Predicting “Future Crime?”

In the popular television show, Person of Interest, a mysterious billionaire named Mr. Finch uses a secret computer program to identify people connected to “future crimes.” While Mr. Finch uses the program to save lives, it’s easy to imagine such a thing being used for evil (see: Minority Report). Fortunately, this frightening technology doesn’t exist in real life…does it?

Screenshot of DHS Fast (Future Crime System)

Screenshot of DHS Fast (Future Crime System)
Source: US Government, DHS via Wikipedia

FAST: Future Attribute Screening Technology…or Future Crime Technology?

In 2008, news began to leak out that the Department of Homeland Security was working on a program named Project Hostile Intent (now called FAST, or Future Attribute Screening Technology). Its purpose was to detect “‘mal-intent’ by screening people for ‘psychological and physiological indicators’ in a ‘Mobile Screening Laboratory.'”

Recently, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) obtained an internal document from the Department of Homeland Security. It revealed that FAST is not just a piece of hypothetical technology. Future crime technology is real. And its being tested on real people, albeit voluntarily.

The concept behind FAST is fairly simple. Government agents will use “video images, audio recordings, cardiovascular signals, pheromones, electrodermal activity, and respiratory measurements” to examine individuals from afar. Advanced algorithms will then analyze this information. This will supposedly allow agents to “predict” future criminal behavior and give them a “head start to stop a crime or violent act in progress.”

Future Crime versus Criminal Profiling?

Technologies to predict the future seem to be all the rage in government agencies these days. The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) is developing a program to detect traitorous insiders who plan to turn on their colleagues. Meanwhile, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA) is working on technology to predict future global events and the “consequences of U.S. intelligence actions.”

Still, the government’s desire to predict the future isn’t new. After all, FAST is, in certain respects, just a more advanced version of the common yet controversial practice of “criminal profiling.” But while profiling usually focuses on just one or two factors, such as ethnicity or gender, FAST goes to a whole other level. It examines ethnicity, gender, age, occupation, breathing patterns, body movements, eye movements, changes in pitch, changes in speech, changes in body heat, and changes in heart rate among other things.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So, it would appear that the government is laying the groundwork for a system to predict crime. Fortunately, it’s only confined to employees of the Department of Homeland Security at the moment. Right?

Wrong. It turns out that FAST “has already been tested in at least one undisclosed location in the northeast.” While the nature of this location remains unknown, the DHS claims it wasn’t an airport.

EPIC is concerned about the privacy implications and believes that FAST needs to be reviewed. And it’s hard to argue with them. The privacy concerns are mind-boggling to say the least, especially since the government plans to “retain information” that it collects. In addition, the idea of being spied upon, profiled, singled out, and questioned by government agents for a crime not yet committed is disturbing to say the least. The potential for abuse is alarming and real…Very, very real.

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