Homeland Security Gets Closer To Minority Report-Style Crime Predictor

from the arrest-first,-ask-questions-later dept

Ever since the film Minority Report came out, we’ve seen a series of stories about efforts to predict future crimes before they happen. Most of these are more about data mining to predict high crime areas and times — but some are going much further. Slashdot points us to a story about Homeland Security apparently making progress on a “pre-crime detector.” It was originally called “Project Hostile Intent,” but after some folks figured that the name was a bit… ominous, it seems to have been renamed as “Future Attribute Screening Technologies” (FAST). Basically the system is designed to spot “shifty” people who may be getting ready to commit a crime of some sort. The researchers behind it say that the early tests are incredibly effective: “We are running at about 78% accuracy on mal-intent detection, and 80% on deception.” Of course, there are tons of questions about privacy violations and how long it will take criminals to figure out ways to “beat the system.”

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Comments on “Homeland Security Gets Closer To Minority Report-Style Crime Predictor”

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MadJo (profile) says:

How long until thoughtcrime becomes reality?
*Starts rereading Nineteen Eighty Four*

Not only are their questions about privacy violations, but if no crime has been committed, you can’t indict anyone with said crime. No body, no murder, no case. How will you prove that someone had the intention of committing a crime? Talk about mission creep.

Leo says:

False positives

What is the false positives rate? How many people are tagged as pre-criminals even when they have only honest intentions?

Let’s assume this system is amazingly good and has only a 1% false positives rate. On an airport where 10.000 passengers pass through and 10 of them are terrorists, security now has to seperate the eight (remember, 78% success rate!) terrorists from the 100 angry innocents.

O, and two terrorists just got onboard, no problem.

The UberFrog says:

How Long?

So..how long do we think it’s going to take before the arrests start happening? ‘Mr Doe was arrested because we judged there was a 92% chance of him dealing heroin in the next 3 years……Mrs Smith arrested because there’s a strong chance she would shake her baby before it turned 2’.

78% accuracy on mal-intent detection? How the hell do they come up with those figures? There’s no way anybody can predict that. It’ll just be an excuse (if it goes much further) for officials to catch asian / middle-eastern people and say they predicted they would committ terrorist acts.

You can’t spot ‘shifty’. It’s a matter of opinion. What about crimes of passion? Spontaneity? How to spot that? All this would do is attack foreign nationals and anybody with a history.

Fuckin’ DHS.

Jake says:

Are We Barking Up The Wrong Tree?

Let’s keep this in perspective. Law-enforcement personnel have been making these kinds of observations, and acting on them, for as long as there have been cops; situational awareness and learning to read people’s body language are part of the job description. Someone at Homeland Security just thinks FAST is a faster/more effective/cheaper (my money is on the third possibility) solution than posting a large number of very well-trained personnel with full police powers of arrest and stop-and-search at strategic locations within a likely terrorist and/or criminal target.
But I wonder how the success rate of this fancy new piece of technology will compare with the professional judgement of an experienced CBP or regular police officer? The trial referenced in that New Scientist article was so contrived as to be meaningless; something like this needs a real double-blind test on a big scale before anyone places any orders. Perhaps a field test in Times Square on New Year’s Eve?

Michial (user link) says:

It's more likely

It’s more likely that this system will take John Doe, track his movements and actions though purchases… So if John Doe buys Salt Peter at a pharmacy, then goes to a chemical store and buys Sulfur, and then goes to the grocery store and buys a bottle of rubbing alcohol, and bag of Charcoal all within a few days of each other he would be flagged as a potential threat for making black powder at home.

Depending on the quantities of the purchase his threat could be as lot as making homemade firecrackers to as much as a potential bomber…

Same would go with things like increasing life insurance, withdrawing large sums of money from the bank, gifting away large assets would flag a potential suicide…

What would be interesting is if it could link multiple people doing smaller subsets such as one guy buying the salt peter, another the Sulfur and a third the charcoal and alcohol…

I highly doubt that it could predict crimes such as burglary or most murders, at least not until they can track out location 100% of the time.

Truth is a system like this would be much more reliable than any human observations could ever be. It’s a shame that every level of privacy we have is going to have to be sacrificed for this to work.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It's more likely

That’s not how the device works. It doesn’t track your shopping records. This is about BEHAVIOR. This is a device that records you like a camera and does an analysis of your stance, your eye movements, etc, to find out if your planning something . . . bad.

And BTW, even a 99% accuracy is horrible. Its called the Paradox of False Positives (link: http://craphound.com/littlebrother/download/). Funnily enough the person who wrote that (Cory Doctorow) started out describing the paradox like this:

“If you ever decide to do something as stupid as build an automatic terrorism detector, here’s a math lesson you need to learn first. It’s called “the paradox of the false positive,” and it’s a doozy.”

This is just another sign that the Executive branch needs a thorough cleaning. The next President has a lot of house keeping to do. The best way to start is by disbanding the TSA and DHS and getting some real experts rather than people who just share your political ideology.

Anonymous Coward says:

Detection? Of what?

When I read this line in the original article:

“We are running at about 78% accuracy on mal-intent detection, and 80% on deception.”

