Friday, March 25, 2016

Malintent: Airport Scanners in the Era of ISIS

This morning, as I was rifling through an online archive of stuff I wrote several years ago for Condé Nast Traveler I came across this ancient blog post about airport security (below), which mentions something called Malintent. The scanning system, which Homeland Security was developing at the time, was supposed to read your mind and warn the nation's supercops if you were planning to commit a crime. I, for one, assumed the crime would take place in midair, or perhaps on the runway, unless Malintent stepped up to save the day. Needless to say, the entire scenario sounded very Orwellian and sinister.
   Given recent events, I decided to check what was happening with Malintent. According to the DHS website, they're still working on it (it's now in a testing-and-tinkering phase).
   Europeans were not too keen on the scanning booths that were emigrating from America in 2008. Maybe they realized their limitations. It is hard to imagine how even Malintent might have prevented what happened in Brussels this week. Obviously, the world has changed a lot since the spyware development program began. By the way, the proper name for Malintent is Future Attribute Screening Technology, or FAST. 

October 31, 2008

Europe Balks at the Scanning Booth

The future of security scanning?
AP Photo
by Sara Tucker
Invasion of the body scanners!
Digital penetration!
The TSA wants to see you naked!
   Such were the warnings when scanners that bare all began cropping up in the nation's airports last year, starting in Phoenix. "Are you up for this?" Slate asked its readers as JFK and LAX stood in line to receive the equipment. "Are you ready to get naked for your country?"
   Then came this year's rollout and another spate of headlines. "Body-scanning machines that show images of people underneath their clothing are being installed in 10 of the nation's busiest airports," announced USA Today in June, calling the proliferation "one of the biggest public uses of security devices that reveal intimate body parts."
   But apart from the media and the ACLU, nobody seemed to care. Instead of an invasion of privacy or an Orwellian threat to their personhood, most passengers caught in the bovine shuffle through airport security perceived the glass booths as just another boring obstacle in the long, dull slog to their departure gates. That's because they "have no idea how graphic the images are," contends the ACLU's Barry Steinhardt.
   "In a nation infamous for its loud and litigious protesters, the silence, the absolute and utter silence on this issue is screaming," fumed a reader at Slashdot.

Now, however, the scanners are popping up in European airports, and the Europeans are saying not so fast. Citing "serious human rights concerns," EU lawmakers last week called for "a detailed study of the technology before it is used." Germany denounced the equipment as "nonsense."
The word from America: Get over it. Body scanners are "the wave of the future," a TSA official told USA Today back in June. "We're just scratching the surface of what we can do with whole-body imaging."
   In the works: A scanner that can read your mind. "Like an X-ray for bad intentions" is the way Fox News describes Malintent, a contraption that uses sensors and imagers to determine whether a passenger, say, is planning to blow up the plane.
   "There is a point at which you think--I can't write about this, it's a joke or a skit," notes technology blogger Renee Blodgett. "But it's not." Still in the testing phase, Malintent looks "very promising," according to a DHS spokesman.
   To those who would dismiss such gadgetry as "security theater," a reader of the "common sense" blog Ugly Ass Opinion ("Common sense still kicks ass") has this to say: "Homeland Security will now be sending an agent to live in each of your homes to make sure you're not a terrorist. . . . You must feed and clothe him at your own expense. He will bring his own toothpaste, though."

Further reading:
*India's use of brain scans in courts dismays critics (International Herald Tribune, September 2008)
*The Things He Carried: Airport security in America is a sham (Atlantic Monthly, November 2008)
*Homeland Security detects terrorist threats by reading your mind (Fox News, September 2008)
*Homeland (video): A seven-minute "thriller" from the 48 Hour Film Project (Best Editing, 2008)

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