Law enforcement technologyDHS developing "pre-crime" surveillance tech

Published 13 October 2011

Researchers at DHS are working to develop technology that could catch individuals before they commit a crime

Crime prediction software will aid crime prevention efforts // Source:

Researchers at DHS are working to develop technology that could catch individuals before they commit a crime.

Under the Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST) mobile module project, analytic software is being created to identify potential criminal behavior based on specific physical attributes. The goal is to provide law enforcement officials a faster way to recognize potential threats.

By using “non-intrusive” sensors to gather video images, audio recordings, and “psychophysiological measurements” like heart rate, breathing patterns, and blinking, researchers hope to identify certain behavioral signs associated with criminal or terrorist actions. 

Underlying the FAST project is the belief that individuals display certain physical behaviors like agitation or anxiety before they commit a crime or a violent act. Researchers believe that if they are able to successfully detect these traits, they may be able to stop a crime or terrorist attack before it occurs.

So far the technology is still in development. According to Chris Ortman, a DHS spokesman, the DHS Science and Technology Directory “has conducted preliminary research” in controlled settings “to determine the feasibility” of using the technology and other observational techniques “to detect signs of stress which are often associated with intent to do harm.”

Ortman noted the agency currently has no plans to acquire or deploy this technology publicly. In addition, FAST is only being tested with voluntary participants and does not store any personally identifiable information.

FAST is similar to other government programs that also aim to spot criminal actions before they occur. For instance the Department of Defense’s research arm, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA), is working on its Anomaly Detection at Multiple Scales (ADAMS) program which is designed to detect insider threats.

Meanwhile the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA) is developing forecasting analysis technology on a broader scale to predict events. The agency’s Aggregative Contingent Estimation (ACE) program uses Web-based software to gather information from a variety of sources to predict global events and the consequences of U.S. intelligence actions.