By Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D
Founding Editor, bSci21.org
In a previous article titled “Behavior Detection Officers: Where They Are and What They Are Doing,” we discussed the controversial program by the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) called SPOT (Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques). The program is just what it says — TSA employees watch you as you go through a security checkpoint for “micro-expressions” that indicate how likely you are to instigate a security incident in the near future.
Not surprisingly, the SPOT program has come under heavy scrutiny from many people questioning the program’s effectiveness and it’s basis in research. Just recently, The Intercept obtained the confidential TSA document, known as the SPOT Referral Report, that lists all of the specific behaviors under watch by the TSA’s Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs).
The document is divided into four sections. The first section is titled “Environmental Baseline” and asks for a brief narrative of the setting in which the behavior in question is being observed. Section Two is called “Observation and Behavior Analysis” and has three groupings of behaviors: Stress Factors (1 pt. each), Fear Factors (2 pts. each), and Deception Factors (3 pts. each). Stress factors include things like arriving late for a flight, fidgeting, eye blink rate, and so on. Fear factors include having an oversized bag, having identical dress or luggage as another traveler, or expressing contempt for the screening process, among others. Deception factors include repeatedly patting your upper body, wearing a disguise, and maintaining covert ties with others (e.g., through eye contact or gestures). Your score is added up and adjusted based on things such as your age, sex, and marital status. If your score exceeds a certain number, you will be referred for selective screening and possibly law enforcement.
But that’s not the end of the list. Section Three (Unusual Items) and Four (Signs of Deception) are both under “SPOT Resolution.” Unusual Items includes a GPS, training manuals, excessive liquids, etc… while Signs of Deception includes being distracted, exaggerated yawning, excessive compliments about the screening process, etc…
As you can see, it isn’t surprising that an unnamed former BDO told The Intercept that the program is simply “a license to harass.” But we want you to make up your own mind. Check out the full list at The Intercept and let us know what you think in the comments below!
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Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is President of bSci21 Media, LLC, which owns bSci21.org and BAQuarterly.com. Todd serves as an Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management and as an editorial board member for Behavior and Social Issues. He has worked as a behavior analyst in day centers, residential providers, homes, and schools, and served as the director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas. Todd’s areas of expertise include writing, entrepreneurship, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy, Instructional Design, Organizational Behavior Management, and ABA therapy. Todd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.