Independent Online [South Africa], 13 February 2007
London - Tiny cameras the size of a fingernail linked to specialist computers will be used to monitor the behaviour of airline passengers as part of the war on terrorism.
Fitted to seat-backs, the cameras will record every twitch or suspicious movement before sending the data to onboard software that will check it against individual passenger profiles.
Scientists from Britain and Germany are spending £25 million (about R360-million) to develop a system they hope will make it virtually impossible to hijack an airliner by providing pilots and cabin crew with an early warning system. They say rapid eye movements, blinking excessively, licking lips or ways of stroking hair or ears are classic symptoms of somebody trying to conceal something.
A separate microphone will record speech, including whispers; Islamic suicide bombers whisper texts from the Koran in the moments before they explode bombs.
The software being developed by the scientists will be so sophisticated it will be able to take account of nervous flyers or people with a natural twitch, helping to ensure there are no false alarms.
"We're trying to develop technologies that indicate the differences between normal passengers and those who may be a threat to others or themselves," said Catherine Neary of BAE Systems.
Mrs Neary, team leader of the Onboard Threat Detection System for the Paris-based Security of Aircraft in the Future European Environment project, added: "Blink rates come from lie detection research and suggest the stress level is higher than normal."
The project is also developing automated flight controls that will prevent a hijacker taking over an airliner and sensors at the aircraft's doors to detect if someone is carrying explosives or chemicals.
Mrs Neary said that under the Data Protection Act, all video, audio and other recordings would be destroyed at the end of every flight so passengers' civil liberties were not infringed.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of the human rights group Liberty, said: "Watching people constantly on aircraft and trying to work out patterns of behaviour is a difficult road to travel. I suspect that it will put people off flying because they will feel uncomfortable."
Airlines have given the scheme a cautious welcome, indicating it would be too expensive to fit on existing commercial aircraft and it would probably be 10 years before such systems were fitted to new planes.
A British Airways spokesperson said: "While we welcome new research and development that advances aviation security, we believe the emphasis and funding for any new initiatives would be better placed on preventing terrorists boarding aircraft in the first place.
"R&D of better screening and detection equipment on the ground would be of more value at this time."
Note: The copyright for this article is held by the original content creator.