Daily Archives: April 23, 2008

Could Soldiers Be Prosecuted for Thought Crime?


Wired | Apr 21, 2008

By Sharon Weinberger

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is funding a number of technologies that tap into the brain’s ability to detect threats before the conscious mind is able to process the information. Already, there is Pentagon-sponsored work on using the brain’s pattern detection capabilities for enhanced goggles and super-fast satellite imagery analysis. What happens, however, when the Pentagon ultimately uses this enhanced capability for targeting weapons?

This question has led Stephen White to write a fascinating article exploring the implications of a soldiers’ legal culpability for weapons that may someday tap into this “pre-conscious” brain activity. Like the Minority Report notion of “pre-crime,” where someone is convicted for contemplating a criminal act they haven’t yet acted upon, this article raises the intriguing question of whether a soldier could be convicted for the mistake made by a pre-conscious brain wave.

Full story

Big Government wants to wrap its mind around yours

Washington Post | Apr 15, 2008

By Nita Farahany

Imagine a world of streets lined with video cameras that alert authorities to any suspicious activity. A world where police officers can read the minds of potential criminals and arrest them before they commit any crimes. A world in which a suspect who lies under questioning gets caught because his brain gave him away.

Though that may sound a lot like the plot of the 2002 Tom Cruise movie “Minority Report,” it’s not science fiction: We’re not so far from that world. But does it sound like a very safe place, or a very scary one?

It’s a question we should be asking as the federal government invests millions in emerging technology aimed at detecting and decoding brain activity.

Consider Cernium Corp.’s “Perceptrak” video surveillance and monitoring system, recently installed by Johns Hopkins University. This technology grew out of a project funded by the central research and development organization for the Department of Defense to develop intelligent video analytics systems. Unlike simple video cameras, Perceptrak integrates video cameras with an intelligent computer video. It uses algorithms to analyze streaming video and detect suspicious activities, such as people loitering in a secure area. Since installing Perceptrak, Johns Hopkins has reported a 25 percent reduction in crime.

That’s only the beginning. Neurotechnology soon may be able to detect a person who is particularly nervous, in possession of guilty knowledge or, eventually, to detect a person thinking, “Only one hour until the bomb explodes. …”

In 2002, the Electronic Privacy Information Center reported that NASA was developing brain monitoring devices for airports and was seeking to use noninvasive sensors in passenger gates to collect the electronic signals emitted by passengers’ brains. Scientists scoffed at the reports.

But that same year, scientists at the University of Sussex in England adapted the same technology they had been using to detect heart rates at distances of up to 1 meter to remotely detect changes in the brain.

But don’t panic: The government can’t read our minds — yet. So far, these tools simply measure changes in the brain; they don’t detect thoughts and intentions.

Scientists, though, are hard at work trying to decode how those signals relate to mental states such as perception and intention. Different EEG frequencies, for example, have been associated with emotional states such as fear, anger, joy and sorrow and different cognitive states such as a person’s level of alertness.

Early researchers have claimed high accuracy at detecting deception. But there’s a problem: Most brain-based lie-detection tests assume lying should result in more brain activity than truth-telling because lying involves more cognition. So these lie-detection methods may fail in sociopaths or in individuals who believe in the falsehood they’re telling.

The very fact that the government is banking on its future potential raises myriad questions. Imagine, for example, a police officer approaching a suspect based on Perceptrak’s “unusual activity” detection. Equipped with remote neural-detection technology, the officer asks her a few questions, and the detection device deems her responses to be deceptive. Will this be enough evidence for an arrest? Can it be used to convict a person of intent to commit a crime?

Americans have been willing to tolerate significant new security measures and greater encroachments on civil liberties after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Could reports of significant crime reduction be enough to justify the use of pre-crime technology? Could remote neural monitoring together with intelligent video analytics have prevented those tragedies? And if they could, should they be allowed to?

These are just some of the questions we must ask as we balance scientific advances and the promise of enhanced safety against a loss of liberty. And we must do it now, while our voices still matter.

The number of ex-cons allowed to join the US army doubles

The Guardian | April 22, 2008

Elana Schor in Washington

The US army doubled its use of “moral waivers” for enlisted soldiers last year to cope with the demands of the Iraq war, allowing sex offenders, people convicted of making terrorist threats, and child abusers into the military, new records released yesterday showed.

The army gave out 511 moral waivers to soldiers with felony convictions last year. Criminals got 249 army waivers in 2006, a sign that the demand for US forces in Iraq has forced a sharp increase in the number of criminals allowed on the battlefield.

