Thursday, June 09, 2005

There Are So Many Things Wrong About This

A few weeks ago I came across some information about a new X-ray device that may be used in our airports as an additional screening tool for security. I dismissed it at first (hey, I had a lot more on my mind, okay?), but now that I've been researching it a bit more, I can't say I'm impressed. In fact, I'm disgusted.

What I'm talking about is Backscatter X-ray Screening. This is an X-ray device that works very quickly, and generally doesn't penetrate the body. It's supposedly safe. It's also vile. What it amounts to is the realization of the old "x-ray glasses" ads we saw in comic books when we were kids. You see, the backscatter device x-rays go through clothing, but not people. What you end up with is a picture of a naked person. (Link not safe for work, or young children.) It amounts to an instant strip search of everyone passing through it.

This violates so many privacy issues (let alone morale ones) I can't even think straight. It still doesn't address the problem of hiding explosives or other contraband in body cavities, because the device doesn't penetrate the body. From what I can tell, it doesn't really do much more than current detection methods; it just does it differently.

What's even worse is considering that most of these devices can save the images as computer files and have built in floppy disk drives. This opens up a whole new host of potential abuses by unscrupulous screeners. They could post images on the Internet. If used on a child it would violate federal child pornography laws. Some screeners may even use the device as an excuse to strip search someone they thought was attractive because they "saw something suspicious on the scan."

Improved security is one thing, but these devices don't seem to provide any substantial benefit over the methods used now, and are incredibly intrusive. I'm hoping that popular opinion will create such a backlash against this technology that not a single device will ever be installed. If airports start putting them in I'd dare to bet that the airlines would start to scream as well. I suspect widespread use would result in a massive reduction in airline ticket sales (and some lawsuits). I know I'd certainly refuse to fly. Then again, seeing me naked may be punishment enough.

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