Report: Billion-dollar TSA program to look for suspicious passengers works ‘slightly better than chance’

By Travis Gettys
Thursday, November 14, 2013 14:51 EDT
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The Transportation Safety Administration has spent nearly $1 billion singling out for additional scrutiny airline passengers who agents believe are acting suspiciously, but a new report shows the practice is basically worthless.

An analysis of the Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques, or SPOT program, by the General Accounting Office found that evidence does not support the use of behavioral indicators to identify passengers who may pose a security risk.

The report says 21 of the 25 indicators examined by behavior detection officers were considered to be subjective, and the TSA said it hoped to more clearly define those criteria.

The GAO has long argued that the program was unreliable, and its study broadly analyzed SPOT in 2011 and 2012 and summarized 400 studies over the past 60 years on the human ability to identify deceptive behavior.

“The human ability to accurately identify deceptive behavior based on behavioral indicators is the same as or slightly better than chance,” the report finds.

As a result, the GAO is recommending that both Congress and the White House deny funding for SPOT until the TSA can demonstrate that it works.

The report said the TSA had limited information to evaluate SPOT’s effectiveness because data had been collected unevenly throughout the course of the year, and airports had not collected enough data to form a sufficient sample size.

The TSA says it will be three years before it can begin to report on the program’s effectiveness.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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