TSA to punish fliers for facecrime

TSA screeners are learning to recognize set of secret, forbidden facial expressions. If your face slips into one of these during a TSA inspection, you will be taken off and given a thorough, secondary screening:

TSA officials will not reveal specific behaviors identified by the program — called SPOT (Screening Passengers by Observation Technique) — that are considered indicators of possible terrorist intent.

But a central task is to recognize microfacial expressions — a flash of feelings that in a fraction of a second reflects emotions such as fear, anger, surprise or contempt, said Carl Maccario, who helped start the program for TSA.

"In the SPOT program, we have a conversation with (passengers) and we ask them about their trip," said Maccario from his office in Boston. "When someone lies or tries to be deceptive, … there are behavior cues that show it. … A brief flash of fear."

Making Light's Avram Grumer draws a vivid parallel to Orwell's facecrime:

He did not know how long she had been looking at him, but perhaps for as much as five minutes, and it was possible that his features had not been perfectly under control. It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself – anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offence. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime, it was called. (Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part 1, Chapter 5)

It's a complicated issue: on the one hand, this beats racial profiling (as the article notes). On the other hand, the penalty for wearing the wrong face is nigh-unlimited. We've all heard stories of screeners detaining people, forbidding them to fly, and so on, in a kind of bottomless expression of authority without oversight. I'd feel a lot better about this if the TSA would publish the forbidden faces (look, if it's peer-reviewed science, that means terrorists can just look it up in the damned journals, and if it's not science, why should we believe it works?) so that we can all verify for ourselves whether this actually works or whether it's just a bunch of hooey; I'd also feel better if the TSA acted as though the Constitution mattered to them, securing us from unreasonable search and seizure, being answerable to us as their tax-paying employers, and maintaining the presumption of innocence throughout our travelling experience.


(via Making Light)