DHS failed to get permission for 'Minority Report' field trial

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The Department of Homeland Security is testing a program that aims to identify criminals - before they've committed a crime.

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has got hold of internal documents on the Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST) Program.

In a scenario reminiscent of the movie Minority report, the system gathers physiological measurements and uses them to diagnose 'malintent'. It works on similar principles to a lie detector, but with many more indicators.

These include heart rate, breathing patterns, thermal activity and blink rate, as well as body movements and even pheromones. The system correlates all this through an algorithm, with the aim of identifying people with evil intent.

FAST's already been under development for four years. The DHS has already conducted at least one field test, earlier this year, and is proposing using the system at conventions and sporting events.

"DHS has not provided the location or duration of the test, but has stated that field-testing occurred in the 'northeast' and in a 'large venue that is a suitable substitute for an operational setting' (but not an airport)," says EPIC.

EPIC, as you'd imagine, is up in arms. While it appears that the tests were carried out on willing volunteers, the DHS failed to get the proper permissions beforehand.

The unannounced field test wasn't subject to review, it says, and the DHS failed to perform a new Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA).

EPIC says it now plans to challenge the extensive redaction of several of the documents.