In addition to the myriad ways we are being spied on by surveillance cameras, biometrics and in the digital world, scientists also seek to uncover our internal workings in order to predict behavior. One way this traditionally has been done in law enforcement is through an examination of stress levels, whether it be from trained observation or newly created hi-tech mechanisms.
Perhaps the system that has garnered the most attention (and pushback) in the U.S. for predicting “mal intent” is the Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST), which was intended to be deployed in airports and claims an 80% success rate, though is yet to be rolled out.
Under FAST, biometric-based physiological and behavioral cues are captured through the following types of biometric data: body and eye movements, eye blink rate and pupil variation, body heat changes, and breathing patterns. Biometric-based linguistic cues include the capture of the following types of biometric data: voice pitch changes, alterations in rhythm, and changes in intonations of speech. (Source)
It is also intended to synthesize with other information available in a wide array of databases.
Following a series of violent attacks, Chinese scientists are now seeking a way to put pre-crime tech into the hands of street police. In addition to standard privacy concerns, the system that is being investigated raises questions about the future potential direction of wearable gadgets.
Researchers in China are looking to filter out some of the false positives that would result from a system such as FAST by utilizing hyperspectral imaging. Whereas people can learn to control their heart rate and some of the outward signs of stress, people cannot repress blood oxygen levels, according to the researchers:
Chen and his research team have developed a “stress sensor” that measures the amount of oxygen in blood across exposed areas of a body, such as the face. “The higher the mental stress, the higher the blood oxygenation,” he said.
Officers looking through the device at a crowd would see a mental “stress bar” above each person’s head, and the suspects highlighted with a red face.
They are reporting some early success with trials. However, they acknowledge that officers in the field will likely become overwhelmed with the information stream and would have to offload their data collection to more powerful systems than what would be available on a hand-held device.
Here is where it gets more interesting, and highly concerning.
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They believe that one way around this is to pre-screen using their system, but when suspicion arises they can approach the targeted individual with a “cuff” that could more precisely read biometric and physiological information.
Chen said Professor Liu Guangyuan, at the same university, had also been working on a wrist strap which officers would “cuff” onto a suspect to measure heart rate, galvanic skin response and breathing rate. “The suspected terrorists could hopefully be filtered out by non-contact devices and then be checked more intensively with contact devices,” Chen said.
Tech companies are furiously investing in wearable gadgetry that is primarily being marketed for health and fitness, but willingly records a user’s information. Could these wearable devices become easily integrated into the pre-crime police grid once a large segment of the population wears them, similar to the pervasive use of other smart gadgets? On the other side, even if one chooses to opt out (while you still can) of these gadgets, could Google Glass-type devices also be modified to become remote stress sensors for police use? In fact, Google Glass already been modified to read brain waves.
So far the complexities of human function and Big Data are halting the rollout of these full-spectrum scanning systems, as well as citizen concern and insufficient regulation … at least in China:
Li Jiancheng, a resident in Shanghai’s Pudong district, said he worried the technology would be abused by the authorities. “The technology can be used on terrorists, but harmless people such as petitioners and protesters could be the target as well. I would feel uncomfortable and tense if a police officer stared at me through strange goggles,” he said.
And of course we have to wonder if stress is the best determining factor in an increasingly stressed-out global population worried about the economy, Ebola, and whatever else it is that the corporate media aims to raise our blood pressure about.
Nevertheless, they are trying … and that is always worth paying attention to.
South China Morning Post
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