Researcher Identifies Methods for Better Security Screening

By Laura L. Acosta

UTEP News Service

The need for proper identification of travelers at airports and ports of entry across the United States has become an integral part of national security.

Kyle Susa, Ph.D. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News ServiceKyle Susa, Ph.D. Photo by Laura Trejo / UTEP News Service

Kyle J. Susa, Ph.D., research assistant professor of psychology at UTEP, is developing specialized training to help agents with the Transportation Security Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection recognize fake IDs, such as drivers’ licenses and passports that terror suspects may use to enter the country or board an aircraft.

With a grant from the University’s National Center for Border Security and Immigration (NCBSI), Susa is looking at how an agent’s race may affect his or her ability to recognize a fraudulent ID from a person of a different race.

“No matter how much technology you have, there is always a human element that you can’t replace,” said Susa, who received his Ph.D. in psychology from UTEP in 2010. “What we propose to do is to train agents to be better at recognizing faces, particularly faces that come from races or ethnicities different from their own.”

Volunteers, all of whom are Mexican-American, are shown photos and mock IDs of Hispanic and African-American males on a computer screen. They then have to decide which of the photos and IDs are of the same person and which ones are not.

“Based on the long-standing literature on cognitive psychology, it is actually true that people are significantly better at recognizing faces of their own ethnicity or race than they are at recognizing faces from other races or ethnicities,” Susa said.

The next phase in the three-year project is to administer the test on TSA and border protection agents in the lab and then look at the different variables such as time constraints, vigilance and multitasking that an agent may experience at an airport or port of entry that may also affect identification screening.