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Airlines to have spy system to thwart terror threat

Every move of airline passengers, including conversations, would be monitored through a new security system which is being developed to tackle terror threats on flights.
By HT Correspondent | IANS, London
UPDATED ON JUN 28, 2010 02:38 PM IST

Every move of airline passengers, including conversations, would be monitored through a new security system which is being developed to tackle terror threats on flights.

Experts at Reading University are working on to develop a software to detect suspicious behaviour of passengers on board aircraft with the help of a combination of cameras, microphones, explosive sniffers and a sophisticated computer system, The Telegraph newspaper reported here.

The research team, headed by James Ferryman, has already conducted trials of the camera system on a British Aerospace plane and the computer system on a mock airbus.

The software can scan unusual behaviour or events, such as unattended luggage or an individual going against the crowd flow. Microphones would eavesdrop conversations and alert the deck if anything suggests terrorist behaviour. Explosive sniffers would be able to detect if a bomb is planted.

All this information would be analysed by computer and if it spotted something untoward, the flight deck would be told instantly, the paper said.

Similar systems have been deployed at stations and airports around the world, using CCTV to gather information and software to analyse it.

"What we are doing is extending technology already used at airports and railway stations and placing it on an aircraft," Ferryman said.

Cameras dotted around an aircraft would look out for abnormal activities such as several passengers entering a lavatory at the same time or individuals seeming agitated.

One option would be to allocate some seats to passengers whose behaviour has already raised concern at the airport, so they could be monitored on board.

The focus of the project is to develop a software which can spot a genuine threat. "We want to avoid saying that nervous passengers are potential terrorists," Ferryman said

According to researchers, this technology would have thwarted the "underpants bomber" who tried to detonate an explosion on a Christmas Day flight to Detroit.

"It is known that the terrorist was acting nervously in the airport prior to boarding - this could have been picked up with the same automated CCTV technology - and that they spent time in the toilet assembling the components of the explosive," Ferryman said.

The research is being funded by the EU Security of Aircraft in the Future European Environment (SAFEE) project.

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "We have no plans to instruct airlines to install this system on their planes".

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