The felons accepted into the army and marines included 87 soldiers convicted of assault or maiming, 130 convicted of non-cannabis-related drug offences, seven convicted of making terrorist threats, and two convicted of indecent behaviour with a child. Waivers were also granted to 500 burglars and thieves, 19 arsonists and nine sex offenders.

The new data were released by the oversight committee of the House of Representatives. Henry Waxman, the Democratic chairman of the oversight panel, said that while “providing opportunities to individuals who have served their sentences and rehabilitated themselves” is important, the waivers are a sign that the US military is stretched too thin.

The number of moral waivers in the military, mostly for misdemeanours such as speeding fines, reached 34,476 in 2006, or nearly 20% of all enlisted soldiers, according to the Palm Centre at the University of California. Recruits with felony convictions are more likely than other soldiers to drop out or be released from the military.

More than one felony conviction disqualifies recruits from the army or marines, but the navy and air force can admit those with multiple offences.

Hundreds of children “lost” by child protective services to sex trade

Lost 400 children may have been trafficked into sex or drugs trade

· Rise in foreign youngsters missing from care in UK

· Government action plan ‘failing to protect victims’

The Guardian | Apr 23, 2008

by Robert Booth

More than 400 foreign children, many suspected of being trafficked into the sex or drug trade in Britain, have gone missing from local authority care.

Children from Africa, Asia and eastern Europe have disappeared from safe houses and foster homes around the country’s biggest ports and airports, figures released to the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed.

The missing children include at least 87 Chinese who disappeared from care around Heathrow and Gatwick and 68 from countries including Afghanistan, Albania and India who went missing from the care of Kent county council, which is responsible for protecting children trafficked through Dover and Folkestone.

Anti-trafficking campaigners believe the missing children are often taken from care by their trafficker and then exploited for prostitution, domestic servitude and other illegal activities. Other children escape out of fear of being found by the trafficker and without money or identity papers fall prey to further abuse and exploitation.

According to records from 16 local authorities around England’s ports and airports, an estimated 408 children disappeared between July 2004 and July 2007. They are known by officialdom as unaccompanied asylum seekers and child protection campaigners believe most have been trafficked.

It is thought that many escape only for traffickers to send them on for exploitation in other parts of the world, particularly Italy and Spain. Only 12 children have been traced and returned to care.

“We are shocked that the numbers keep rising,” said Christine Beddoe, the chief executive of ECPAT UK which campaigns for greater protection for trafficked children. “These figures come in spite of the government’s action plan on trafficking and show the need for an urgent inquiry into separated children who go missing. These vulnerable children need to be given independent guardians as soon as possible to ensure they are protected from traffickers who we know target them even while they are in care.”

Today local authorities on the front line of the illegal trade in children will tell ministers they need at least another £30m to continue offering the basic protections for unaccompanied asylum seekers under 18. ECPAT UK also wants the government to appoint an independent “rapporteur” who can work out the true extent of the problem. The last government estimate put the number of missing trafficked children at 183, which now seems low.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said: “We are concerned about the number of children who go missing from local authority care each year who appear to have been trafficked. That is why we intend to identify a group of “specialist” local authorities which have effective procedures to keep children safe and to identify and provide proper services for the victims of trafficking. We intend to channel all cases to these authorities from around the country.”

According to the figures obtained by the Guardian, Newcastle city council reported 12 Somali children missing and said 13 of the 17 Chinese children it has taken into care have disappeared. Officials at Suffolk county council said they find unaccompanied children arriving in shipping containers and in the backs of lorries travelling through Felixstowe. They admitted losing track of 16 children since March 2005, including six Afghans. The worst record was at the London Borough of Hillingdon which estimates it is dealing with 1,000 unaccompanied minors a year, coming mostly through Heathrow airport.

The council said 74 went missing between 2006 and 2007 and it does not know how many it lost in the previous years. Despite a system of safe houses for the 145 children who came into the care of West Sussex, which includes Gatwick airport, 42 went missing, largely Chinese and Nigerians.

“As soon as they can they will contact their trafficker,” said Kirsty Hanna, manager of the Gatwick children’s team. “It could be they have memorised the trafficker’s mobile number, or the trafficker may have followed them to the safe house. There have been times when they have jumped out of the window. They are under a lot of pressure, often to pay back their passage. Their families back home could be threatened with torture or murder. We are constantly trying to disrupt the traffickers, but it has to be a losing battle if we can’t stop the problems abroad that causes the trafficking.”