Brain scanning may be used in security checks

Source:, 10 May 2009

By: Owen Bowcott
Article history

Also found on tech radar
Distinctive brain patterns could become the latest subject of biometric scanning after EU researchers successfully tested technology to verify ­identities for security checks.

The experiments, which also examined the potential of heart rhythms to authenticate individuals, were conducted under an EU-funded inquiry into biometric systems that could be deployed at airports, borders and in sensitive locations to screen out terrorist suspects.

Another series of tests fitted a “sensing seat” to a truck to record each driver’s characteristic seated posture in an attempt to spot whether commercial vehicles had been hijacked.

Details of the Humabio (Human Monitoring and Authentication using Biodynamic Indicators and Behaviourial Analysis) pilot projects have been published amid further evidence of biometric technologies penetrating everyday lives.

The Foreign Office plans to spend up to £15m on fixed and mobile security devices that use methods including “Facial recognition (two and/or three dimensional), fingerprint recognition, iris recognition and vein imaging palm recognition”.

The biometric sensors and systems, it appears, will primarily be deployed to protect UK embassies around the world. The contract, about which the FCO declined to elaborate further, also mentions “surveillance” and “data collection” services.

The Home Office, meanwhile, has confirmed rapid expansion plans of automated facial recognition gates: 10 will be operating at major UK airports by August.

Passengers holding the latest generation of passports travelling through Manchester and Stansted are already being checked by facial-recognition cameras.

Biometric identity checks are also becoming more common in the world of commercial gadgets. New versions of computer laptops and mobile phones are entering the market with built-in fingerprint scanners to prevent other people running up large bills and misusing pilfered hi-tech equipment.

Among security experts there is a preference for developing biometric security devices that do not rely on measuring solely one physiological trait: offering choice makes scanning appear less intrusive and allows for double-checking.

The holy grail of the biometrics industry is a scanning mechanism that is socially acceptable in an era of mass transit and 100 per cent accurate. Researchers are eager to produce ‘non-contact’ biometric systems that can check any individual’s identity at a distance.

The US government’s secretive IARPA (Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity) is seeking development proposals to enhance such technologies. Insisting that it is not interested in ‘contact-type’ biometrics, it asks for ideas that will “significantly advance the intelligence community’s ability to achieve high-confidence match performance … [for] high fidelity biometric signatures”.

The Humabio project, based in Greece, is involved more in blue-sky scientific thinking than in intelligence work. Its research, highlighted in the latest issue of Biometric Technology Today, is at a “pre-commercial, proof-of-concept stage”.

The EU has been testing new ways to catch terrorists, and a method of brain scanning could be the way to weed them out.

Developed via the Humabio (Human Monitoring and Authentication using Biodynamic Indicators and Behaviourial Analysis) projects based in Greece, the scans would search for distinctive brain patterns as people pass through checks.

This would be used in sensitive locations, such as airports and borders to catch those that might have successfully forged documents, although the research hasn’t shown how long such scans would take.

Humabio – not a 70s Brazilian footballer

The Humabio projects, funded by the EU, have also looked at ways of monitoring heart rhythms to achieve the same effect, as well as monitoring posture in truck drivers to tell when the vehicle is being used by an unauthorised user.

The project primarily looks at future possibilities for testing rather than swiftly deliverable technology, and researches other methods of suspect recognition by measuring faces and even a person’s gait.

This isn’t the first time that brain fingerprinting has been thought of as a way of finding terror suspects, as Israeli researchers have been working on a similar system for airport security.

However, theirs differs in that it will covertly offer subjects words such as ‘Jihad’ and will be able to measure those that display emotional strain.

There are those of us that have the same response to anything starring a Big Brother contestant, so it might need a few tweaks in case we accidentally glance at a copy of Heat in the airport.

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