Monday, December 13, 2010

Will Israeli-style airport security become affordable to the West?

Everyone seems to agree that the Israeli method of airport security - trying to catch terrorists, not bombs - is superior to the screening methods used in the rest of the world. There also seems to be widespread agreement that it would never work in major Western countries, first of all because it is too time-consuming, and would not translate well to airports that handle more than Ben Gurion's relatively small number of passengers (11m); and secondly because it is just too expensive, with Israel spending $56.75/passenger on security, compared to $6.93/passenger spent in the US. (Part of this, of course, is that to accommodate its system, Israel has to train and pay very capable security officers, while in the US airport security is a low-paying job for people without great prospects elsewhere.)

But now, according to the Daily Mail, both of those problems might be solved - thanks to a string of Israeli innovations. One company, for example, has developed a programme that simply... asks passengers whether they are terrorists! The company, WeCU,
derived their machine from the science that shows that anyone who comes across a familiar stimulus - for example, a branch of the bank he or she uses, or a favoured chain restaurant - will show a small but completely involuntary physical response.

'If you expose the subject to something that he knows, he will react, and this produces a detectable physiological change,' Givon says. 'And it's even better if he knows this test is going to happen. This isn't a trick. Nobody is going to be deceived.'

WeCU's technology can easily be incorporated into existing airport processes, such as the stand-up computers found at fast bag drop and check-in stations. Built into the screen is a cheap but highly sensitive thermal imaging sensor, which can measure data including the temperature of the subject's skin, heart rate, perspiration, blood pressure and changes in breathing, as well as other variables - 14 in all - most of which, says Givon, are classified. When the passenger begins to use the station, all these readings are taken almost instantly in order to establish a 'biological baseline'.

Then, over the course of the next 30 seconds, the machine will expose the subject to a stimulus that would cause a response in someone involved with terrorism, but not anyone else.

'I'm not going to give you details here, but it could be a sentence threaded into the instructions about getting a boarding pass or an image on the screen,' says Givon, 'or something as simple as a statement that says, "Thank you for keeping this flight safe". And whatever it is can be changed every day.
We certainly need a new method. We all know that our airport security is lacking; but did you realize that (according to the article), the number of times scanners and current non-Israeli security measures have detected a real bomb or bomber before they boarded a plane is... zero?

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