Airports need behaviour screening: security expert

Posted by admin on Jan 7th, 2010

Thursday, January 7, 2010 CBC News

Training airport officials to examine a passenger’s body language and behaviour could help identify potential threats that other high-tech screening methods might miss, says a Canadian security expert. Arne Kislenko, an professor of international relations at the University of Toronto and a former senior security officer at Lester B. Pearson Airport in Toronto, believes airport security staff shouldn’t rely solely on screening technology like the new full-body scanners. The machines, which cost $250,000 each, are able to see through clothing and allow a screening officer to see whether someone is carrying explosives or other dangerous items.

The federal government has ordered scanners to be installed in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax.

But individuals determined to hijack or bomb a plane will find a way around the system, Kislenko said.

“[The terrorists are] very advanced,” he told CBC News. “Everything from shoe bombs to liquid pens that can ignite.”

The federal government appears to agree with Kislenko that “behaviour detection officers” are needed. Transport Minister John Baird recently announced that in addition to buying scanners, the government would soon issue a proposal to develop a behaviour observation program.

Kislenko said behaviour observation is based on techniques developed by Israeli airport security experts. As a longtime target for terrorism, Israel’s airline security is known for being extremely scrutinizing.

Israeli airport officials are trained to visually scan passengers’ faces for warning signs, such as nervous tics or excessive sweating. Those deemed suspicious are then subject to further questioning and possibly a search.
Other agencies, airports use behaviour observation

Some Canadian agencies, including Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the RCMP, and transit special constables, already have similar programs in place.

Other countries have incorporated behaviour observation into their airport security programs.

The U.S. has a Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques program, or SPOT, which has trained more than 3,000 agents and placed them in 161 airports since being launched in 2004.

British airport authorities constantly monitor closed circuit television cameras looking for strange behaviour like wandering or sudden running. They have also been investing more in high-tech biometric cameras that can track facial characteristics and even body temperature.

Security experts in support of behaviour observation and full-body scanners say they help shore up a weakness in North American airport security commonly pointed out by Israeli officials — that the North American approach devotes too much time to screening people equally instead of singling out the few passengers who could be potential threats.

But some Canadians have expressed concerns about how new security technologies and techniques will affect their privacy.

Canadian Civil Liberties Association general counsel Natalie Des Rosiers said she had concerns about the behavioural screening plan, which she says could be used to single out certain groups for racial profiling.

“These kind of checklists also pick up people who are nervous for a whole range of reasons that have nothing to do with the flight,” said David Murakami Wood, a security specialist and sociology professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

The focus on increasing security measures stems from the failed attempt by a man to set off a bomb on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day.

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