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DHS 'brainiacs' to commercialise airport liquids-OK scanner

'Washington feels your pain', apparently

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The US Department of Homeland Security says that its "government brainiacs" are on the verge of rolling out an airport bag scanner which would avoid the need to separate frustrated travellers from their "liquids, gels, sprays" and even "spreads".

Fearless and surprisingly unbuttoned inhouse investigative journal DHS Science and Technology Snapshots tells it how it is:

Remember 2005, when you could still board a plane with shampoo in your bag, toothpaste in your purse, a can of soda in your hand? Do those fluid memories hurt right down to your denture cream?

Washington feels your pain.

And more than just feels, but spends your money (should you be a US taxpayer) on doing something about it. The DHS - far from being made up entirely of flinty-hearted uniformed goons who like nothing more than plundering your treasured liquids and gels - is suiting the action to the word. Magnetic resonance scanners, of the type so popular in the medical world, are being modified so as to "peer through whatever container you’re carrying, divine what’s in it, and let you pass with your bottled water or — during flu season — your hand sanitizer".

"Government brainiac" Stephen Surko of the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA) is in charge of the Magnetic Vision Innovative Prototype (or MagViz) project, which he now considers (pdf) ready for commercialisation. The MagViz is still a bit prone to false positives, though, and at the moment it has to be placed inside a "hulking" shielded enclosure to screen out emissions from personal electronics and suchlike.

"To engineer a shielded MagViz in a compact enclosure, the Department will look to the private sector, where ingenuity spells profit," S&T Snapshots breezily assures its readers.

It seems that smaller MagViz scanners of the future might sit behind existing hand-luggage X-rays, or if space didn't permit there might be an extra channel for those wanting to take their spreads, jellies, liquids etc aboard.

“You’d have to wait in a separate line,” concedes Surko, “but at least you could bring along that large bottle of H2O.”

It seems there are still bugs to be ironed out, though. S&TS cautions:

Don’t expect miracles... The challenges may prove a bridge too far. But if the departments of Homeland Security and Energy and the free market can cross each bridge, then traveling with toiletries, snow globes, and drinks may be a thing of the future, rather than the past.

Wise words. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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