Are you ready to give up more privacy?

airport_xray_scanner.jpg

In the wake of the Christmas attack on Northwest Flight 253, security experts are suggesting only our desire for privacy is preventing authorities from catching people like Umar Faruk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old who allegedly mixed an explosive cocktail to try to bring down the flight as it approached Detroit.

“There’s reports the TSA mandated the Dutch authorities not to use body screening,” Douglas Laird, told MPR’s Gary Eichten on Midday today. He’s an aviation security consultant and the former security director for Northwest Airlines.

The problem, Laird’s remarks suggest, is that Americans value their privacy and the body screening equipment basically strips a person.

Jay Stanley, public education director for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Technology and Liberty Program, said the machines essentially perform “virtual strip searches that see through your clothing and reveal the size and shape of your body.”

Jay Stanley, public education director for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Technology and Liberty Program, said the machines essentially perform “virtual strip searches that see through your clothing and reveal the size and shape of your body.”

The Star Tribune called privacy concerns “ridiculous” in a strongly-worded editorial:


Even more troubling is the extent to which privacy activists have been able to influence the political debate and restrict the use of whole-body imaging scanners in U.S. airports. To rally the opposition, the term “virtual strip search” has been used, conjuring images of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners huddled around computers ogling the most shapely passengers.

Laird is apparently unmoved by the privacy concerns:

“In February 1972, because of the ‘Take me to Cuba era,’ the government mandated that all passengers be screened,” he said. “Back then there was a hue and cry that this violated our civil rights blah, blah, blah. It also stopped the hijackings.”

Would images of “naked” passengers end up being circulated? Probably, Laird acknowledges. It happened in the UK.

But some manufacturers of body scanning equipment say privacy filters can blur “sensitive parts of the body.”

And the TSA says the people looking at the “naked” (if blurred) images, never see the actual passenger. The technology is in place at some U.S. airports. And since last weekend’s incident, the phones have been ringing at the manufacturer’s of the equipment.


Are privacy concerns about full-body scanning at airport checkpoints overstated?(polls)

  • pcomeau

    So here’s a question… Does the image get stored? Can it be stored and put onto movable media?

    If yes then we have a privacy issue. Cause how long before somebody decides to post an image they find funny, outrageous, etc.

    As pointed out in another blog… We need to focus more in investigation and prevention. The airport is the last line of defense versus terrorist attacks, not the first.

  • David

    Here’s another question. If they scan a child is that image akin to child porn?

  • Kassie

    It comes down to this- you don’t have to fly. You don’t want to have people look at weird outlines of your body, then don’t fly. It isn’t a right. If the TSA thinks this will help, then they should do it. But would it have stopped this latest attempt?

  • Matt

    As far as we are being told: the images are not saved, not storable, not transferrable, only kept for 10 seconds and destroyed, visible only to a person in another room who cannot see you (as in, hey check out the redhead, let’s scan her), etc. etc.

    It could be okay if one person has the unfortunate job of sitting in a room, reviewing our lumpy bodies and looking for PETN in our underwear, with a radio to warn TSA agents for secondary screening. But do we trust TSA agents to do the right thing here and not keep these invasive photos?

    Like Bob said, it happened in the UK. Probably some bloke/flunkie who used his cameraphone to snap the screen. I can’t imagine these images were in the least bit “sexy” — probably more just for laughs. Have you seen who’s traveling these days?

    I’d rather have some random person in a box see what I look like in the locker room than an awkward pat-down in front of the whole terminal or an even more awkward real strip search. It’s an invasion of privacy, but they’re really just unidentifiable bodies shapes. Sad we’ve had to get here, but given the alternative I’d rather be scanned.

  • Jon

    the question it all comes down to, is other then “perceived security” what benefits do I get out of flashing the TSA?

    if it takes longer to get through security with these, then screw it. If it means that I get through faster with out having to take off my shoes/belt/watch/etc. then great.

    if I get nothing out of it, why should they get to see me naked?

  • Matt

    Jon: How about not getting blown up mid-flight? To me, the scanners are not the end-all of security but certainly more of a preventative measure than making people take off their shoes. I don’t think it’s perceived if it makes TSA agents better equipped.

    This is about what’s better for the herd, not the individual sheep. And if it makes airliners not targets for BVDs filled with PETN, then this sheep is fine waiting an extra 15 minutes every time he flys.

  • kennedy

    Why this self-obsession with our own naked bodies? Every time I go to the gym and shower afterwards, people I don’t know see me naked. Having my body scan on a screen in front of a security emplyee is no bg deal. Even if images were circulated publicly, who could recognize an individual?

    I question the expense of the equipment. Would it be more cost/time effective to pat down everyone?

  • Bismuth

    Do people who have privacy issues with body screening also have issues with having X-rays taken? Why is an image of your body’s outline any more of an invasion of privacy than an image of your bone structure?

    Like Matt said, I can’t imagine these sorts of images to be sexy, especially not to a person who sees hundreds of scans every day.

    Some might be made to feel more comfortable if there were separate lines for males and females, with a member of the same gender being the only one seeing the images. Or, for that matter, image recognition software is advanced enough that it could easily identify if there were questionable areas that needed further attention by security personnel.

