So, last week as fall break was ending I had to fly back to Michigan from my hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. During the security checks though, I was subjected to something interesting. I had to go through one of those full body scanners. You know, the ones which basically show a stranger your naked body. “Sir, please place your hands on the sides of your heads like antlers on a reindeer” said the TSA agent. Oh great, as if giving a peepshow to a stranger wasn’t bad enough, I now had to look like a freaking reindeer. I eventually got through, but this security check made me feel uncomfortable and violated.
I’ve now had more time to think about and research that security check and as you probably already know, I’m not the only one that had problems with it. These full body scanners are extremely controversial, according to this abcnews article. Many argue that these security checks violate our 4th amendment, which protects citizens against unreasonable search and seizure. Indeed, the biggest problem people seem to have with the full body scanners are that they invade privacy. A British politician, Philip Bradbourn, has called this method of security a “virtual strip search” as quoted in this Times article. He also says:
“[The] technology has the potential to turn a legitimate security concern into an unacceptable peepshow for security industries,”
Much like me, many people felt violated and uncomfortable with the full body scanners. Many parents also become angered when they see their spouse or children have to go through these scanners and have to show their bodies shown to random strangers. In fact, to add to the controversy, in England these scanners violate child pornography laws.
Privacy isn’t the only issue people have with these scanners either. Each scanner that an airport buys costs 150,000 dollars, according to the Times article linked above. Many feel that this is not an efficient use of money by the government and many feel that the costs outweigh the benefits of these new machines. In Europe alone, thousands of full body scanners would be built in airports. The costs for these scanners quickly stack up. Furthermore, these full body scanners take a much longer time to pass through than just your standard metal detector. In these full body scanners you have to take the proper stance (the reindeer pose), get scanned, then wait while the TSA agents figure out if you have illegal objects on your body. On the other hand, your normal metal detectors just require you to walk through. The metal detectors are a very quick and efficient process, while the full-body scanners can take 10-20 seconds longer, which can add up in the long lines at airports.
However, the more I did research, the more it came up that maybe I was seeing this issue the wrong way. As it turns out, the TSA agents do not get a descriptive image of your body. As a TSA agent was quoted as saying in the abcnews article above:
“Essentially, what we did is we dumbed down the image [for the back scan machine]; now, the image is much like a gingerbread cookie, it’s the outline of a body.”
Furthermore, as mentioned in the same abcnews article, the TSA agent who gets to see this outline of your body is in a remote location and cannot see you when you pass through the scanner. And there’s more, the TSA does not store your body’s image anywhere, it goes away right after it’s looked at by the TSA agent. Also, that same TSA agent cannot bring anything into the room that could take a picture of your scanned body (cell phones, cameras, etc). After reading all of that, privacy issues do not seem to be as big of a concern.
These scanners do seem to be a help to security, but there are still some questions about its effectiveness. Things like guns and other hurtful weapons can easily be seen by TSA agents. To add to that, people carrying contraband, like drugs, are getting caught a lot more often with these full body scanners.
However, according to the Times article I linked above, some people believe that the terrorist attack on Detroit (the underwear bomber) may not have even been seen by these full body scanners. As quoted in the Times article:
Ben Wallace, a British Conservative Parliament member who was involved in a defense firm’s testing of the technology, said over the weekend that the scanners probably wouldn’t have picked up the powder.
The underwear bomber was the reason that these full-body scanners were created in the first place so the doubt about whether the underwear bomber would have been caught is not a good thing to hear. Some people of course do believe that this terrorist attack would have been caught, as said in the Times article. However, it is not good to hear that this security is not perfect, considering the costs of these machines.
So, with all of these points to consider, what do you think about the full-body scanners? Do the benefits (increased security and identity safety), outweigh the costs (privacy, time, and money)?