NASA researchers are using flight-safety records -- including reports of sick passengers, bad weather and sleepy pilots -- to build an anti-terror database.Under the generic name Data Mining and Aviation Security, computer scientists at NASA's Ames Research Center are developing a program for predicting terrorist threats by integrating "the Internet and classified intelligence data" with information from two flight-safety databases.The program is the second recent example of a NASA effort to mine information storehouses for enemies of the state. Over the weekend, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) revealed that Northwest Airlines forked over millions of passenger records to the space agency for a terrorist-screening project, an effort enhanced with data from the 1990 U.S. census.Although the new program's budget is undersized -- less than $1 million, according to Ames spokesman David Morse -- civil libertarians are troubled by the effort. Such projects are a waste of resources, they say, especially at a time when the space agency is gearing up for a return to the Moon."This is 21st-century phrenology," said privacy advocate Bill Scannell, referring to the discredited art of reading people's personalities from the bumps on their heads. "You might as well stick a couple of employees in a sub-basement and have them read tea leaves."My Wired News article has details.THERE'S MORE: Using flight safety reports for homeland defense is a "pretty wild experiment," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU's technology and liberty program. "They're literally attempting to monitor us through our entrails, rather than focusing on the physical security measures that we know work."For example, Steinhardt notes, airport tarmacs still aren't secure. Just last month, a dead body was discovered at New York's Kennedy Airport, wedged into the wheel of a British Airways 747. How the person got on to the tarmac and how the corpse managed to go undetected through 15 take offs and landings in eight days remains a mystery.AND MORE: Sandra Hart, with the Human Factors Research and Technology Division of NASA Ames, wants to fight terrorists -- bad. She makes the following plea on the American Psychological Association's website to let her and her colleagues get involved with stopping evil-doers:
We can develop system-wide baseline and trend information to identify gaps and vulnerabilities in the security system. Data mining and visualization tools can be adapted to convey security information clearly and unambiguously. Data acquisition and analysis tools can identify patterns in routes of flight as well as passenger profiles. We can help establish policies, design technologies, and develop procedures to ensure that the people in the system are even more effective. We can predict the potential impact of new ideas on the reliability and effectiveness of the system and then evaluate them as they are developed and fielded. Basic knowledge of human vision, cognition, attention, and so on can improve the design of security technologies. Expertise in organizational and team behavior might be applied to the formation of more effective security teams and mitigate the proliferation of ad hoc responses by pilots and controllers in response to perceived threats. Human Factors expertise in task analysis, modeling, and simulation can offer insights into the skills required to perform crucial tasks, identify functions that are candidates for automation, and develop training. We can work with the front line - - security personnel, ticket agents, pilots, flight attendants and their employers - - to identify security gaps and figure out how to ensure that humans are part of the solution in the future, not the problem. (emphasis mine)Just in case you thought only a couple of NASA mad scientists wanted to find Osamas in our information...AND MORE: EPIC will file a suit against NASA tomorrow in U.S. District Court in San Jose, to force the space agency to spill the beans about all of its anti-terror efforts.