This article first published at CNSNews.com on Oct. 15, 2007.
(by Monisha Bansal, CNSNews.com) – Privacy experts are concerned that a full body x-ray scanner the Transportation Security Administration is testing will produce such revealing images that they could violate Americans’ civil liberties. And some experts, who see no civil liberty problems, think the machines are too expensive, too bulky, and not needed given current security procedures at airports.
“We are not convinced that it is the right thing for America,” said Barry Steinhardt, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Technology and Liberty Program. “We are skeptical of the privacy safeguards that the TSA is touting.”
TSA, which operates under the Department of Homeland Security, will be testing the Active Millimeter Wave body scanners at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, with plans to test machines at New York’s JFK and LAX in Los Angeles over the next few months.
TSA will also purchase eight millimeter wave units at a cost of $1.7 million to be used in other cities.
According to TSA, the process — a voluntary alternative to a pat-down during secondary screening — works as follows: A passenger steps into the machine and remains still for a matter of seconds, in two different positions, while the technology creates a three-dimensional image of the passenger from two antennas that simultaneously rotate around the body. Once complete the passenger steps through the opposite side of the millimeter wave portal.
The scanner’s manufacturers, L3 Communications, said the machine “penetrates clothing and packaging to reveal and pinpoint hidden weapons, explosives, drugs, and other contraband,” calling it “more reliable and less intrusive than pat-down searches.”
Yet “this technology produces strikingly graphic images of passengers’ bodies,” said Steinhardt. “Those images reveal not only our private body parts, but also intimate medical details like colostomy bags.”
“That degree of examination amounts to a significant – and for some people, humiliating – assault on the essential dignity of passengers that citizens in a free nation should not have to tolerate,” he said.
But TSA Administrator Kip Hawley said, “We are committed to testing technologies that improve security while protecting passenger privacy. Privacy is ensured through the anonymity of the image: it will never be stored, transmitted or printed, and it will be deleted immediately once viewed.”
He added that security officers will view images from a remote location so they cannot ascertain the identity of the passenger, either visually or otherwise, but can communicate with a fellow officer at the checkpoint if the passenger presents a potential threat. Passengers’ faces will also be obscured on these images.
“They say that they are obscuring faces, but that is just a software fix that can be undone as easily as it is applied,” warned Steinhardt. “And obscuring faces does not hide the fact that the rest of the body will be vividly displayed.”
“Over time, the personnel operating this system will get mischievous, and it will be misused in ways that are very offensive,” added Jim Harper, director of Information Policy Studies at the libertarian Cato Institute.
“When you go out on the street or into an airport, you lose control over the information people can see,” he noted. “There’s no claim that your appearance on the street is something you can keep private.”
But, he added, “the clothing we wear conceals the appearance of our bodies from others, even when we’re in public. We do have privacy, even in public and at airports.”
Harper said TSA should “absolutely not” be able to tell passengers to give up privacy in the appearance of their bodies in order to travel.
“As long as it’s an alternative to the physical pat-down, that gives people some choice,” he told Cybercast News Service . “But I don’t trust the government to give people that choice for very long. And I don’t think people are aware of just how intrusive this kind of system can be.”
But James Carafano, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said, “I don’t think there is a civil liberties issue there … and I don’t really think there is a privacy issue there, because they really do the screening, so people aren’t sending around pictures of your naughty parts or laughing at how chubby somebody looks.”
“Those aren’t the reasons not to do it,” he told Cybercast News Service. “The reason not to do it is because it’s a ridiculous thing to do – with all the money and the enormous infrastructure.”
“These things are huge and very time consuming – even very quick ones are time-consuming,” Carafano said. “It’s just not justified based on the threat.”
He called the technology a “waste of money,” because the results will be minimally better than the current screening process.
“You’re never going to keep every bad thing off a plane – unless people fly naked and are asleep,” Carafano said. “There are still people that could use their thumb and could kill you.
“The notion of relying on a TSA screener to keep every bad thing off a plane is a ridiculous idea. Of all the things you could spend your money on, is that really going to give you the biggest bang for your security buck?” Carafano added.
“Where you want to spend your money is getting the terrorists long before they get to the TSA checkpoint,” he said.
Millimeter Wave body scanners are also used in the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Japan and Thailand. The TSA said the technology will not carry a health risk, because it emits less energy than a cell phone.
All original CNSNews.com material, copyright 1998-2007 Cybercast News Service. Reprinted here with permission from CNSNews. Visit the website at CNSNews.com.
1. a) At which airports will the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) be testing the Active Millimeter Wave body scanners in the next few months?
b) How many additional body scanners will the TSA be purchasing to be used in other cities?
2. a) On which passengers will the body scanner be used?
b) Describe how the scanner works.
3. How does the manufacturer, L3 Communications, promote its Active Millimeter scanners?
4. Barry Steinhardt of the ACLU is skeptical of the TSA’s promise that effective safeguards are in place to protect people’s privacy. What concern does he express about the images produced by the scanner?
5. a) How did TSA Administrator Kip Hawley respond to the ACLU’s concerns about passenger privacy?
b) What concerns does Mr. Steinhardt express about this explanation?
6. For what reasons does Jim Harper of the Cato Institute think the body scanner is a bad idea?
7. How do James Carafano’s reasons for opposing the body scanner differ from those of Mr. Steinhardt and Mr. Harper?
8. a) With whom do you agree about the Active Millimeter body scanners: the TSA, Barry Steinhardt, Jim Harper or James Carafano? Explain your answer.
b) Ask a parent the same question and to explain his/her answer.
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