Monday, July 29, 2019

Want to Travel? First Answer Some Questions from a Virtual Policeman

By Adam Dick - July 29, 2019 at 06:02PM

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Yes, the harassment travelers in American airports are forced to undergo for security, or, as some people call it, “security theater,” can become worse. Travelers already arrive early to stand in long lines before having their carry-on baggage inspected and their bodies scanned by machines of questionable safety. In some cases, travelers are frisked. All this despite there being no reason to suspect the particular travelers have committed or will commit a crime. “It’s all for your safety,” a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employee may say if asked why the mass harassment occurs day in and day out.

Yet, there can always be more harassment added to the mix. Don’t be surprised if travelers in America one day are required to answer questions presented by a computer avatar before they can take a flight, or maybe a bus or train ride. Suppose the connected computer program determines some of your answers are not truthful, then no travel for you or, at least, no travel without you being subjected to additional scrutiny. That is the nature of a program now being tested in Europe.

Ryan Gallagher and Ludovica Jona write about the pilot program, and its highly questionable results, in a Friday The Intercept article. Their article begins with the following:
They call it the Silent Talker. It is a virtual policeman designed to strengthen Europe’s borders, subjecting travelers to a lie detector test before they are allowed to pass through customs.

Prior to your arrival at the airport, using your own computer, you log on to a website, upload an image of your passport, and are greeted by an avatar of a brown-haired man wearing a navy blue uniform.

'What is your surname?' he asks. 'What is your citizenship and the purpose of your trip?' You provide your answers verbally to those and other questions, and the virtual policeman uses your webcam to scan your face and eye movements for signs of lying.

At the end of the interview, the system provides you with a QR code that you have to show to a guard when you arrive at the border. The guard scans the code using a hand-held tablet device, takes your fingerprints, and reviews the facial image captured by the avatar to check if it corresponds with your passport. The guard’s tablet displays a score out of 100, telling him whether the machine has judged you to be truthful or not.

A person judged to have tried to deceive the system is categorized as 'high risk' or 'medium risk,' dependent on the number of questions they are found to have falsely answered. Our reporter — the first journalist to test the system before crossing the Serbian-Hungarian border earlier this year — provided honest responses to all questions but was deemed to be a liar by the machine, with four false answers out of 16 and a score of 48. The Hungarian policeman who assessed our reporter’s lie detector results said the system suggested that she should be subject to further checks, though these were not carried out.

Travelers who are deemed dangerous can be denied entry, though in most cases they would never know if the avatar test had contributed to such a decision. The results of the test are not usually disclosed to the traveler; The Intercept obtained a copy of our reporter’s test only after filing a data access request under European privacy laws.
Continue reading Gallagher and Jona’s article here.

You may think the United States government would not be interested in using this type of technology-assisted harassment on travelers. But, in fact, it is right up the US government’s alley. Consider James Bovard’s 2018 article regarding TSA’s deployment of the Quiet Skies program that employed human surveillance to develop, based on “the flimsiest of pretexts,” assessments of danger posed by travelers.

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