Airport security

Internal documents show TSA has no scientific basis for its behavior detection program

Documents obtained by the ACLU show that the agency knew its $1.5 billion program was pseudoscience.

Airport security

Suspicious behaviors

Exaggerated yawning
Arriving late for flight
Gazing down
Airport security

Internal documents show TSA has no scientific basis for its behavior detection program

Documents obtained by the ACLU show that the agency knew its $1.5 billion program was pseudoscience.

The TSA's behavior detection program — in which the agency uses a 92-point check list of behaviors to select people in airports for extra interrogration — has cost around $1.5 billion since its introduction in 2007.

Documents obtained by the ACLU confirm that the agency not only lacks a scientific basis for the behaviors on its list, as it claimed to Congress, but it was sitting on a pile of research that showed the opposite.

“The studies in the TSA’s files include ample evidence showing why people who rely on these indicators do poorly in detecting deception: The indicators are not reliably associated with deception,” the ACLU wrote.

According to one study found in the TSA’s files:

Four decades of deception research in which more than 100 studies have been published have revealed one major finding. The mere fact that someone lies will not affect his behavior, voice, or speech, and therefore typical deceptive responses such as ‘Pinocchio’s growing nose’ do not exist.

The behaviors on the TSA list, which was leaked to The Intercept in 2015, include common behaviors such as “arrives late for flight,” “repetitive touching of face,” sweaty palms, appearing lost, and complaining about the screening process. It also includes ambiguous descriptors such as “widely open staring eyes,” “powerful grip of a bag,” and “appears to be in disguise.”

These are just “catch all” behaviors used to justify singling out passengers — in other words, “a license to harass,” one TSA employee told The Intercept. The program is a cover for racial profiling, another toldThe New York Times.

The ACLU called on Congress to defund the program and “implement a rigorous anti-discrimination training program for its workforce.”

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