5 Technical Innovations in the War on Terrorism

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Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST)

If you knew a robber was going to invade your home tonight, would you do anything differently? What if you knew who that robber was in advance? The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has a number of behavioral sciences projects aimed at identifying criminal intent before a crime happens. One of these projects has produced the Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST) [source: DHS].

Like the backscatter X-rays mentioned earlier, FAST is a screening technology intended for use when security personnel need to quickly identify potential threats. Similar to the way a lie detector works, FAST measures your physiological responses. Unlike the lie detector, though, FAST requires no direct physical contact with the subject being analyzed, and airports and public buildings could use it similar to the way they use security cameras [source: DHS, Weinberger].

FAST incorporates multiple technological advances that are rather remarkable on their own. Original plans for FAST included a remote cardiovascular and respiratory sensor, a remote eye tracker, thermal cameras and high-resolution video [source: DHS].

As field tests began for FAST in mid-2011, questions remain about how security personnel should respond if FAST detects a potential problem. Can we definitely prove the person in question actually had criminal thoughts even though no crime was committed? Even if that proof exists, should law enforcement be able to detain or even punish a person just for a thought?

Time will tell how government security groups like the TSA use FAST, and whether private security companies will be able to use FAST technology. In the meantime, the next technology is making it faster and easier to determine whether a person is already in a criminal database.