  • The Colonel

    So, let’s see if we have this straight. People would rather protect some notion of privacy or modesty than get blown out of the sky? Or to turn it around the other way, “Go ahead and kill me, but don’t look at me naked.” Let’s get real, folks. First of all, all human bodies look the same – some people have more lumps in one place than another, but we ultimately are all the same. Secondly, we reveal our physical selves for many reasons already – in the MD office to the changing rooms in department stores. (Certainly you know many of those dressing rooms are monitored to prevent theft.) If this device will make us reliably safer, we would be fools to object on the basis of something as useless as modesty. Heck, if I had to get naked and don a hospital gown to guarantee safety, even that might be worth it. The idea is to minimize the risks while still having the benefits of air travel. We need to grow up. They can’t see the “real you” on these devices, and chances are you’re not that great to look at anyway (I know I’m not) even if they could. This is the most ridiculous argument I have heard in years.

  • Bob Collins

    //Why is an image of your body’s outline any more of an invasion of privacy than an image of your bone structure?

    Your answer is in the image above. An X-ray reveals skeletal detail, not outer body detail.

    I can see a TMZ site posting images of famous (women) celebrities’ body scan.

  • Tyler

    How about we put the impetus for security on our fellow passengers, as what happened with the recent Northwest flight? Surely the threat of falling out of the sky will provoke people to prevent an attack? After all, we drive defensively, right? Why not “fly” defensively?

  • Paul

    Privacy issue or modesty issue? This seems more like a modesty issue.

  • Matt

    Bob: Like celebrities wait in lines at the airport.

    Tyler: What are you suggesting? We strip search each other? There’s no defense mechanism for a bomb inside a passenger plane.

  • Bob Collins

    //People would rather protect some notion of privacy or modesty than get blown out of the sky?

    No, I don’t think that’s it at all. I think it’s the rapid rush to change rules when we don’t even know what happened yet.

    You’ve got a lot of people with a vested interest in a new technology declaring that the new technology would’ve prevented the attack.

    What IF what would’ve prevented the attack is people doing their job? What if it were THAT simple? What if the main cause of the problem was that a guy that the authorities knew had terrorist ties and they STILL let him fly?

    Isn’t that what the various lists were supposed to prevent? Why didn’t they work?

    And shouldn’t we get the systems we’ve already put in place to work, before we embrace yet another “this one will do the trick” solution?

  • teej

    Just wait till we have somebody attempt to blow up a plain with explosives in their colon.

    ** You don’t have to fly if you don’t want a TSA official’s finger in your colon.

    ** Let’s get real – everybody’s colon looks the same, some with more bumps than other.

    ** It would be okay if one person sat in a room, searching people’s colons, where they couldn’t see who you were.

    ** Privacy issue or modesty issue? Refusing to allow a TSA official to search your colon seems more like a modesty issue.

    Ridiculous.

    As Bruce Schneier said on Rachel Maddow the other day, we need to quit thinking about how to prevent the last attack and start thinking about how to prevent the next one. Whatever we do, the next attack will do something different. Here’s something astonishingly creative that would defeat full-body scanners: blow up a train instead of an airplane.

    Intelligence, good police work, and _reasonable_ security procedures work. . What we have right now is security theater that costs billions, wastes unknowable time, and lowers our quality of life while making us no safer.

  • packin’heatonaledge

    Teej,

    I am

    crying.

  • Jennifer

    “What IF what would’ve prevented the attack is people doing their job? What if it were THAT simple? What if the main cause of the problem was that a guy that the authorities knew had terrorist ties and they STILL let him fly? ”

    Bob, in reference to that thought, here’s my question. From what I’ve heard this man was suspected to have Al Queda ties and he was also holding a valid visa for travel to the US. This has brought up a lot of talk about airport security, but what about the screening and visa approval process prior to that? Why was he issued a visa by the US government in the first place??

    I know people whose visas have been denied for much less.

  • kates

    I echo the Colonel’s note about department store security already watching dressing rooms for shoplifters.

    i’m open to the new scanning methods to fly if they actually are a solution and not just another pointless act that someone will find a way around to commit an act of terror.

  • John O.

    All the technology, scans, etc. mean exactly SQUAT if the TSA person is not paying attention due to distraction, fatigue, or indifference.

    My frustration as a semi-regular traveler is that TSA appears at times to be more obsessed with those damn Ziploc bags and enforcing the 3 ounce limit, to the exclusion of just about everything else.

    Kassie is right: you do not have to fly; it is a choice. If they want to scan me coming through, fine. Bob, you can be sure that the rich and famous will have their own line.

    I’m also fine if they want to do a secondary screening at the gate.

  • Jesse

    While i am a card carrying member of the ACLU i believe that national security is in our best interest. I also believe that Israel’s security practices can be a blueprint for our airport/national security concerns. I would be willing to give up my selfish inconvenience for the greater good with the caveat that information collected be strictly limited for that purpose.

  • Beulah

    My main concern is the health risk to those being scanned, and those doing the scanning. Is there radiation involved? How much? Are the workers exposed to large amounts over time? How about frequent fliers?

    Also, if the “improved” images are blurring “sensitive” body parts, then don’t you suppose that would-be terrorists would just hide whatever they are going to bring on board in the sensitive areas so as not to be detected. Full imaging for every passenger with no exceptions is the way to do it if it is going to happen.