"The SALAMI Snooze" On-line edition, April 1, 1997 — Page 2

New Security Measures Installed at Nation's Airports

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."

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