Despite the endless security-related hassles to be encountered while traveling nowadays, I’ve never been harassed much. I’ve had pat-downs and bag-searches, had my camera bag tested for explosives, been questioned by moody Passport Guys, even yelled at by American border drones when coming back from Canada. I also had my stick deodorant confiscated once, even though the TSA listed non-gels as OK. (Hey, the label even said that it “goes on dry”! I guess a moist stick still counts as a sort of half-liquid or something.) But overall, I glide though the hoops and all generally goes well because I follow their silly rules, even when it means getting halfway undressed at the metal detector.
Now, however, there’s a new factor to take into account: my face. Later this week we’ll be passing through Sea-Tac airport, and according to an article in the Seattle PI, they’ll be watching our facial expressions to determine if we plan to commit an act of unspeakable evil. Apparently “microfacial expressions” can betray our deepest, darkest, stinkiest secrets. Oh dear.
I’m no expert, but I’m a tad skeptical. This is the airport we’re talking about, after all. Can they really sniff out “terrorist expressions” in a place where people feel rushed, cramped, and crabby because of traffic, tight schedules, delayed flights, lost luggage, and ludicrous security requirements? People are going to have less-than-pleasant expressions on their faces quite a bit, it’s just a given. Hell, some people just scowl naturally — maybe it’s their usual expression or maybe they’re simply trying to work something out. I tend to scowl when I’m concentrating something, even in the best of moods…so I guess I’d better not think too much while I’m passing through Sea-Tac, hmmm?
Ordinary people who are feeling anxious are “much more open with their body movements and their facial expressions as compared to an operational terrorist (thinking) ‘I’ve got to defeat security,’ ” Maccario said.
I guess this means that if I’m pretty relaxed and looking confident but I’ve got a sore back which causes me to wince or scowl for a brief moment, they might pull me over for questioning. Microfacial expressions, indeed. According to the story, they say they’re be able to differentiate between standard expressions of impatience/nervousness and evildoer intent, but what do they base this on? How did they practice for this? Are they going to be able to tell whether some guy with a nasty look on his face is planning something dastardly or is simply irritated because the TSA goons threw out his stick deodorant after he went through all the trouble of finding one small enough to fit in the absurd little plastic bag they require? Skeptical traveling minds on a schedule want to know.
“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.”
Keep in mind that the TSA is already doing its best to scare the hell out of us and keep us on edge. We’ve got the bogus 3-oz bottle rule (“That sippy-cup of baby formula may kill us all!”), the no-outside-liquids rule (“Please enjoy the vastly overpriced drinks in the terminal!”), the constantly-repeating loudspeaker messages (“Suspicious bags will be destroyed! Don’t park here more than 3 minutes or you will be arrested!”), the random pat-down-and-questioning routine (“I’m patting down your vaginal area for explosives, but I’m using the back of my hand so it’s OK.”), and many others. Maybe some of those work and maybe they don’t, but with all of them piling on top of us, I’m willing to bet that most people are going to have a “flash of fear” when questioned by airport security people these days.
They also won’t say if any terror plots have been foiled this way, though they’ve referred a few to “couterterrorism investigation” and arrested others for things like outstanding warrants or drug possession. I’m all for capturing criminals, but what worries me are all the false positives that can occur from something like this. There are many innocent people every year who are mysteriously put on the Do Not Fly list and have to fight to clear their names — perhaps this sort of thing is connected, who knows. I just hope they don’t read blogs much.