Critics of the controversial new security program I was taking stock of — known as SPOT, for Screening Passengers by Observational Techniques — have said that it is an unnecessary invasion of privacy, based on an untested method of observation, that is unlikely to yield much in the way of red-handed terrorists set on blowing up a plane or flying it into a building, but would violate fliers’ civil rights.
I disagree. I’ve participated in four decades’ worth of research into deception and demeanor, and I know that researchers have amassed enough knowledge about how someone who is lying looks and behaves that it would be negligent not to use it in the search for terrorists. Along with luggage checks, radar screening, bomb-sniffing dogs and the rest of our security arsenal, observational techniques can help reduce risks — and potentially prevent another deadly assault like the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
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