The Transportation Safety Administration has long relied on singling out airline passengers that agents believe are behaving suspiciously, even as outside groups like the General Accounting Office maintain that these behavioral indicators are unreliable. But today, the GAO has science on their side, with a new report giving a comprehensive look at the TSA's the Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques or SPOT program. And the results aren't pretty.
The most damning info comes from a broad analysis of the program in 2011 and 2012, which found wildly different techniques and rates of success. The report also highlights the extensive scientific literature on the human ability to identify deceptive behavior. Summarizing 400 studies over the past 60 years, the report concludes that humans perform only "the same as or slightly better than chance." Given that the TSA has spent almost a billion dollars on the program, that's a pretty poor record. As a result, the GAO is requesting that both Congress and the president withhold funding from the program until the TSA can demonstrate its effectiveness.