TSA Porn Or Security Measure?

After 9/11, airports became a place where every traveler is a terror suspect. In an effort to combat terror threats, some airports have turned into virtual high-tech strip joints. You might not have realized it, but the Transportation Security Administration has been testing 40 “whole-body imaging” machines at 19 airports. Critics say the machines, which cost a whopping $170,000, perform a “virtual strip search” and produce “naked” pictures of travelers. Now, protestors have started a national campaign to suspend use of the technology until privacy safeguards are set. “We don’t have the policy to hold [the TSA] to what they say. They’re writing their own rule book at this point,” said Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. The TSA doesn’t see a problem. The machines “detect both metallic and nonmetallic threat items to keep passengers safe,” said TSA spokeswoman Kristin Lee. “It is proven technology, and we are highly confident in its detection capability.” Six of the airports are using the machines as the only security check option. Instead of walking through a metal detector and being patted down, passengers walk through a sci-fi machine. Other airports allow passengers to volunteer to use the machines in lieu of a pat-down, protocol for anyone who has repeatedly set off a metal detector or been flagged for random screening. The person’s face is blurred and the image looks like a “fuzzy negative.”

Coney says she’s seen whole-body images taken by similar technology that were much clearer than the images the airport machines take. “What they’re showing you now is a dumbed-down version of what this technology is capable of doing,” she said. “Having blurry images shouldn’t blur the issue.” She worries that as result of a cheaper price, the equipment will become more pervasive and more difficult to regulate.

The American Civil Liberties Union echoes the opponents’ charge. “A choice between being groped and being stripped, I don’t think we should pretend those are the only choices,” said Chris Calabrese, an ACLU lawyer. “People shouldn’t be humiliated by their government” as a result of security, nor should they trust that the images will remain private. He also speculated that screeners at LAX “could make a fortune off naked virtual images of celebrities.”

Here’s a win-win solution. The machines should only show possible threat items. Or why don’t they use a generic template of a body, instead?

Since 9/11, we’ve had to get used to all kinds of humiliation at the airport. Once, I refused to remove my shoes, so my carry-on and I were swabbed for chemicals in view of everyone else in line. Since I was going through chemo at the time, I’m assuming I set off the detector. The TSA agent wrote down my name, address, and the names of my medication, while another agent questioned my mother. I’m sure I’m on some list somewhere.

At least the possibility of seeing a fuzzy naked body will get the TSA agents to pay attention to their tasks. [CNN]

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