TIME National Security

Here’s Exactly Why the TSA Is Worried About Your Phone

Signs that danger may be on the rise

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Though the TSA recently outlined new security measures on U.S.-bound flights, the agency’s decision to target cell phones raises several questions about the policy’s specificity and effectiveness.

Apple iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones were singled out for extra scrutiny, U.S. officials told Reuters, though Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson does not specifically name the two smartphones in TSA’s official statement. A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official emphasized to TIME that the search will cover a wide range of electronic devices, and the inspection of items will be “not just focused on two manufacturers.”

Aviation and terrorism experts agree that if Apple and Samsung phones will indeed be checked more closely, then that decision is based on specific information gathered by U.S. intelligence.

“Somewhere, somehow, somebody has recovered those devices by those names, which were probably used in the process of developing an explosive that would be detonated by the use of one of those, or [U.S. officials] have first hand intelligence information,” said Glen Winn, an aviation security expert who has handled bomb threats.

R. John Hansman, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT, added that most likely “there’s not anything particularly unique about Samsung [Galaxy] or iPhones in terms of their technology.”

TSA has previously expressed fears that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) may be targeting U.S.-bound planes. Suspicions grew in 2010 when two bombs capable of bringing down an airplane were discovered on a U.S.-bound cargo plane. The explosives were to be detonated by cell phone, and also contained parts of mobile phones’ electrical wiring.

The DHS official declined to comment on the specifics of TSA’s decision to ask passengers to turn on cell phones, though experts agree that asking travelers to power up phones will show “if the phone that the person has is in fact a phone,” Winn said.

What is available, however, are TSA’s public reports, which indicate that mobile phone-related seizures at U.S. airports are rare, and that most confiscations are not of improvised explosive devices. So far in 2014 TSA has cited five incidents of “cell phone” confiscation at U.S. international airports, and one incident at a U.S. airport with only domestic flights. Five seizures were stun guns disguised as phones, and one was a phone with a knife hidden inside it. None resemble any of the iPhone or Samsung Galaxy models.

More readily available indicators of rising dangers — for example, TSA’s data regarding discovery of firearms in U.S. carry-on bags — suggest that the number attempted in-air threats may be increasing.

Discovered firearms shot up by 37% from 1,320 in 2011 to 1,813 in 2013, even though TSA’s no-weapon rules have became increasingly publicized, and the intensity of TSA’s carry-on security checks remained mostly stable. (The most salient change, the Precheck Program launched in October 2011, actually relaxed and streamlined security.) As of July 3, 1,033 firearms have already been discovered in 2014.

firearms-us-carryon-bags
Transportation Security Administration

Additionally, 84% of the firearms discovered this year were loaded. Proportions of loaded discovered firearms remain high, ranging from 74% in the first week of 2014, to 95% the week ending on Friday, April 18, with a slight positive trend. The steady increase of firearm discovery questions whether or not TSA’s new policy will deter travelers from attempting to bring explosives on board.

Data also show that since 2010 the number of round-trip flight segments connecting the Middle East, where AQAP is mostly active, and the U.S. has increased. Meanwhile, the total number of international routes scheduled for U.S. airports has decreased to 17,703 in 2013 from 17,943 in 2011.

Flight Routes In/Out of Middle East
Oliver Wyman/PlaneStats.com

Still, though a rise in the risk of cell phone threats is debatable, experts agree that the danger is nonetheless present. “We know that cell phones and electronic devices have been used to set off bombs,” Winn said. “That’s not a mystery. That’s a fact.”

 

 

 

TIME Video Games

Virtual Reality and Eye Tracking: Sony’s Vision of the Future

Sony envisions a future where virtual reality is king

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After Nintendo’s “smash hit” Wii, Sony realized that raw horsepower wasn’t necessarily the be all, end all for a video game console. Jump to the beginning of 2013, when Playstation formed Magic Lab: a special R&D arm at PlayStation tasked with dreaming up the next generation of gaming experiences.

“We had the concept in 2012 for this group which would use technology to really explore new experiences,” said Richard Marks, Director of PlayStation’s Magic Lab. “We really focused a lot on technology in the past, and [now] we really want to focus more on the new experiences that technology enables. One of the things that we believe strongly in is actually prototyping things; we call it: experiencing engineering.”

