Should our body be considered a form of property to government?
Biometrics and Security should enhance rather than conflict with individual privacy and dignity. As stated by the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804): “Human beings should never be treated as merely means to an end” – Namely, ‘Human beings are already the purpose, they must not be sacrificed to fulfill other purposes’.
By: JILL SCHENSUL – TRAVEL COLUMNIST
OK, let’s calm down for a second. I think it’s time to put this issue on whole body scanning — aka “TSA porn” — in perspective.
Yes, these scanners can put together a good idea of what’s underneath our traveling clothes. That’s the point, after all, when looking for concealed weapons. But some privacy groups, passengers and elected officials watching out for our modesty think the results are a little too creepily lifelike. As Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, coiner of the TSA porn epithet, said: “Nobody needs to see my wife and kids naked to secure an airplane.”
The scans don’t exactly look like naked people. More like naked … avatars.
The TSA also says the machines have a program that blurs faces/identities. And they point out, on the Web page of information about the machines, that the scanner “does not store, print, transmit or save the image. All machines have zero storage capability and all images are automatically deleted from the system after they are reviewed by the remotely located security officer.” It’s not like you’ll be seeing yourself on some scangallery.com site in the future, or finding your head cloned onto some X-rated body.
Probably not, anyway.
An Internet watchdog group, the Electronic Privacy Information Center [EPIC], has obtained documents from the Department of Homeland Security suggesting that the TSA wasn’t being transparent about what the machines can do; apparently, there’s a “test mode” that does allow for data storage and the export of images. Only employees with high-level clearance can access this particular mode, though, and certainly those folks are too busy poring over lists of terrorists and the like to be unleashing such unflattering images upon cyberspace.
‘Virtual strip search’
No matter what their ultimate fate, even subjecting travelers to these scans is an egregious invasion of privacy — tantamount, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, to a “virtual strip search.”
Hello? When was the last time these protesters went through a security check?
Invasion of privacy is what it’s all about. A veritable humiliation, violation marathon, from shoe removal to pocket-emptying, from undoing belts to declaring underwire bras, from swabbing our laptops to disassembling our carry-ons and pawing through purses. And the ultimate de-privatization – usually reserved for the beep-producers – is to be ordered into wanding position, to stand in that Leonardo DaVinci arms-and-legs-spread mode and be subjected to hand scanning and hand-goosings that somehow seem to suck all the freedom out of your soul.
All done before an audience of your peers. Who get to watch the belts come off and the beer bellies bared and the plumber-butts revealed as the beltless pants begin sagging. All in all, I’ll take the scanner.
The more worrisome aspect of these new machines, to me, is the radiation issue. I just keep thinking of those rolls of fogged film I’d get back from the labs every so often. The long strip of nothing but eerie billows of gray, the fallout of overradiation.
So when the TSA tells us the new scanners’ X-rays are harmless, I think about the little sign they used to have at the security screening area, way back when, that assured us X-rays would not harm film up to 400 ASA. And I think about all that gray.
The TSA already has 40 whole body scanners at airports around the country, and, since the recent close call on Northwest Airlines Flight 253, has decided to buy and deploy nearly 450 more.
There are actually two types of scanners being tested. Experts in the field of radiation seem in agreement that millimeter wave technology, which uses radio frequency energy for scanning, is harmless.
Opinions vary on the safety of the backscatter machines, which use low-level X-rays. The dose of radiation is small – about 0.1 microrem of radiation, compared with 100 microrem for a chest X-ray or 10,000 microrem for a CT scan.
According to TSA officials, backscatter machines produce a clearer image.
In an article on the American College of Radiology’s Web site, Mayo Clinic neuroradiologist Peter Kalina questions the use of even small doses of ionizing radiation in non-medical applications. “The amount of radiation may be extremely small and safe, but parents have to grasp that their 4-year-old child is being subjected to radiation. Some parents will be concerned,” he says.
David J. Brenner, a Columbia University professor of radiation oncology and public health, worries about subjecting pregnant women to the scans, too. He also says that about 5 percent of the general population is radiosensitive, among them women who carry certain breast cancer genes.
The TSA says these scans will be voluntary – you can opt for the pat-down if you want.
Kalina is concerned about a potential scenario in which a less-developed nation might adopt backscatter scanning technology, but fail to keep its scanners calibrated. “As a traveler,” he has said, “I don’t know who’s checked that machine or equipment. Can I be sure there won’t be a larger dose of radiation coming from it?” I believe he said this before the recent discovery that 206 patients at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles received eight times the normal dose of radiation from a CT scan machine with a computer-resetting error.
But all these debates are secondary to the real question: Are the benefits worth the risks, hassle, humiliation and expense?
The new scanners might do a better job than the current technology but obviously have their drawbacks, and opinions vary on whether they can reliably detect weapons hidden in body cavities. And they’re simply an option – not even a terrorist can be forced into one.
The scanners are a good straw to grasp at after the latest high-profile oops in the security system was brought to light.
The problem is, every new measure is simply a reaction to the latest near-miss, a Band-Aid rather than a real systemic change for the better. Various tech companies that make the equipment will certainly benefit in the short term, but will the cost and the risks really benefit the war on terrorism and make us safer?
I’m with Bruce Schneier, an internationally recognized security technologist who said that while whole-body-imaging technology “works pretty well,” the financial investment is a mistake. He believes money would be better spent on intelligence-gathering and investigations.
“It’s stupid to spend money so terrorists can change plans,” he said by phone from Poland, where he was speaking at a conference. If terrorists are swayed from going through airports, they’ll just target other locations, such as a hotel in Mumbai, India, he said.
But the orders are already in for another 100 of these machines. So, well, we’ll deal with it. I’m going to opt for the whole scan thing, especially if I don’t have to take off my shoes. And the new option should at least cut down on the incidence of plumber butt.
But technology is just one link in the security system.
And as the recent incident shows, no matter how much intelligence we gather, no matter how many alert systems we put in place, they’re useless if ignored.