I’m Looking Through You

John Schwartz at NYT:

The technology exists to reveal objects hidden under clothes at airport checkpoints, and many experts say it would have detected the explosive packet carried aboard the Detroit-bound flight last week. But it has been fought by privacy advocates who say it is too intrusive, leading to a newly intensified debate over the limits of security.

Screening technologies with names like millimeter-wave and backscatter X-ray can show the contours of the body and reveal foreign objects. Such machines, properly used, are a leap ahead of the metal detectors used in most airports, and supporters say they are necessary to keep up with the plans of potential terrorists.

“If they’d been deployed, this would pick up this kind of device,” Michael Chertoff, the former homeland security secretary, said in an interview, referring to the packet of chemicals hidden in the underwear of the Nigerian man who federal officials say tried to blow up the Northwest Airlines flight.

But others say that the technology is no security panacea, and that its use should be carefully controlled because of the risks to privacy, including the potential for its ghostly naked images to show up on the Internet.

“The big question to our country is how to balance the need for personal privacy with the safety and security needs of our country,” said Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who sponsored a successful measure in the House this year to require that the devices be used only as a secondary screening method and to set punishments for government employees who copy or share images. (The bill has not passed in the Senate.)

“I’m on an airplane every three or four days; I want that plane to be as safe and secure as possible,” Mr. Chaffetz said. However, he added, “I don’t think anybody needs to see my 8-year-old naked in order to secure that airplane.”

Ronald Bailey at Reason:

This provoked a breakfast discussion with my wife over the following question: Which is less invasive of privacy: government agents peeking at your body with millimeter wave scanners at airports or allowing the government to amass and access instantly dossiers of background information before you are allowed to board a flight? Below is an example of a millimeter wave scan.

So which would you pick? For the record, my wife and I decided scanning was the less invasive option.

Stewart Baker at The Corner:

What I find interesting is the effort of privacy groups to run for cover now that the cost of their campaigns is clear.  Schwartz interviews the head of a particularly aggressive privacy group, Marc Rotenberg of EPIC, asking him about his group’s position on whole-body imaging:

Marc Rotenberg, head of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said his group had not objected to the use of the devices, as long as they were designed not to store and record images.

That sounded very moderate, very nuanced.

What it didn’t sound was, well, true….


Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport will begin using body scanners on all passengers taking flights to the United States following the attempted terrorist attack on a U.S.-bound flight on Christmas Day, the Dutch interior minister said Wednesday.

The millimeter-wave body scanners will be in place in about three weeks, Dutch Interior Minister Guusje ter Horst told a news conference at The Hague.

“We’ve escaped a very serious attack with serious consequences, but unfortunately in this world there are individuals who do not shy away from attacks on innocent people,” she said.

Tom Kavanagh at Politics Daily:

The move comes in the wake of an attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines jet headed for Detroit on Christmas Day. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, is accused of trying to ignite explosives he had concealed in his underwear. The measures in place at Schiphol when Abdulmutallab boarded Flight 253 included metal detectors and X-ray machines, which cannot detect the explosive material he was allegedly carrying.

Dutch Interior Minister Guusje ter Horst said at a news conference that the scanners will be permanent at Schiphol, and any passengers who do not go through them will be body-searched. As for privacy concerns — namely that the scanners could pick up private features of a person’s body — ter Horst said the scan results will first go through a computer, which would alert security personnel of anything suspicious.

James Joyner:

If and when the kinks are worked out of this system, it actually makes perfect sense.  It appears that they have gotten around the most serious privacy concerns and a scan actually provides much more real security than the nonsensical procedures they’re using now.  My strong guess, however, is that they will continue those as well.

UPDATE: Kevin Drum

UPDATE #2: Mark Tran at The Guardian

UPDATE #3: Declan McCullagh at Cnet

Adam Frucci at Gizmodo


Filed under GWOT, Homeland Security

2 responses to “I’m Looking Through You

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built Over This Holiday Weekend « Around The Sphere

  2. Pingback: What We’ve Built Today « Around The Sphere

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