Welcome To The TSA’s Creepy-Ass “Behavior Detection” Program

Faces:Double M/Flickr; Laser: Chris Koss/Flickr

Does reading people’s microexpressions stop terrorists, or just encourage pseudoscientific profiling?

Airport security basically sucks: Being herded through a Tensabarrier maze alongside a bunch of strangers is vexing enough. Then throw in the bag searches, the bomb-swabs, the mandatory doffing and donning of footwear and accessories, the “complimentary” pat down–it’s hardly surprising that some people will come through the experience looking less than cheerful.

Nowadays, though, your very reasonable travel emotions (anxiety, stress, fear, despondency) can earn you even more face time with the Transportation Security Administration. Since 2003 TSA has toyed with the idea of placing “behavior detection officers” in airports across America–part of a $1 billion counter-terrorism measure known as SPOT (Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques), which officially launched in 2007.

The behavior detection officer’s job is to scan travelers’ faces for micro-expressions–facial movements that come and go in the blink of an eye and are said to convey a person’s true emotions. When one of these airport mentalists spots a potentially shifty character, he can take it to the next level by striking up a casual conversation–the idea being that brief encounters may suggest whether a person poses a threat.

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