Since joining Sony, Richard Marks has been responsible for the development of Sony’s PlayStation Eye, PlayStation Move controllers and now Sony’s foray into virtual reality: Project Morpheus, a wraparound headset designed to work with the company’s PlayStation 4 games console. The headset’s revelation came in tandem with Facebook’s high-stakes maneuver to put virtual reality on the map for non-gamers per its recent $2 billion acquisition of Oculus Rift.

So far, Sony’s touted Morpheus to game designers at shows like the Game Developers Conference and E3 to drum up development interest (though the technology’s still far from a commercial product — it currently has no release date). Morpheus’ display still has a few issues, too: there’s a stutter effect on some demonstrations caused by high latency, and Morpheus’ Field of View (FOV) doesn’t cover everyone’s vision completely. The technology also has various critics predicting that it lacks a mass market appeal. But then again Morpheus is only a prototype, as are the various Oculus Rift iterations.

“There’s a trade-off. There’s a fixed amount of resolution. So you can either give that to a really wide field of view or you can make [the resolution] feel higher, but the [field of view] narrower. We’re trying to get a good balance of that. Right now we’re still working on the issue of the display. Right now we have a great prototype system for our developers … [but] for the commercial system, we’re still working on that.”

And as a prototype, Project Morpheus is an amazing portal into what VR could look like for the future. The technology is so electrifying that creators and entrepreneurs outside the games industry are seeing VR’s potential, which is why Facebook put up the cash in the first place. For instance, currently Sir David Attenborough is creating a VR nature documentary, companies are looking into how VR can impact education and Hollywood is looking into virtual reality movies.

Whether VR will succeed as a mass market product or not remains to be seen; in the meantime, PlayStation’s Magic Lab is tinkering with its notion of what the future of gaming might look like.

During the launch of the PlayStation 4 in November 2013, Marks and fellow Magic Lab researcher Eric Larsen were demoing their eye tracking or “gaze tracking” technology. “A lot of different people are looking at how to track your eyes. Our focus is more on, if you can track your eyes, what do you do with it?” Marks said.

The technology has a lot of potential applications, like as a targeting assistant for shooter games, as Marks and Larsen demonstrated with the game Infamous: Second Son. One of the more interesting applications Marks noted is the ability to pick up on subtle, non-verbal communication cues. “Where someone is looking conveys a lot of information about what the person is interested in, what they intend to do, and it’s a very unconscious thing that people do,” Larsen said.

In the demonstration, the player interacts with a computer store merchant who’s trying to sell the player different products. The eye gazing technology detects what products the player is looking at and uses that information to decide what products to pitch the player. “You can make the characters smarter because they kind of react in a way that is more intelligent because they know what you’re looking at,” Marks adds.

On top of that, Magic Lab is also looking into biometrics, partnering with UC San Francisco to research brain waves as a feedback mechanism for how a game affects players.

Magic Lab, like Google X — responsible for the creation of Google Glass and Google’s Driverless Car — seems to be Sony’s take on “experiencing engineering” without the red-tape. Whether Magic Lab will create products with the same hype factor as Google X’s ideas is anyone’s guess, but if Morpheus is any indication, Marks and his team are off to a promising start.

MORE: What Gaming Industry Professionals Think of Virtual Reality:

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Cycling

Tour de France Riders Will Travel 2,277 Miles This Year

Cyclists will burn a combined 19,800,000 calories by the end of this year's Tour de France. And other cool stats.

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When the Tour de France began in 1903, cyclists made a 1,509 mile trek. 111 years later, they’ll travel 2,277 miles – a 768-mile difference.

The event holds some big numbers: more than 20,000 security staffers will watch over the event and more than 600 journalists will cover it.

But no matter the numbers, one thing stays the same: Only one person can be the winner of the yellow jersey. Watch the video above for more cool Tour de France facts, images, and numbers so when it starts this weekend, you’re in the know.

TIME politics

25 Years Later: Oliver North and The Iran-Contra Scandal

Here's a look back on the 25th anniversary of Oliver North's sentencing.

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25 years ago, Marine Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North did something really, really bad. He sold weapons to Iran in an effort to help fund rebels fighting Nicaragua’s Socialist government.

It was a war that was already being funded by the small country’s cocaine trade, a fact that prompted Congress to halt the flow of money from the U.S. to Nicaragua.

