Security: Can new technology read a flier's mind?

By Sean O'Neill
October 3, 2012
Not only can he read your mind, he can also tell if you plan to buy the <a href="" title="Minority Report DVD via Amazon" target="_blank"><em>Minority Report</em> DVD</a>

The attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Northwest Airlines jet showed that airport security remains flawed. The TSA is trying to come up with new tactics to keep terrorists off of our planes. Is there anything smarter than can be done?

We've blogged in the past about pre-screening passengers by filtering info from law enforcement databases, collecting "biometric data" with iris scans and other tests, and making passengers walk through whole-body scanners instead of mere metal detectors. Here are a few technologies that could help spot potential terrorists before it's too late, similar to the systems for detecting "pre-crimes" used in the Tom Cruise movie "Minority Report."

ROBOTIC MIND READING Under this system being tested in Israel, passengers would be shown photographs of known terrorists and studied for how they react. Passengers with guilty consciences or a touch of paranoia may react to the stress physically. Infrared cameras would measure jumps in a traveler's heart rate and breathing rate. If the passenger's vital signs reveal hidden nervousness, the passenger may be questioned further by officers.

POP QUIZ STRESS TEST Imagine you're approaching the airport security gate. You step up to a machine and put your passport on a scanner and rest the palm of your hand on a sensor. Then you answer a series of written questions that are flashed on a screen (or are spoken to you in audio mode, if you prefer). A machine measures your body's reactions during this question-and-answer session. Are you acting suspicious? You'll be pulled aside for further questioning. Such a scenario may not be a sci-fi fantasy anymore. New technology, memorably named SDS-VR-1000, is being tested to do precisely this.

KEEPING TABS ON THE SECURITY WORKERS A tragedy might go unprevented if an officer is distracted and daydreaming while the image of a bomb comes across their X-ray screen. But new monitoring equipment—similar to cardiogram machines—would continuously study employees to spot check their competency and help managers know when their employees need to take breaks. The technology, being develped by Eltel, is similar to the camera-monitoring system used by casinos to catch any signs of suspicious behavior by their staff or customers.

Do any of these programs work? The verdict is still out. Consider those infrared devices used to tell if a passenger's heart rate is speeding up. The machines sound awfully similar to those thermal imaging devices that are supposed to detect whether a passenger is running a fever—and which are not effective, according to a recent study.

False alarms are another worry. Many innocent passengers are bound to be mistakenly fingered as possible bad guys. Even if the devices were 99.999 percent accurate—which would be surprisingly good—they would set off about 20 false alarms a day nationwide. Yet for many Americans, the inconvenience and added expense could be worth it.

What do you think? How would you feel about being exposed to "incriminating stimuli" at the airport security gate to see how you react?

Plan Your Next Getaway
Keep reading
Product Reviews

Can the iPad truly take you new places?

Unless you've been stuck under a rock for the past week, there's a new device on the market called the iPad. Some are calling it a "game-changer," some are calling it an unnecessary extra. What remains to be seen is whether it will become a useful tool for travelers &mdash; and one worth the $500 (starting) price tag. In the effort of sussing that out, I'll be bringing one along with me this weekend on a trip to New Orleans, for the French Quarter Festival. I'll be mapping, eating, and, you know, dancing in the streets. Since these tech toys are only as good as the apps you download onto them, I'd like to know what you think I should test. Are there apps you're interested in hearing about? Challenges you want me to overcome? Questions you'd like answered? Send 'em my way today and I'll report back next week.

Product Reviews

The ultimate light-as-air carry-on

As airlines continue to tack on charges for checking bags, it's never been more crucial to find a lightweight, functional option you can easily heave into the overhead compartment&mdash;no assist necessary. Samsonite's Bright Lite line of luggage (in glossy pink, blue, or black) infuses a jolt of style into an otherwise sensible suitcase. Case in point: The ding-resistant polycarbonate shell clocks in at 6.6 pounds, and all four wheels spin 360 degrees for easy maneuvering. Good thing there's no fee for efficiency. You can purchase the 20-inch upright luggage at for $189 (pink won't be available until early May) and at Macy's beginning in late April. From the April 2010 issue of Budget Travel.

Product Reviews

Shop talk: Slip through airport security in patriotic flats

It's hard to beat a ballet flat when it comes to slipping through the airport security line with minimal shoelessness. A new collection from 91-year-old Spanish company Pretty Ballerinas, debuting this spring, underscores the globetrotting aesthetic. The "Around the World" line has nine styles, inspired by the flags of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.S., and of course, Spain. (There's also a riff on the Union Jack that is part of the company's core collection.) I'm personally partial to the Brazil and Argentina styles&mdash;if only because their color palettes are less common&mdash;but the Japan also has a cool minimalist look. There's just one catch: The flats go for a steep $195&ndash;275 per pair. Check them out at MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVELGet through security faster (30 comments) Travel-inspiring art for sale online

Product Reviews

Kayak teams up with Yapta to let you track fare changes

Two websites that Budget Travel raves about--Yapta and Kayak--are now working together in a helpful way for travelers. Yapta helps you keep tabs on fare changes before and after you book your flight, so you can get any applicable vouchers or refunds from the airline if the price for your exact flight drops after you book. Kayak has now integrated Yapta's service into its search results. It's not happening right away, though. It'll take several weeks before you notice the Yapta "track price drops" button appear on Kayak search results. But immediately as of today, Kayak's flight search tool appears on the To be eligible for a refund if the price drops, you need to book directly with the airline. Yapta spokesperson Jeff Pecor points out that,"If you book through an online travel agency, you're not going to be protected by the airline's "guaranteed airfare policy." The beauty of Kayak is that they give you the option to book the flight directly with the airline (in addition to giving you the option to book through an online travel agency, such as Orbitz." EARLIER Get money back when prices drop