Behavioral screening, the future of airport security?
By Dana Rosenblatt
TEL AVIV, Israel (CNN) — Keep your shoes and belts on: Waiting in long airport security lines to pass through metal detectors may soon be a thing of the past.
Security experts say focus is shifting from analyzing the content of carry-ons to analyzing the content of passengers’ intentions and emotions.
“We are seeing a needed paradigm shift when it comes to security,” says Omer Laviv, CEO of ATHENA GS3, an Israeli-based security company.
“This ‘brain-fingerprinting,’ or technology which checks for behavioral intent, is much more developed than we think.”
Nowhere is the need for cutting-edge security more acute than Israel, which faces constant security threats. For this reason, Israel has become a leader in developing security technology.
Several Israeli-based technology companies are developing detection systems that pick up signs of emotional strain, a psychological red flag that a passenger may intend to commit an act of terror. Speedier and less intrusive than metal detectors, these systems may eventually restore some efficiency to the airplane boarding process.
One firm, WeCU (pronounced “We See You”) Technologies, employs a combination of infra-red technology, remote sensors and imagers, and flashing of subliminal images, such as a photo of Osama bin Laden. Developers say the combination of these technologies can detect a person’s reaction to certain stimuli by reading body temperature, heart rate and respiration, signals a terrorist unwittingly emits before he plans to commit an attack.
WeCU has received grants from the Transportation Security Administration within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which hopes to implement a system to pinpoint internal threats such as airline employees intending terrorist acts.
Once these technologies are in place, a passenger may pass through a security screening without realizing it. For example, passengers could use an automated check-in system or gaze at a screen with departures information without realizing they’ve just been exposed to the words “Islamic jihad” written in Arabic.
These stimuli, explains Givon, will intrinsically elicit some sort of biometric response — whether the passenger knows it or not — that can be picked up by WeCU’s strategically placed sensors.
“I believe that we introduce a new layer in security,” Givon says. “This is something that couldn’t be done in the past: finding the connection between a certain individual and the intent to harm.”
The Orwellian-sounding startup has gone further to develop a system that detects a passenger’s behavioral intentions by scanning their every step, literally. While walking around certain parts of the airport terminal, a passenger may not realize he has stepped on a “smart carpet” filled with hidden biometric sensors.
The technology is still under development, says Givon, who believes it will be strong enough to pick up biometric information from a footstep. If a passenger is wearing heavy hiking boots, for example, WeCU will rely on biometric sensors combined with video and thermal biometric imaging to detect malicious intent.
Another option from WeCU is a “smart seat,” or cushion full of hidden biometric sensors that could provide a more detailed read on someone sitting in an airport waiting area, Givon says.
Givon is negotiating contracts with airports worldwide and believes his company’s technology may be implemented as soon as 2010.
Nemesysco, another Israeli-based technology company, believes the key to a person’s emotions and intentions lies in their voice. The company’s patented LVA, or Layered Voice Analysis, technology can pick up verbal cues from a passenger who may pose a threat.
Nemesysco’s devices use a series of patented signal-processing algorithms that can differentiate between a “normal” voice and a”’stressed” voice. If emotional stress is detected, officials can determine if the passenger should be taken aside for further questioning.
The system works on the premise that all voices have a certain frequency, and any deviation of that baseline frequency can indicate stress.
Liberman says it takes approximately five to 10 seconds for their system to capture a “normal” voice in casual conversation, which establishes a baseline. Their system then measures changes from the baseline voice that signify an increase in stress, excitement, anticipation, hesitation or other emotions that can indicate a potential terrorism threat.
A computer processes the voice patterns and then flashes words such as “high risk,” “medium risk,” “excited” and “highly stressed.” Through his system, Liberman says, he “can see what’s going on in your brain.”