A man who resisted a full-body scan and groin check at San Diego airport has focused the attention on the issue of privacy and airport X-ray scanners.
On a more salacious note, how long did the powers that be think it was going to take for airport security personnel to start putting their fancy new full-body X-ray scanners to creative, if illegal and really rather pervy, use?
After all, those magic X-ray glasses that supposedly let you see what’s under people’s clothes have been the subject of every teenage boy’s naughty fantasies for generations. Being in charge of a fancy machine that’s designed to do exactly that, but actually works, was always going to be too much of a titillating temptation for some less than ethical employees.
Before you make up your mind, check out just how naked you would appear on an airport scanner.
High-tech Peeping Toms
Employees at Miami International Airport taunted and made fun of one of their colleagues for months after they saw his diminutive penis while being trained on the use of the full-body scanner. Poor Rolando Negrin finally snapped and beat up one of his tormentors with a steel baton in an employee parking lot.
A 25-year old man who allegedly took a photo of a Heathrow co-worker as she accidentally stepped into a full-body scanner and promptly proceeded to tell her that he loved “those gigantic tits” received a harassment warning from the police.
Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan claims that staff at Heathrow printed out and circulated his naked scanner image. His response when he discovered that a bunch of female airport employees were ogling pictures of himself in his birthday suite? He autographed them for his admiring fans, of course!
The full-body scanning machines, which have been introduced at US and UK airports in response to the threat of terrorism, use so-called X-ray backscatter technology that creates digital images of a person’s naked body, including their privates. The face is normally blurred in the image, however, and the operators typically sit in a separate, sealed room.
The harmless, low-energy X-rays effectively see through layers of clothing and bounce of the skin. In the USA, passengers are given the choice of walking through the full-body scanner or subjecting themselves to a combination of an old-fashioned metal detector and a physical pat-down. In the UK, on the other hand, a stroll through the full-body scanner is compulsory if you’re hoping to get onto any flight.
Problems of transparency
There are a number of problems with the full-body X-ray scanners:
Several civil liberties and human rights organizations have charged that the scanners amount to an electronic strip search that violates a person’s right to privacy as well as being discriminatory, unfair and probably illegal.
Some Islamic scholars have advised travelers not to pass through the scanners since they violate religious rules regarding nudity. After all, what good is a burka if any arbitrary airport security operator can see what’s underneath it?
In the UK, there have been allegations that the scanners contravene child protection and child pornography laws.
There are worries that naked images of travelers, especially celebrities, will end up on the internet - like that’s not already happening with astonishing frequency!
Some critics of the technology argue that the scanners will not stop a determined terrorist from smuggling bomb-making equipment or other dangerous objects onto airplanes. That sentiment seems to be borne out by this video clip from a German television show which is worth watching even if you don’t understand the language (it comes with English subtitles). While the scanner detects the man’s Swiss Army knife, cell phone and microphone, it misses all the bomb components he has secreted away on his body.
- Andrew Luyt, Health24, May 2010