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Homeland Security Tests Crime Prediction Tech

As predictive analytics becomes an emerging trend in the business world, DHS tests project to screen people for behaviors linked to violence or crime before it happens.
Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters
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Slideshow: Inside DHS' Classified Cyber-Coordination Headquarters
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is testing a system that can predict when people might have a tendency to commit criminal behavior before it happens, a DHS spokesman has confirmed.

The Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST) mobile module project aims to develop technologies that can screen people for certain behavioral attributes associated with committing violent acts or other crimes, to give security officials a faster way to assess potential threats.

Specifically, the program--which is only in the preliminary stages of research--is using sensors to "non-intrusively" collect video images, audio recordings, and so-called "psychophysiological measurements" such as heart rate, breathing patterns, and eye blinking, that will be analyzed for their association with certain behaviors, according to DHS documents posted on the Electronic Privacy Information Center website. EPIC said it acquired the documents through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The idea behind the technology is that certain physical behaviors are signs that a person is agitated or nervous and may be about to commit a crime or violent act. To have this information before that happens may give security officials a head start to stop a crime or violent act in progress.

[DHS is stepping aggressively to implement cloud computing. Learn more: Homeland Security Plans 12 Cloud Services.]

DHS spokesperson Chris Ortman said Tuesday that the DHS science and technology directorate "has conducted preliminary research" in controlled settings "to determine the feasibility" of using the technology and other observational techniques "to detect signs of stress which are often associated with intent to do harm."

However, he added that the department has no plans at this time to acquire or deploy this technology publicly. Moreover, the DHS FAST project works only with voluntary participants and does not store any personally identifiable information.

While some have compared FAST to sci-fi like criminal profiling as depicted in the film "Minority Report," the use of predictive analysis to better prepare for events or behaviors is not so uncommon nor futuristic at all. Various federal agencies currently are developing these types of technologies for security and intelligence purposes.

The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, for example, is developing technology through its Anomaly Detection at Multiple Scales (ADAMS) program that can sift through the behavioral signs that may lead to someone turning on his or her colleagues, and prevent the action before it happens. The project is aimed at early detection of insider threats.

The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA), too, is developing forecasting analysis technology, but on a broader scale for use not to predict behaviors, but events.

The agency's Aggregative Contingent Estimation (ACE) program aims to create Web-based software to gather information from a variety of sources to predict global events and the consequences of U.S. intelligence actions.

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