Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Do we Really Want Big Brother Watching Us?

New technologies aimed at strengthening our national security pose an enormous threat to our privacy - and they don't protect us from the "evil doers" anyway!

Take for instance, the possible emergence of "Project Hostile Intent" - the United State's new and not so privacy friendly airport/border security system (still being developed). This system, a technology worthy of a creepy sci-fi movie, has raised the eyebrows of privacy protection advocates because it would collect a variety of personal information about travelers and provides all kinds of opportunities for abuse.

Computer World Reports:

The system interprets your gestures and facial expressions, analyzes your voice and virtually probes your body to determine your temperature, heart rate, respiration rate and other physiological characteristics -- all in an effort to determine whether you are trying to deceive.

Fail the test, and you'll be pulled aside for a more aggressive interrogation and searches.

Interest in the use of what some researchers call behavioral profiling (the DHS prefers the term "assessing culturally neutral behaviors") for deception detection intensified last July, when the department's human factors division asked researchers to develop technologies to support Project Hostile Intent, an initiative to build systems that automatically identify and analyze behavioral and physiological cues associated with deception.

That project is part of a broader initiative called the Future Attribute Screening Technologies Mobile Module, which seeks to create self-contained, automated screening systems that are portable and relatively easy to implement.

"It's a good idea fraught with difficulties," says Bruce Schneier, chief technology officer at security consultancy BT Counterpane in Santa Clara, Calif.

Even if Project Hostile Intent ultimately succeeds, it will not be a panacea for preventing terrorism, says Schneier. The risk can be reduced, but not eliminated, he says. "If we had perfect security in airports, terrorists would go bomb shopping malls," he says. "You'll never be secure by defending targets."

Assuming that the system gets off the ground, Project Hostile Intent also faces challenges from privacy advocates. Although the system would use remote sensors that are physically "noninvasive," and there are no plans to store the information, the amount of personal data that would be gathered concerns privacy advocates -- as does the possibility of false positives.

"We are not going to catch any terrorists, but a lot of innocent people, especially racial and ethnic minorities, are going to be trapped in a web of suspicion," says Barry Steinhardt, director of the Technology and Liberty Project at the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Steinhardt also stated that we really shouldn't worry too much about this system, since they never work properly and are years from being put into use. Still, it is concerning that the government has poured hundreds of billions of dollars into the program since 9/11, all for a security system that barely works and would create serious ethical questions associated with it.

Advancements in technology - such as RFID and Project Hostile Intent - may serve certain purposes, but more than naught, represent the continuing expansion of Big Brother's ability to monitor and record nearly everything we do - all under the guise of keeping us safe. But who is keeping us safe from those doing the watching and recording?

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