I can see through you

June 16, 2008 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

In their never-ending quest to make things difficult for travellers and further invade one’s personal space and privacy, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have installed 3D body scanning devices in 10 airports across America. Now, the good news for the TSA is that these devices see through traveller’s clothing. The bad news for travellers is that intimate body parts are revealed.

Apparently, some lucky, randomly selected travellers were recently hauled aside in L.A., New York, Denver, Baltimore and Albuquerque airports, shoved into glass booths and subjected to a 3D body scan. The scanners emit millimetre waves (who knows what the health implications of this might be) that pierce through clothing to identity plastics, metals, chemicals, explosives and so on.

The real issue IMHO is the intrusiveness of this technology. The security people doing the scanning are in a separate room but can clearly see sexual organs. The traveller’s face is blurred (now there’s a positive). A dude from the American Civil Liberties Union has been quoted as saying: “People have no idea how graphic the images are“. Further, in a statement from the ACLU they point out that “Passengers expect privacy underneath their clothing and should not be required to display highly personal details of their bodies such as evidence of mastectomies, colostomy appliances, penile implants, catheter tubes and the size of their breasts or genitals as a pre-requisite to boarding a plane.” Check out the image accompanying this post to see an example image (shamelessly ganked from the ACLU site).

Now, there’s a whole heap of questions I’d be asking:

  • what’s the criteria they’ll be using to haul a traveller off for scanning? Should one of the people doing the scanning spot a nubile blonde with silicon jobs, the cynics amongst might suggest that she could be targetted for a bit of voyeurism on the part of the scanning dudes.
  • how are passengers informed that 3D body scanning devices are being used? Do they sign a consent form?
  • graphic images are produced, so what safeguard is there that the images won’t be stored, transmitted, shared?
  • I’m presuming it’s voluntary (for the moment anyway). What happens if you say no thanks, do you get to board your flight?
  • is this security measure simply over the top? Is it a reasonable and balanced necessity when you weigh it against the personal affront to a traveller’s dignity and body? Why on earth use such intrusive measures for routine security screening? In the absence of probable cause, to scan the average traveller is an infringement of privacy expectations. I mean I certainly don’t expect that when I’m going to an airport to catch a flight that my body parts are going to be flashed onto screens with men (most likely men I’d say) seeing the image! I am fine with the usual “bomb testing” I seem to get hauled aside for. I am fine with the tedious x-ray stuff that goes on even though I think this is all intrusive. But I am not fine with body scanning, that’s a step too far.

Sure, you’re probably saying: “well, who cares? If you have nothing to hide and your face is hidden, then what’s the problem?”. I am so sick of hearing this pathetic excuse. We should all care. It’s not about demonstrating that you’re innocent and have nothing to hide. It’s about being concerned that there’s a redrawing of the boundaries between public and private – and private space is shrinking. The State is increasing its invasiveness into our lives and there will come a time when it’s too late to take back our civil liberties because, like sheep, we will have given them up. Every time we whinge “I have nothing to hide, so what’s the issue?”, we are being submissive sheep. Since 9/11, the ever-increasing climate of fear that has been whipped up by the US Government (and the UK and Australia) has given them carte blanche to interfere, snoop and pry. And we don’t seem to be pushing back. We seem to be taking it on the chin, punch after punch. And now body blow!

I like the way the ACLU counters the TSA’s defence that they are protecting privacy by blurring the person’s face and having images viewed in a separate room: “These protections are the technological equivalent of making passengers parade naked through a separate room with a bag on their head. Passengers should not, and never would, tolerate that.”

Yeah well, I’ve said many times on this blog that I will not go to the US because of their biometric scanning. So I just add body scanning to the list of why I won’t go. How long before airports around the world decide body scanning is a fab idea. And I therefore will not be travelling beyond Newcastle, Australia!!

Image credit: ACLU

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Entry filed under: Airport security, Civil liberties, Privacy, Surveillance society, United States. Tags: , .

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