TSA to have backscatter virtual nudity scanner in Phoenix airport by Christmas
USA Today on Friday had, via AP, an article about the controversial body scanner with "backscatter" technology that graphically reveals everything about your body, in an effort to see what an airline passenger may be carrying on his or her body. Don't want to be seen nude on a computer screen? Then you can be subjected to a patdown instead.
Sky Harbor International Airport here will test a new federal screening system that takes X-rays of passenger's bodies to detect concealed explosives and other weapons.
The technology, called backscatter, has been around for several years but has not been widely used in the U.S. as an anti-terrorism tool because of privacy concerns.
The Transportation Security Administration said it has found a way to refine the machine's images so that the normally graphic pictures can be blurred in certain areas while still being effective in detecting bombs and other threats.
The agency is expected to provide more information about the technology later this month but said one machine will be up and running at Sky Harbor's Terminal 4 by Christmas.
The security agency's website indicates that the technology will be used initially as a secondary screening measure, meaning that only those passengers who first fail the standard screening process will be directed to the X-ray area.
Even then, passengers will have the option of choosing the backscatter or a traditional pat-down search.
A handful of other U.S. airports will have the X-rays machines in place by early 2007 as part of a nationwide pilot program, TSA officials said.
From the Electronic Privacy Information Center website:
The backscatter machines use high-energy X-rays that are more likely to scatter than penetrate materials as compared to lower-energy X-rays used in medical applications. Although this type of X-ray is said to be harmless, it can move through other materials, such as clothing. When being screened, a passenger is scanned by high-energy X-ray beam moving rapidly over her body. The signal strength of detected backscattered X-rays from a known position then allows a highly realistic image to be reconstructed. In the case of airline-passenger screening, the image is of the traveler's nude form. The image resolution of the technology is high, so the picture of the body presented to screeners is detailed enough to show genitalia. These images are not necessarily temporary - screeners can save the body images to the system's hard disk or floppy disk for subsequent viewing on either "the system monitor or on any IBM compatible personal computer with color graphics."
What does TSA have to say about patdowns and backscatter technology?
Question: What are TSA's policies regarding pat-downs and how are they serving a security need?
Answer: TSA expanded its pat down procedures to strengthen its ability to detect explosives at the security checkpoints. Transportation security officers (TSOs) use the front of the hand to screen a passenger's entire back and abdomen, the arms from shoulder to wrist and legs from mid-thigh to ankle. TSOs communicate with the passenger and explain the process prior to conducting the search. Pat-downs are conducted by TSOs of the same gender whenever possible and private screenings are available at the passenger's request. Patting down the chest area may be conducted if there is an alarm from a hand-held metal detector or an irregularity in the person's clothing outline. TSOs conduct the inspections in a professional, respectful manner, while maintaining the highest security standards.
Question: How has TSA addressed the issues of privacy while piloting Backscatter technology?
Answer: TSA met with privacy advocates to incorporate privacy concerns into the development of Backscatter Technology. In response to those concerns, TSA required that the companies responsible for developing Backscatter technology incorporate a privacy algorithm into their technology. This privacy algorithm would eliminate much of the detail shown in the images of the individual while still being effective from a security standpoint. Further, Backscatter images will not be retained in the system, will not be capable of being printed, and will be deleted as each individual steps away from the machine to allow a new individual to be screened.
What's the next step? They want to see through your clothes to get onto an airplane. What has happened to the "reasonable expectation of privacy"?
Liberty--the freedom from unwarranted intrusion by government--is as easily lost through insistent nibbles by government officials who seek to do their jobs too well as by those whose purpose it is to oppress; the piranha can be as deadly as the shark.
--United States v. $124,570, 873 F.2d 1240, 1246 (9th Cir. 1989).
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