Tuesday, May 31, 2011

I know what you're thinking

By Capt. Fogg

My first thought was: I've seen this scenario in some cheesy Tom Cruise infected Sci-Fi movie. Apparently that thought occurred to the Nature.com editorial staff as well. The Department of Homeland Security it would seem, is testing a system to detect malicious thoughts. No really.

They call it Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST) because that's what government departments do with their doings, lest clear speech shed clear light. They make up acronyms that disguise the tunnels they dig under the foundations of liberty, but I digress. The technology purports to identify individuals who are planning to blow things up or have "malintent" as they say in the dialect.

Like a more traditional polygraph, FAST measures heart rates, among other things. Heart rates respiration and perspiration go up, after all when you're nervous about the bomb in your shorts or wishing you could throttle some thick-skull TSA twit as he gives you grief over an aspirin in your pants pocket that shows up on a scanner and starts groping you for explosives as you put your hands over your head in abject submission. Hell I'm sure I'd set off all kinds of alarm bells right now just thinking of how I've so often been treated as a felon on his way into the penitentiary instead of a tired traveler trying to get home.

I have no idea about what else this electro-mechanical night club bouncer measures and I'm not sure it invades any privacy that hasn't already been taken away by the cowardly traitors who passed the "Patriot" Act. I'm too lazy and too unwilling to provoke myself into another Lewis Black style tantrum to read the " Privacy Impact Assessment" our bureaucratic brethren at DHS have given us. I'll leave that to you. Besides my loathing of people who seem to exist only for the purpose of inserting that fly-blown and putrid metaphor into every sentence, it was written, most revealingly, by someone any German speaker will recognize as the Devil himself: Hugo Teufel III, Chief Privacy offer at the DHS under George W. Bush.

Does it work any better than the Polygraph does at detecting the evasions of sociopaths? It would have to, since those tend to be the people we're looking to put on no-fly lists and of course we won't have the results interpreted by a seasoned professional, but rather someone who was promoted from K-Mart security officer last week.

No, it's the stuff of B movies or sarcastic Dr. Strangelove sequels or even Orwell novels, but perhaps we've lost the ability even to see what the politics of fear has done to us in our cringing, cowardly new century.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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