Dogs, sensors, ‘behaviour’ officers set to make future air travel more challenging

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TSA has come under heavy criticism for conducting intrusive body scans and pat down searches on passengers, as young as 5, at US airports. Photograph by Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images

New technology is widely used at airports to beef up security measures as a move to combat terrorism and enforce vigilance. Airport authorities worldwide are gearing up innovative tools and invaluable techniques to maintain the highest possible levels of security.

Airport security personnel operate in a fast-paced, sensitive environment that hardly offers any room for mistakes. From thermal lie-detection technology to super-clone sniffer dogs to Bluetooth passenger tracking, more and more high-tech solutions are researched and introduced at aerodromes in a bid to make flying as safe as possible.

The impetus to overhaul aviation security system came after EUs announcement that it will ban backscatter x-ray body scanners. Many airports are keen on finding alternative security measures. Earlier this year, International Air Transport Association (IATA) confirmed its vision for the checkpoint of the future – a series of neon-lit tunnels, each equipped with an array of eye-scanners, x-ray machines, and metal and liquid detectors.

In addition, to end the one size fits all screening, passengers will be assigned a travel profile and escorted into one of three corridors accordingly. While there are many challenges to create this kind of system, the invention itself is worth exploring.

Well-known travellers (those who have completed background checks with government authorities) for instance, will cruise through the light blue security corridor with little more than an ID check, while those guided through the yellow enhanced corridor will be subjected to an array of Iris scans and sensitive contraband detectors.

It is expected that it will take the next five to seven years to make this bevy of new developments possiblethrough installations of colourful checkpoints.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, every year 730 million people travel on passenger jets, while more than 700 million pieces of their baggage are screened for explosives and other dangerous items.

These are many of the new systems being devised to protect public as well as delivery people and overcome current and anticipated terror threats.

THERMAL LIE DETECTION

Researchers in the UK have unveiled thermal imaging technology in a bid to automatically spot a burning conscience.

The thermal imaging technology, by the use of a simple video camera, tells when someone is lyingby spotting involuntary changes of expression revealed by emotions like blinking eyes, wrinkling noses and dilating pupils. It also uses a high-resolution thermal imaging sensor to detect small changes in temperature around the face, attributed as a common sign of lying.

According to Professor Hassan Ugail, who leads the research, thermal-imaging camera captures variations in facial temperature during questioning. When someone is making something up on the spot, brain activity usually changes and you can detect this through the thermal camera.

The system has been identified as a new trend in investigation and security during customs interviews and at passport control to check whether people entering the country are giving a true account of themselves.

The new lie detector, being developed by the University of Bradford in north England, is still at an early stage but has yielded some promising results so far. At present, the UKs Home Office and HM Revenue & Customs are sponsoring the systems development, but will not reveal the name of the airport where its being tested.

SUPER CLONE SNIFFERS

To root out drugs from the airport, a super breed of sniffers has been brought to Incheon Airport near Seoul, South Korea, by Professor Byeong-chun Lee.

The most interesting feature is that after every few hours they report back to their masters, to whom they’ve been devoted since birth and trained to sniff out contraband like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamines from passengers luggage.

airport security sniffer dog
Los Angeles International Airport Police uses "K-9 Alda" to check baggage under increased security efforts in Los Angeles. Photo - Nick Ut/AP

Lee not only targeted illegal imports smugglers with a tracking pack of golden Labrador Retrievers genetically identical to chase. They kept Lee top of Incheons drug-detection rankings with their legendary snout right until his retirement in 2007. His next clone target is human disease which he wants to tackle with a high-performance quarantine dog – gifted with an enhanced capacity for detecting the presence of disease in humans.

At present, only three out of every 10 selectively bred sniffer dogs with nostrils and discipline for the job has been trained by the airports security staff.

BEHAVIOURAL DETECTION OFFICERS

The Transport Security Administration (TSA) in USA is relying on Behavioural Detection Officers (BDOs) to engage passengers in casual conversation in an effort to weed out suspicious behaviour. The officers are currently operating at approximately 161 airports nationwide.

According to the TSA, the basic idea is to stimulate the involuntary physical and physiological reactions that people display when they are fearful of being discovered.As more and more technology is developed, it makes the overall system more robust and could provide interrogators with a touch time, alongside existing verbal strategies.

(Written by Aliya Bashir; Edited by Moign Khawaja)

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