After a short prison sentence and a successful appeal, North continues to be a polarizing figure and important voice in the conservative sphere.

TIME Culture

WATCH: The Delicious History of the Hot Dog

The history of tubular meat goes way back.

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Red hots, dogs, brats, frankfurters, wieners, sausages — whatever you call them, you’re probably getting ready to scarf down some hot dogs on the Fourth of July.

Before they were on your picnic table, hot dogs graced the fires of ancient Greece, the beer houses of Germany and the White City of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Whether accompanied with sauerkraut, slathered in mustard or just nestled in a bun, no food represents America’s melting pot better than the well-traveled, immigrant hot dog.

TIME Chemistry

Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Pee in the Pool

Besides being icky, it could also be very bad for you.

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Now that summer is here, there’s a good chance you might spend some of your time cooling off in a swimming pool. But, given that the average swimmer leaves behind 30 to 80 ml of urine when they go swimming, there might be more than just refreshment waiting for you in the water.

A recent study published in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology shows that mixing chlorine and uric acid — the latter of which is “almost entirely attributable to human urine” — can result in “volatile disinfection by-products.”

Those by-products include trichloramine, which can affect the respiratory system and lead to irritation of the skin and eyes, as well as cyanogen chloride, which has been used in the past as a chemical-warfare agent.

There isn’t enough chlorine or urine in a pool to produce quite that level of destruction, but what is there can still find its way into your body, so science just gave swimmers another reason to hold it until you can get out.

TIME Islamic State of Iraq and Syria

Meet the Most Successful Terrorist Leader Since Osama Bin Laden

Emboldened by its success in Syria and Iraq, al-Qaeda is widening its reach

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There’s a name that you should remember: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the commander of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), whose fighters now control large swaths of Iraq.

There are few photos of al-Baghdadi, and even fewer details about his life are well-known. But as Iraq is engulfed by conflict and the country’s second largest city fell to Sunni extremists, the influence of Islamic terrorism’s newest star is set to grow.

TIME’s International Editor Bobby Ghosh explains the danger behind al-Baghdadi’s rise to power, and what that means for both Europe and the United States.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

The Truth About Fat

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When you want to lose weight or get healthy, what is the first thing you would normally cut from your diet? If you said fat, you’re not alone.

For years, the advice from the USDA has been to reduce the level of saturated fat in your diet, in order to lower your overall cholesterol. However, a new meta-analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine has thrown that whole approach in to question.

The removal of fats from our diet has led to an increase in consumption of carbohydrates and processed low-fat alternatives, which has contributed to record levels of diabetes and obesity.

When you consider that most low-fat or non-fat products are laden with salts, sugars and preservatives, continuing to seek out fat-free alternatives could be doing you more harm than good.

MORE: Give (Frozen) Peas a Chance–and Carrots Too

MORE: The Oz Diet

MORE: Further Reading On Fat

TIME World Cup

The Dummy’s Guide to The World Cup

Not sure what exactly the World Cup is, or who to watch? Here's all you need to know.

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The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil is right around the corner, but for anyone who isn’t sure what to expect, this video is your all-in-one primer.

The biggest competition in sport comes around every four years, and this year’s tournament will have a host of exciting talent on show, including 2013 Ballon D’Or winner, Cristiano Ronaldo. Hoping to avoid controversy this time around will be Uruguay’s Luis Suarez, who was sent off in the last competition for handball and has also suffered a 10-game ban for sinking his teeth in to an opponent.

For everything you need to know about who’s playing to where, when and how to watch, this guide will get you caught up in time for kick off on June 12th.

TIME Soccer

Stephen Hawking Calculates England’s Chances of World Cup Success

Science predicts the chances of a first win in almost 50 years

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Renowned physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking has nailed his colors firmly to the mast ahead of this summer’s World Cup in Brazil.

Applying his scientific mind to the random-number generator that is Association Football, Hawking has pulled data from previous World Cup performances to determine how England can lift its first trophy in almost 50 years. Unfortunately for England fans, however, not many of Hawking’s criteria look likely to be met this summer.

Among other things, he notes that England plays best at lower altitudes (two of its first three matches take place at altitudes close to the highest point in England) and with kick-offs at 3 p.m. (all its group matches start in the evening).

Referring to England’s chances in a penalty shoot out, Hawking added “As we say in science, England couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo.”

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