Since the alleged attempted bombing by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab of an airplane from Amsterdam to the United States, there has been much discussion about “whole-body imaging” technology. (Here’s a good rundown about millimeter wave and backscatter X-ray technology; here’s a post in the archives.) The US Transportation Security Administration has ordered 150 more scanners. The technology also is being used in Britain and the Netherlands. Here are two differing views about the use of such technology.
CNN: Don’t let security scanners erase our privacy
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) writes about problems with full-body scanners being deployed by the US Transportation Security Administration and other countries’ security agencies.
The screening process at U.S. airports has received particular scrutiny in this case — and rightfully so. Whole Body Imaging scanners being tested at many airports have the potential to detect explosives. But these invasive machines perform a virtual strip search, producing detailed images of a passenger’s body.
Screeners can literally count the change in a passenger’s pocket, see the sweat on his back, and view intimate gender-specific details when looking at the image.
We must carefully consider how to balance safety and security with personal privacy concerns. In the wake of an attempted attack, there is always pressure to surrender more of our liberties in the name of security. It should be our goal to employ technologies that are more effective and less invasive. […]
The WBI scanner as currently deployed in the United States, while effective, is not the only tool available to us. Certainly new WBI technology is promising. But bomb-sniffing dogs also meet the threshold of more effective and less invasive. Heat-sensing technologies and puffer machines provide another less invasive screening option.
Washington Post: Former homeland security chief argues for whole-body imaging
Former US Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff writes about his support for the technology.
During my time as secretary of homeland security, the Transportation Security Administration began working to replace the 1970s-era metal detectors used at airports across America with modern technology able to detect non-metal weapons concealed by terrorists on their bodies — even in their underwear, where Abdulmutallab allegedly hid his bomb. The latest versions of these machines — sometimes called whole-body imagers — are deployed at 19 airports, and the TSA is attempting to place them throughout the nation.
Opposition to whole-body imagers essentially relies on three arguments. First, the American Civil Liberties Union and privacy advocates have complained that the machines subject passengers to a “virtual strip search.” Second, they claim that the machines are unsafe because they expose passengers to dangerous amounts of radiation in screening. Third, some critics argue that the only correct approach to airline security lies in better intelligence.
All of these objections lack merit. The “safety” concern is particularly specious, because the technologies expose people to no more radiation than is experienced in daily life. […]
The case of Abdulmutallab shows that we cannot simply “rely on intelligence.” Abdulmutallab was not on a watch list that required closer scrutiny. Even if the review President Obama has ordered closes a gap that would have put Abdulmutallab or others on more select watch lists, there are plenty of terrorists out there about whom we know nothing. Too many potentially dangerous people simply would not appear on any watch list. We cannot put all our eggs in the “intelligence basket.” […]
In short, the TSA has listened to the reasonable concerns of privacy advocates and incorporated numerous suggestions into its protocols to draw the right balance between security and privacy. The administration must stand firm against privacy ideologues, for whom every security measure is unacceptable. Failing to use all available tools to plug a gap in security puts the lives of airline travelers needlessly at risk.
Note that there is also this article about Chertoff and his support of the body scanners. Washington Post, “Ex-Homeland Security chief head said to abuse public trust by touting body scanners.”
Since the attempted bombing of a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day, former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff has given dozens of media interviews touting the need for the federal government to buy more full-body scanners for airports.
What he has made little mention of is that the Chertoff Group, his security consulting agency, includes a client that manufactures the machines. The relationship drew attention after Chertoff disclosed it on a CNN program Wednesday, in response to a question.
An airport passengers’ rights group on Thursday criticized Chertoff, who left office less than a year ago, for using his former government credentials to advocate for a product that benefits his clients.