What struck me was that the system achieved these scores from *people who were explicitly told to act suspiciously*, not a random sampling.

The tech certainly can’t be that good if itonly gets an 80% hit rate of people who are *deliberately* acting suspiciously…

hegemon13 says:

How did they get their figures?

Human behavior in a simulation does not mimic that of real life. An honest person in a crime simulation will display more symptoms of guilt or nervousness than a practiced, confident criminal. Terrorists (at whom I assume this is targeted) train specifically to look inconspicuous. So, unless they are secretly using this in real airports and catching real terrorists, their stats are completely bogus.

NeoConBushSupporter says:


Seems to fit the idea of preemption and the overall Bush Doctrine, so I’m all for it (imagine if we could have killed Ben Ladin when he was a kid, would have been much easier). I would guess there are still some out there who want Al-Qaida to win and so will be against this sort of thing.


The Real Obama says:


It’s obvious you’re a dirty troll, but I’m bored so here goes…

Imagine if we could have killed George W. Bush before he could start a war that’s killed many times more human beings than 9/11 did. Or how about Kissinger before he carpet-bombed an entire country (yes, he was responsible)?

Let me make it clear I don’t advocate either because if you live long enough and pay attention(!) you’ll realize that bad things are going to happen to people of all stripes; good, bad, or otherwise.

As an aside, I’m always mildly amused/dismayed when defenders of Bush, the born-again Christian, conveniently drop the “hate the sin, love the sinner” dogma and wrap themselves in the flag. Makes me wonder how unshakeable that faith really is.

Surprised? says:

The likelyhood of this ever coming to fruition without a true 90% detection is nill. The American people would never let their freedoms be that encroached upon by their government. That’s why the Constitution was drafted, To ensure the freedoms of Americans and that if our government was trampling on those freedoms we have every right to take them back (with force if necessary). Yes I would be flagged as a dangerous person. Not because I’ve committed a crime, not because I want to commit a crime but because I protect my freedoms to the extent of true law. The Constitution is the one and only draft of law and anything other is blasphemous to that way of thinking.

People in the 80’s use to scream of Big Brother and were looked at as conspiracy theorists/nuts. You almost have to ask yourself, were they so wrong? Are they really not looking at the big picture? Maybe they are and you’re the one who is narrow minded.

My Rant of The Day

chris (profile) says:

myth of the false positive

the trouble with any system that is not 100% effective is false positives.

if such a system is 80% effective, that means it’s 20% ineffective and that 20% of the people scanned will be harassed for no reason. that’s why there are search and seizure laws and why warrants are supposed to be difficult to get, so you only go after 100% positives.

Killer_Tofu (profile) says:

Re: myth of the false positive

Re #31
Do you see that stopping the DHS with these border searchs? Their seizing of laptops, copying of documents?
Even if you are a US citizen they are ignoring your rights at the border.

The false positive is in no way a myth. If it is, please tell that to all the people who have been a false positive for systems used to track bad people. I am sure they would beg to differ.

Yes, the warrants should be hard to get. False positives Should be a myth, but they are far from it.

Wonderland Alice says:

Once upon a time

I remember when it was taught in public schools that it was better that a guilty person should remain free, rather than an innocent person be wrongfully convicted. Now it is just the opposite… “lock ’em all up, they would have eventually done something wrong anyhow… we’re just expediting the legal process.”

A sad, interesting footnote: psychopaths will get a free pass inasmuch as they “normally” do not register emotions, intents, or much of anything else (“he was such a nice looking boy… so thoughtful and considerate”… ala Ted Bundy).

John (profile) says:

Some points

The American people would never let their freedoms be that encroached upon by their government.

I guess you’re new to America and haven’t learned about things like the Patriot Act or the “we’re calling you a terrorist, so you’re automatically guilty” policies.

As for this “predictive crime” system, what ever happened to the idea of “innocent until PROVEN guilty”? Even if you’re arrested and charged with a crime, you still get your day in court where the government has to PROVE beyond a doubt that you committed the crime.
Now to government is going to pick people and say “He was going to commit a crime. See, he just looks guilty.”

And who are these “shifty” people that the new policy will catch? I would be willing to bet that it’s mostly minority races and religions. In other words, if you’re an American citizen, but look like you’re from the Middle East and you’re Islamic, you might as well turn yourself in now.

And will this “system” really be able to predict or catch real terrorists like Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber, who were WHITE?

RT says:


I think people are overreacting…. While it has potential to breach our basic rights I think if used correctly it could be beneficial but its accuracy needs to be improved. (if nothing else just a deterrent)

It should not be used to convict anyone but used to help security identify people who maybe up to no good.

If you go through the metal detector at the airport and the red light goes off you are not arrested…but pulled aside for additional screening. Same concept…

I also think airlines should consider “Nationality” Profiling. Seperate US Citizens from non US citizens in the screening process on domestic flights. Anyone can get a hold of a Drivers Licence..but getting a US Passport stating citiniship is a little more difficult. (also use biometric technology on identification papers…eye scans/fingerprints to help tie the document to the physical person).

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