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Super Bowl Sunday: Foam Fingers, Terrible Towels and Surveillance

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January 30, 2009

Got tickets for the big game? While you’re watching the game, people will be watching you. USA Today reports:

Authorities at Super Bowl XLIII will be looking for more than just drunken fans. They’ll be watching spectators’ body language, facial expressions and demeanor to find suspicious people.

For the first time Sunday, federal behavior-detection officers will team with local police to use a controversial technique on people heading to a major event, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says. The officers usually work in airports.

Sunday might not be a good day to fly, incidentally — airport security could be a little short-staffed with all those TSA officers at the game. Here’s what we think (from the article):

The American Civil Liberties Union says that the technique is unproven and that its use at a stadium sets an alarming precedent for police inquiries.

“Police shouldn’t be stopping and questioning people unless they have some credible reason to suspect them. Behavior detection is just too vague,” ACLU analyst Barry Steinhardt said.

The article notes that TSA officers will use the time-tested, obvious signs of badness such as “nervousness or other behavioral flags, such as sweating, avoiding eye contact or talking evasively.” (I’m just glad my boyfriend isn’t going to the game, because he does all of these things on a regular basis.)

We think that TSA should stay in the airports and let stadium security and local police do their job and monitor the crowd as they always have. Real life is not like a spy thriller where operatives with amazing intuitions are always able to magically pick out the people with something to hide. This is likely to slide into a thinly veiled version of racial profiling.

Besides, in today’s airports and other high-profile environments, who isn’t a little crazed and stressed out?