European airlines are prototyping a Panopticon-in-the-sky: cameras trained on every passenger in flight, married to some kind of snake-oil "terrorism detection" software that will be able to tell if the guy in 11J is planning to rush the cockpit.
The European Union's Security of Aircraft in the Future European Environment (SAFEE) project uses a camera in every passenger's seat, with six wide-angle cameras to survey the aisles. Software then analyses the footage to detect developing terrorist activity or "air-rage" incidents, by tracking passengers' facial expressions…
"It looks for running in the cabin, standing near the cockpit for long periods of time, and other predetermined indicators that suggest a developing threat," says James Ferryman of the University of Reading, UK, one of the system's developers.
Other behaviours could include a person nervously touching their face, or sweating excessively. One such behaviour won't trigger the system to alert the crew, only certain combinations of them.
Ferryman is not ready to reveal specifically which behaviours were most likely to trigger the system. Much of the computer's ability to detect threats relies on sensitive information gleaned from security analysts in the intelligence community, he tells New Scientist.
Ah yes, that mainstay of great academic research: "I can't tell you why I believe this works, it's a secret." A proud tradition stretching all the way back to such proven systems of knowledge as, um, well, alchemy. Someone get that guy tenure.