WASHINGTON, D.C. (RJL) -- The White House announced today that additional
security equipment has been ordered for the nation's airports.
Earlier this year, the first MRI-based explosive detectors were installed
in the JFK, Dulles, and Los Angeles International airports. Magnetic Resonance
Imaging (MRI), a process similar to the "CAT" scans physicians use in
detecting head and brain injuries, provides airport security personnel
a much more detailed picture. Sue Dutter, who works at a metal detector
in the Dulles Airport, reports the MRI scanners are working well. "The
clarity of the picture is phenominal. It detects substances that the more
sophisticated criminals are using."
The newly-ordered security scanners are reported to be even better. The
White House press release stated that the new scanners will work in conjunction
with the MRI scanners. Dubbed "The Smut Scanners", they will be used solely
on computer equipment. One member of the White House staff, who asked
for anonymity, said, "Our intent is to broaden the scope of the Communications
Decency Act to cover the transportation of indecent material across state
lines. The Smut Scanners will help us find out who is doing that."
A recent advancement in MRI technology allowed scientists to view data
stored on magnetic media. "Once we determined a way to refine the scanning
beam, the next step was to control the depth at which it scans," said
Brad Dutter of Bell Labs. "It was during one of our office parties that
it suddenly occurred to me to try it on a friend's hard drive. He has
one of those swimsuit screen savers installed, but never lets me see it.
It took the better part of two weeks, but eventually Elle MacPherson appeared
on the screen. A bit fuzzy, but she was there. Further refinements of
the program sharpened the focus."
The White House was quick to adopt this new
technology. "Bell Labs was able to adapt this new process into a device
that could be installed at airport securty stations. The Smut Scanner
translates data on IBM or Macintosh laptops into a visual image." Currently,
only standard picture formats can be viewed. Programs and text files are
not displayed, but are simply designated with a "non-visual data" message
on the screen.
However, this system is not without its drawbacks. Scanning a large hard
drive is a lengthy process. "Anything over a gigabyte will take over 30
minutes to scan," commented Brad Dutter. "Fortunately, most laptops have
smaller drives." Consequently, the scanners will be run as a separate
station from the regular security scanners so that passengers not carrying
computer equipment will not be unnecessarily delayed.
"We also had to install censoring routines to block out the naughty bits,"
continued Mr. Dutter. "The first time we tested the system with our secretary
as the operator, it took us 20 minutes to revive her."
Computer correspondent John C. Dvorak commented that the technology is
not perfect. "They are making the rather broad assumption that only IBM
and Mac computers will ever be taken on airplanes. They've completely
ignored that there are other computers out there, like the Amiga."
Spokesmen from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the ACLU were less
than pleased with the White House's move. "Text is much more easily viewed
than a picture is, and program files are not much further behind. We are
concerned that this is simply a way to do covert spying on the American
public," said Joseph Dutter of the ACLU. "Lawsuits will be filed promptly."