Posts tagged ‘Government’

NASA plans to read terrorist’s minds at airports

NASA plans to read terrorist’s minds at airports
Frank J. Murray

Published 8/17/2002

Airport security screeners may soon try to read the minds of travelers to identify terrorists.
Officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have told Northwest Airlines security specialists that the agency is developing brain-monitoring devices in cooperation with a commercial firm, which it did not identify.
Space technology would be adapted to receive and analyze brain-wave and heartbeat patterns, then feed that data into computerized programs “to detect passengers who potentially might pose a threat,” according to briefing documents obtained by The Washington Times.
NASA wants to use “noninvasive neuro-electric sensors,” imbedded in gates, to collect tiny electric signals that all brains and hearts transmit. Computers would apply statistical algorithms to correlate physiologic patterns with computerized data on travel routines, criminal background and credit information from “hundreds to thousands of data sources,” NASA documents say.
The notion has raised privacy concerns. Mihir Kshirsagar of the Electronic Privacy Information Center says such technology would only add to airport-security chaos. “A lot of people’s fear of flying would send those meters off the chart. Are they going to pull all those people aside?”
The organization obtained documents July 31, the product of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration, and offered the documents to this newspaper.
Mr. Kshirsagar’s organization is concerned about enhancements already being added to the Computer-Aided Passenger Pre-Screening (CAPPS) system. Data from sensing machines are intended to be added to that mix.
NASA aerospace research manager Herb Schlickenmaier told The Times the test proposal to Northwest Airlines is one of four airline-security projects the agency is developing. It’s too soon to know whether any of it is working, he says.
“There are baby steps for us to walk through before we can make any pronouncements,” says Mr. Schlickenmaier, the Washington official overseeing scientists who briefed Northwest Airlines on the plan. He likened the proposal to a super lie detector that would also measure pulse rate, body temperature, eye-flicker rate and other biometric aspects sensed remotely.
Though adding mind reading to screening remains theoretical, Mr. Schlickenmaier says, he confirms that NASA has a goal of measuring brain waves and heartbeat rates of airline passengers as they pass screening machines.
This has raised concerns that using noninvasive procedures is merely a first step. Private researchers say reliable EEG brain waves are usually measurable only by machines whose sensors touch the head, sometimes in a “thinking cap” device. “To say I can take that cap off and put sensors in a doorjamb, and as the passenger starts walking through [to allow me to say] that they are a threat or not, is at this point a future application,” Mr. Schlickenmaier said in an interview.
“Can I build a sensor that can move off of the head and still detect the EEG?” asks Mr. Schlickenmaier, who led NASA’s development of airborne wind-shear detectors 20 years ago. “If I can do that, and I don’t know that right now, can I package it and [then] say we can do this, or no we can’t? We are going to look at this question. Can this be done? Is the physics possible?”
Two physics professors familiar with brain-wave research, but not associated with NASA, questioned how such testing could be feasible or reliable for mass screening. “What they’re saying they would do has not been done, even wired in,” says a national authority on neuro-electric sensing, who asked not to be identified. He called NASA’s goal “pretty far out.”
Both professors also raised privacy concerns.
“Screening systems must address privacy and ‘Big Brother’ issues to the extent possible,” a NASA briefing paper, presented at a two-day meeting at Northwest Airlines headquarters in St. Paul, Minn., acknowledges. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional police efforts to use noninvasive “sense-enhancing technology” that is not in general public use in order to collect data otherwise unobtainable without a warrant. However, the high court consistently exempts airports and border posts from most Fourth Amendment restrictions on searches.
“We’re getting closer to reading minds than you might suppose,” says Robert Park, a physics professor at the University of Maryland and spokesman for the American Physical Society. “It does make me uncomfortable. That’s the limit of privacy invasion. You can’t go further than that.”
“We’re close to the point where they can tell to an extent what you’re thinking about by which part of the brain is activated, which is close to reading your mind. It would be terribly complicated to try to build a device that would read your mind as you walk by.” The idea is plausible, he says, but frightening.
At the Northwest Airlines session conducted Dec. 10-11, nine scientists and managers from NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., proposed a “pilot test” of the Aviation Security Reporting System.
NASA also requested that the airline turn over all of its computerized passenger data for July, August and September 2001 to incorporate in NASA’s “passenger-screening testbed” that uses “threat-assessment software” to analyze such data, biometric facial recognition and “neuro-electric sensing.”
Northwest officials would not comment.
Published scientific reports show NASA researcher Alan Pope, at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., produced a system to alert pilots or astronauts who daydream or “zone out” for as few as five seconds.
The September 11 hijackers helped highlight one weakness of the CAPPS system. They did dry runs that show whether a specific terrorist is likely to be identified as a threat. Those pulled out for special checking could be replaced by others who do not raise suspicions. The September 11 hijackers cleared security under their own names, even though nine of them were pulled aside for extra attention.

Copyright © 2002 News World Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.

