Scan, baby, scan

January 10, 2010 at 2:00 am 2 comments

I did not have to gaze into any crystal ball to foretell that we, the weary traveller, would have to face increased security at airports because of the “underwear bomber“. (Imagine going down in history being called the “underwear bomber”). Yet again, we have authorities rushing around installing full-body scanners so they can look to be talking tough and doing something, anything in the face of alleged threats. The Canadians seem to very anxious to be seen in a flurry of reaction, purchasing 44 scanners in the wake of the underwear bomber.

I’ve blogged before about full-body scanners and invasion of privacy. But if any airport or private security dudes are reading this blog, rush off to read 5 reasons why body scanners will probably not resolve the terrorist problem. And pay particular attention to point 2 and why the “underwear bomber” probably would not have been detected.

Michael Chertoff, who was homeland security secretary from 2005 to 2009, is calling for the widespread expansion of whole-body imaging scanners that use radio waves or X-rays to reveal objects beneath a person’s clothes. (Chertoff BTW has a consultancy that represents Rapiscan, a company manufacturing body scanners.) Yeah, well I’d like to shove this dude into a booth and give him the equivalent of a digital strip search. These scanners show the outline of genitalia – see the photo accompanying this post or, better yet, the one below.

Now, call me cynical but I can foretell a time when some Hollywood star’s digital naked image will find its way miraculously onto the Internet courtesy of some scanning dude wanting to make a quick buck.

And tell me how scanning is not violating child pornography laws? Are you fine with: first of all, your child being viewed as a potential terrorist and secondly, your kid basically being lined up against a wall and a naked image produced? Guys: are you fine with your wife or tween-age daughter being seen naked? And what about Islamic women being subjected to scans: will this not violate Islamic rules of public modesty?

Call me cynical again but what strict processes will be put into place to ensure that scanning personnel won’t show their family and friends images of celebrities or people with odd body features or grandma’s underpants? What’s to ensure that images of kids won’t fall into the hands of pedophiles? Authorities are saying that scanners will be used alongside metal detectors and pat-down searches. So for now, full-body scanning isn’t mandatory but wait….when private corporations stand to make millions out of scanners being mandatory, you can bet your bottom dollar that we’ll all be subjected to scanning sooner rather than latter.

There are two types of scanners: scanners using “millimetre-wave” technology and x-ray scanners. Scanners using millimetre-waves would not have detected the 3oz of the chemical powder PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate) that Abdulmutallab had stuffed up his underwear. Because this material is low density the millimetre waves pass through and the object is not shown on screen. X-ray scanners (called backscatter scanners) penetrate one-tenth of an inch into the body, which is enough to detect any devices or drugs hidden just under the skin. Manufacturers are saying the risk of irradiation is low, 1% or less of the radiation in a dental X-ray but consider the cumulative effects. For frequent flyers, what are the health risks of ongoing x-rays? A 2004 study suggested that 0.6% of all cancers diagnosed in the UK are due to medical X-rays. This would amount to around 700 of the 124,000 new cases of cancer in the UK each year. Flying for 30 hours BTW is equivalent to one chest x-ray.

And a leading US expert on the biological effects of x-ray radiation, Dr. John Gofman, who has conducted exhaustive studies, concludes that there is NO SAFE DOSE-LEVEL of ionizing radiation. His studies suggest that radiation from x-rays and treatment is a causal co-factor in 50% of cancers in the US.

UPDATE: Natural News article – full-body scanners may damage human DNA.

Back in November 2008, the European Union seemed to be displaying some sense when they shelved plans to introduce scanners but are now deeply divided over whether to introduce this intrusive technology or not. It’s possible the EU may issue a binding regulation demanding use of imaging technology.

You know, it would be far smarter if authorities spent millions on improved and collaborative intelligence instead of full-body scanners. We’ve put up with increased security measures since 9/11 but did this stop Abdulmutallab from smuggling explosives onto a jet airliner? NOOOOOOOOOOO.  From all I’ve read, the CIA (who was contacted by Abdulmutallab’s father) declined to share information about Abdulmutallab with the National Counterterrorism Center, which may have placed him on the “no fly” list. The National Security Agency was also busy eavesdropping on a conversation that discussed a plot to use a Nigerian man for a coming terrorist attack but the NSA didn’t seem to have the information the CIA had or didn’t share it with other agencies. So there was an intelligence breakdown and a pattern of information that could have pointed to a terrorist threat was not detected by US security agencies.

Instead of seeing every citizen as a potential terrorist and subjecting us to one more intrusion on our personal privacy and dignity, why not enhance intelligence operations and stop any terrorist from even getting to an airport car park?

Let’s recall the words of Hermann Goering:

Naturally the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.”

If we keep allowing the nanny state to contain us in a climate of fear, then we deserve the suffocating future we’ll all end up in.

UPDATE: May 19 2010 “Naked” scanners may increase cancer risk.


Entry filed under: Airport security, Civil liberties, Privacy. Tags: , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Baoman  |  January 12, 2010 at 1:24 am

    I agree in general that full-body scans are primarily for show and they won’t completely eliminate terrorists taking explosives and weapons on-board airplanes, trains and ships. However, they may deter some of the more obvious attempts. Their primary advantage is speed; it is faster to scan then to pat down. Many people will choose the scan because it is faster. I’m sure I would choose a scan just to save time and to avoid have some strange person’s hand all other me.

    Anglo-saxons are so worried about nakedness. I’ve never quite understood why. Is it something to do with Christianity? Why have all of this false modesty? I’ve been amused for years when I’ve lived in Japan on the uncomfortable faces when Anglo-saxon visitors are confronted with near-naked men at public events and completely naked people at the onsen. Concepts of modesty are cultural and it should be remembered that many cultures do not see any big invasion of privacy in displaying their unclothed body.

  • 2. thinkingshift  |  January 12, 2010 at 3:51 am

    that is true Baoman…..I guess my concern is that I certainly wouldn’t wish to inflict my nakedness on some poor scanning dude LOL!

    Really, the issue for me is the loss of dignity – what if you have a colostomy bag or some medical device that impacts on your self-esteem and body consciousness? Why should you be forced to suffer the indignity of someone else knowing or seeing this?

    And if worries over nakedness is cultural or do with Christianity, again why should a person be forced to undergo a process that is against their cultural values or religious convictions?

    In the post, I didn’t really deal with questions around whether the images will be linked to a passenger boarding card, passenger name etc; how long the images might be saved and so on.

    I know that a lot of people will say “who cares, bring it on” but for me, there are issues.


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