TSA Screeners to Look for Facial Tics to Find Terrorists

The TSA will begin new screening process, but critics say screeners won’t be trained well enough for it to be effective.

On Aug 15, the TSA will begin using a new screening program called, “Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques,” or SPOT for short, at Boston’s Logan International Airport, the Boston Herald reports.

The Israeli-designed screening system requires screeners to watch for passengers’ physical reactions to certain questions, rather than relying on racial profiling to root out potential terrorists.

The system is designed to detect “micro expressions” on passengers after being asked basic questions, such as “Where are you traveling?” or “Where have you been?” The indicators could be as simple as lack of eye contact, which will prompt screeners to pull the passenger aside for more questioning and pat-downs.

But recent TSA mishaps, including an incident in Tennessee where screeners forced a 95 year-old to remove her adult diaper, have made security experts question TSA screeners’ ability to rely on micro expression detection.

“I’m not convinced that the TSA has good enough people to make the Israeli approach work on a large scale,” said Glenn Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor who writes about the TSA told The Boston Herald.

The TSA’s course to learn the SPOT system is four days long and taught by an outside consulting firm, according to a TSA spokeswoman.

The SPOT system has been tested for several years now, with controversial results along the way.

Republican Congressman John Mica, who serves on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, blasted the TSA for wasting taxpayer money for what he considered a huge waste of taxpayer dollars.

According to a press release on Rep. Mica’s website, a U.S. Government Accountability Office report had unsubstantial proof of SPOT’s effectiveness. The GAO report said that between May 2005 and August 2008, 2 billion passengers went through SPOT airports with 150,000 people selected for secondary screening and 0 arrested for terrorism.

However, Mica blames the TSA for the failure, not the SPOT system itself.

“GAO’s report confirms that TSA has bungled the development and deployment of a potentially important layer of aviation security,” Mica said.

“Other countries, such as Israel, successfully employ behavior detection techniques at their airports, but the bloated, ineffective bureaucracy of TSA has produced another security failure for U.S. transportation systems.”

But Prof. Reynolds is slightly more optimistic.

“Almost anything would be an improvement over the clown show we’ve got now.”