Economist magazine: Future of Mind Control

The future of mind control
May 23rd 2002
From The Economist print edition

People already worry about genetics. They should worry about brain science too

IN AN attempt to treat depression, neuroscientists once carried out a simple experiment. Using electrodes, they stimulated the brains of women in ways that caused pleasurable feelings. The subjects came to no harm—indeed their symptoms appeared to evaporate, at least temporarily—but they quickly fell in love with their experimenters.

Such a procedure (and there have been worse in the history of neuroscience) poses far more of a threat to human dignity and autonomy than does cloning. Cloning is the subject of fierce debate, with proposals for wholesale bans. Yet when it comes to neuroscience, no government or treaty stops anything. For decades, admittedly, no neuroscientist has been known to repeat the love experiment. A scientist who used a similar technique to create remote-controlled rats seemed not even to have entertained the possibility. “Humans? Who said anything about humans?” he said, in genuine shock, when questioned. “We work on rats.”

Ignoring a possibility does not, however, make it go away. If asked to guess which group of scientists is most likely to be responsible, one day, for overturning the essential nature of humanity, most people might suggest geneticists. In fact neurotechnology poses a greater threat—and also a more immediate one. Moreover, it is a challenge that is largely ignored by regulators and the public, who seem unduly obsessed by gruesome fantasies of genetic dystopias.

A person’s genetic make-up certainly has something important to do with his subsequent behaviour. But genes exert their effects through the brain. If you want to predict and control a person’s behaviour, the brain is the place to start. Over the course of the next decade, scientists may be able to predict, by examining a scan of a person’s brain, not only whether he will tend to mental sickness or health, but also whether he will tend to depression or violence. Neural implants may within a few years be able to increase intelligence or to speed up reflexes. Drug companies are hunting for molecules to assuage brain-related ills, from paralysis to shyness (see article).

A public debate over the ethical limits to such neuroscience is long overdue. It may be hard to shift public attention away from genetics, which has so clearly shown its sinister side in the past. The spectre of eugenics, which reached its culmination in Nazi Germany, haunts both politicians and public. The fear that the ability to monitor and select for desirable characteristics will lead to the subjugation of the undesirable—or the merely unfashionable—is well-founded.

Not so long ago neuroscientists, too, were guilty of victimising the mentally ill and the imprisoned in the name of science. Their sins are now largely forgotten, thanks in part to the intractable controversy over the moral status of embryos. Anti-abortion lobbyists, who find stem-cell research and cloning repugnant, keep the ethics of genetic technology high on the political agenda. But for all its importance, the quarrel over abortion and embryos distorts public discussion of bioethics; it is a wonder that people in the field can discuss anything else.

In fact, they hardly do. America’s National Institutes of Health has a hefty budget for studying the ethical, legal and social implications of genetics, but it earmarks nothing for the specific study of the ethics of neuroscience. The National Institute of Mental Health, one of its component bodies, has seen fit to finance a workshop on the ethical implications of “cyber-medicine”, yet it has not done the same to examine the social impact of drugs for “hyperactivity”, which 7% of American six- to eleven-year-olds now take. The Wellcome Trust, Britain’s main source of finance for the study of biomedical ethics, has a programme devoted to the ethics of brain research, but the number of projects is dwarfed by its parallel programme devoted to genetics.

Uncontrollable fears

The worriers have not spent these resources idly. Rather, they have produced the first widespread legislative and diplomatic efforts directed at containing scientific advance. The Council of Europe and the United Nations have declared human reproductive cloning a violation of human rights. The Senate is soon to vote on a bill that would send American scientists to prison for making cloned embryonic stem cells.

Yet neuroscientists have been left largely to their own devices, restrained only by standard codes of medical ethics and experimentation. This relative lack of regulation and oversight has produced a curious result. When it comes to the brain, society now regards the distinction between treatment and enhancement as essentially meaningless. Taking a drug such as Prozac when you are not clinically depressed used to be called cosmetic, or non-essential, and was therefore considered an improper use of medical technology. Now it is regarded as just about as cosmetic, and as non-essential, as birth control or orthodontics. American legislators are weighing the so-called parity issue—the argument that mental treatments deserve the same coverage in health-insurance plans as any other sort of drug. Where drugs to change personality traits were once seen as medicinal fripperies, or enhancements, they are now seen as entitlements.

This flexible attitude towards neurotechnology—use it if it might work, demand it if it does—is likely to extend to all sorts of other technologies that affect health and behaviour, both genetic and otherwise. Rather than resisting their advent, people are likely to begin clamouring for those that make themselves and their children healthier and happier.

This might be bad or it might be good. It is a question that public discussion ought to try to settle, perhaps with the help of a regulatory body such as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which oversees embryo research in Britain. History teaches that worrying overmuch about technological change rarely stops it. Those who seek to halt genetics in its tracks may soon learn that lesson anew, as rogue scientists perform experiments in defiance of well-intended bans. But, if society is concerned about the pace and ethics of scientific advance, it should at least form a clearer picture of what is worth worrying about, and why.

Copyright © 2002 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights reserved.