Body scanners at airports leave passengers in the pink

June 8, 2008

Body scanning machines  installed in major airports across America are revealing their most intimate body parts. These new security devices to be installed at 38 major airports are set to replace metal detectors and pat downs at airport checkpoints.

As pointed out by the ACLU  the controversial machines can see through a person’s clothes and this form of electronic strip search has enormous potential for abuse.  Everytime you need to jump on a plane you face the spectre of having your nude body inspected at random.  It has provoked an outcry from troubled women who feel that they are being assaulted by this invasive new technology.

 As Barry Steinhardt, Director of Technology and Liberty Group at the ACLU  has pointed out abuse of photographic technology under the pretext of security has been a reality in the past and it is invariable that the device will be misused.  As Steinhardt pointed out that the ‘active millimeter wave body scanners’ was justified given that there are less invasive technologies around and that the experts don’t seem to have successfully tackled cargo screening.

The efficacy of the technology must also be questioned as although the scanners can see items under clothing, it doesn’t look under the skin, so won’t be able to detect items surgically implanted or within body cavities. Neither can it see through rubber or plastic or items that resemble skin.

There are questions of informed consent and those who have refused to take the scans have been subjected to pat down searches.  Based on previous experience, it is conceivable that there will be warehouses of photos collected by employees for their circulation.  There have been no  details released on how tightly regulated and monitored the system will be to avoid this temptation.

Before long to get into the footy stadium or your employer’s building you might face this kind of test.

It is just as much the perception that you might be exposed to prying eyes than the reality of this occurring that is frightening and demonstrates that the Foucauldian panopticon is very much alive and well in this surveillance society.  What if the security camera picks up something innocuous? It is forseeable that pat down searches would quickly follow.  It evokes images of the abusive and degrading interrogation that Donald Rumsfeld allowed at Guantanamo Bay with prisoners being interrogated naked.

The move signals just the latest of incursions into the civil rights and privacy of domestic citizens in the name of national security. We know that without court permission the administration has been spying on groups from animal liberationists, Quaker peace activists and  anti war protesters, whilst the National Security Agency has been intercepting our emails, phone calls and snooping into the hard drives of our computers.

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