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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Alert about enhanced airport security

I'll step away for a moment from this ordinary account of my travel planning to talk about something travel-related, but possibly in the realm of politics. In the aftermath of the attempted Christmas bombing of a plane, there are many calls to expand use of the Whole Body Imager, a machine that sees through clothes. The device is currently in a pilot program where it's the primary screening method at a few checkpoints, and secondary (for people raising alarms in the metal detector and "random selectees") in others. The Transportation Security Administration says there should be no privacy worries about it, and posts sample views of the image that don't seem like much of a problem. A video at http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=972_1262283908 shows a different picture, so to speak, with the screener having higher resolution and zoom-in capability. In the U.K. it's been deemed that images of minors in these devices would violate child pornography laws: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/jan/04/new-scanners-child-porn-laws/print

It's questionable whether this would have caught the Christmas bomber. This device is part of security theater, making it look like major steps are being taken while there are still big loopholes. The image stops at the first contact with skin, so forbidden objects could be kept under fat folds or other ways I'll leave to the imagination. Also it's simply an image rather than any explosives detection. So there are concerns about privacy and the practical worry that people are asked to empty their pockets and leave their belongings out of site in a crowded area. I'm posting this so people can make their judgment, keeping it to "mostly the facts."

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