Perhaps I should start getting some botox so my face will be so totally frozen there will be no expressions for the BDO to analyse. People are often nervous at airports for various reasons: a slight fear of flying or waiting with nervous excitement for the family member they haven’t seen in 20 years. Signs of agitation aren’t necessarily because someone is a terrorist or a person with malicious intent.

How much training are these BDOs going to be given (there are BDOs in the US and Israel too). Is it a quick, intensive 4-day workshop and then a bit of field work?  That doesn’t give me any comfort. What education is required? Will BDOs be registered psychologists?? Have they been trained by Paul Ekman – a professor of psychology who has studied micro-expressions for DECADES?

A bunch of scientist dudes had this to say about behaviour detection:

“There is not a consensus within the relevant scientific community” that behavior detection is “ready for use … given the present state of the science (and) inappropriate … responses to the terrorist threat … can do more damage to the fabric of society than terrorists would be likely to do.”  And of course you would know that I would be questioning the potential for violating the reasonable expectation of the privacy of individuals.

Next up, we’ll have CCTV cams spying on us in airplanes. Oh no wait: that’s already been proposed by the European Union! Actually, I have some ideas for airports who are increasingly trying to make our travel experience a frustrating one. And I’m inspired by the film, Minority Report:

  • dispense with the bothersome x-ray machines and the need to strip off belts and shoes by having hidden biometric sensors throughout the airport. These sensors detect heart rate, body temperature, sweat levels and respiration. As you are innocently passing through the departure halls checking out the Duty Free, sensors are watching you.
  • as you check-in for your flight with a self-service machine, there’s a sensor within, detecting your eye movements. Maybe the screen subliminally flashes up photos or words designed to make individuals with something to hide react.
  • as you sit down in a cafe to enjoy a coffee, the seat you are sitting on is equipped with biometric sensors detecting signs of emotional strain (perhaps shifting in your seat too often)
  • you get on the plane, same thing – the seat you’re sitting on is providing feedback of your biometric data to a centrally controlled system and the CCTV cam in the aircraft itself is watching
  • maybe your boarding pass has an RFID chip in it so your whereabouts in the airport terminal is constantly known

This less obtrusive scanning of public space is what I think the future will be and an individual’s right to not be spied on and monitored will be a quaint relic of the past.

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Entry filed under: Airport security, surveillance, Surveillance society. Tags: , .

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